Gegenschein 83 August 1998

Comdex Trip

(continued from #81 - this trip report is not about Comdex)

Saturday 8th November 1997

Up at 4:30 a.m. for the drive to the Minneapolis airport. Denny dismisses his heroic sacrifice. The cats regard it as normal, demand cream, and then escape outside into the cold and the dark. I can't decide if they are wise or foolish.

The 737 for the flight to Denver took off on time, which was a relief, given I had little time to change planes. Unfortunately, although the DC10 for San Francisco started boarding on time, it was absolutely packed, and many passengers had excessive luggage, even by US airline standards. It left a little late.

San Francisco airport seemed overfull, and very disorganised, with several facilities in poor shape. I eventually found my luggage, and since Jean wasn't at the (empty) domestic National Hire area, went seeking signs to the International section of the terminal. Naturally, you couldn't get there from the baggage area, and the signs didn't actually indicate whether there was another National location in the International area. I couldn't locate the elevators, and had to take my luggage to the International baggage via escalator. Could be worse; I've had to use stairs sometimes. Found Jean after the long search, just where she said she would be.

I got to drive the hire car out to Walnut Creek, since Jean decided I was in better shape than she was. Jean knew the way to Barb (her sister) and Ted's place, so we had an uneventful drive except I thought the Geo Metro automatic was pretty gutless and complained about it. However it may just be that I'm not used to US highway speeds, or US highways.

We had a relaxed day, talking with Barb and Ted, and concluding with a Mai Tai before collapse set in. None of us were overeating, because we knew what was happening on Sunday.

Walnut Creek, California Sunday 9th November 1997

When we finally all arose, Ted drove us in the rental car to the Boundary Oak, as on several previous trips. An all you can eat champagne brunch buffet, which occupied us from eleven to one, and at which, as always, we failed to even sample many of the courses. The seafood eaters (I'm not one) had great and messy fun with the crab legs. Entertainment was also provided by watching the golfers on the practice green under the outward slooping window, but mainly we chatted, and ate until we were full several times over. And then we attempted to eat a few more desserts.

Monday 10th November 1997

Silicon Valley, California. Up late, but in plenty of time for Jean's taxation appointment in nearby downtown Alamo. I wandered about town, and finally found a post office to mail Jean's apa stuff. Didn't manage any other shopping. As it happened, Jean took until nearly midday, so I'd have had plenty of time.

It was well after midday before we finally packed the car and drove off south on 680, towards San Jose. Well, actually, toward the Valley Fair shopping centre, that being easy to reach in the rain.

We lunched outside Valley Fair at Fresh Choice, having quickly checked and just as quickly rejected the food court inside the mall. It did take a little searching to locate the Fresh Choice. The mall was a little disappointing this time around, despite having the usual full complement of executive toy stores, like Sharper Image and Brookstone. There were extensive renovations, mostly unfinished, and lots of clothes stores, but nothing we really could consider wanting. Jean failed to find suitable shoes there.

Since I had film of the trip, I dropped them off at Kits Cameras (I'd been pleased with them when my camera failed a few years ago in Seattle). However they charged $26.50 to do two rolls of 24 film, I thought that excessive. Next time I'll find a Walgreens drugstore, and see what $6.99 provides.

Dropped our bags at Alyson's and collapsed briefly. Given how much Jean's bag weighed, and that I had to move it eventually, make that collapsed heavily. This heavy bag syndrome is a recent thing with Jean. I blame "portable" computers, and lots of power bricks for modems and other gadgets.

There was a Bay Area Science Fiction Association meeting at a pizza place in Sunnyvale, so we drove there, emerging from the car to be greeted by instant rain (I was expecting Californian sunshine).

Cheryl Morgan, although back in Australia at that date, had arranged for us to be made DASFA ambassadors to Queensland. That was a little different. Kevin Standlee (resplendant in Australian tie) demonstrated hist masdtery of a wonderful array of meeting rules, and many puns were made and paid for as part of their fundraising. Reviews of SF and other material occurred, and sometimes disputed. I thought it was a fine meeting, albeit somewhat more structured than Futurian Society meetings in Sydney (I do my best to deconstruct Futurian society metings).

Upon returning to Alyson's house, she asked me to find a connector for a European TV belonging to her housemate Angela. It would be easy in Australia, as it had a standard European connector. Of course, I've hardly ever before seen the US cable system F connector ... Two countries divided not only by a common language, but also by paper sizes, clothing sizes and TV connectors.

Tuesday 11th November 1997

Jean drove me up Lawrence that morning, and dropped me off before going off on her errands. I got to walk along Lawrence, at least those parts with a sidewalk. T Zone were pretty good, as they seemed to know what they stocked, and had better prices than Fry's. Fry's were as disorganised as ever, and I never could find anyone with any understanding of what they did sell. If they could just leave manuals available it wouldn't be much of a problem for me, of course. At least they have munchies on sale, so I got a Dove ice cream. I still like visiting Fry's, if only for the way they decorate their building.

Visited Disk Depot, ACE, NCA and many others. Lost in side streets, found a few CD-ROM disks I'd been seeking. Didn't have lunch, because there was always another electronics or computer place to visit just a little further up some street. Took me a fair while to walk back to Alyson's place, as I had to bypass some areas on Lawrence that didn't have sidewalks.

That evening there was a fine little party at Alyson's with Bill Humphry, Beth, Lucy Huntzinger, and others. Very enjoyable.

Wednesday 12th November 1997

Laundry, and thus domestic chores impose on our tranquility and leisurely life.

Jean's friend Robin arrived, and drove Jean and I to Stanford, before they set off on secret women's business.

I finally located the requested TV connector in Radio Shack around noon, by searching through their stock. That should make Alyson happy. Didn't locate all that much else anywhere, despite a number of entertaining high tech toy stores and a bookstore in the Stanford mall. Some toys, like the PCMCIA card sized Franklin Rex organiser, were really attractive, but I couldn't find a manual to study, so I decided more research was needed before buying.

I wanted frogs for The Lazy Frog restaurant at Faulconbridge, which is full of ceramic frogs. The owners say it isn't their fault - customers keep bringing them frogs. I didn't want to carry anything as large as the proximity alarm frog I saw ribbiting in a store doorway. The smaller frogs were uninspiring, or outright boring.

I'd have had lunch at Fresh Choice, but noticed Jean and Robin in there, and didn't want to disturb their privacy, so instead I went to Macdonalds. I sure wish I hadn't, as they ruined the fries, the chicken, the bun, and got my drink order wrong to cap everything.

Finally gave up on Stanford and took the 3.59 Caltrain from Palo Alto to Lawrence. Despite signs at the station, the ticket office wasn't really open, and so I had to pay my $2 to the conductor when he appeared.

During my walk from the station, I checked a CompUSA store, and Walgreens film prices, and got a few munchies.

A long walk, to Alyson's, but one I'm getting used to now.

Another gathering that evening with Jean, Edith, Robert, Angela, Alyson, at Chatonoga (did I transcribe the name wrong), a Persian restaurant. Both the food and the conversation was interesting.

Las Vegas. Thursday 13th November 1997

What happened to our flight to Las Vegas? Someone kidnapped it. We left San Francisco airport at least two hours late. Jean's friend Pat met us at the airport and drove us into town.

We stayed at the Imperial Palace, in the middle of the Strip, with strange comps and no free meal apparent (we thought we could get one). We finally got a small steak sandwich in their snack shop instead of searching longer for the promised meal.

Awake at 3 a.m. What a wonderful start to the day ...

Friday 14th November 1997

Totally collapsed by the real morning, thanks to awakening during the night, so I stayed abed as late as possible while Jean went to casino classes in blackjack. I've always been totally useless at card games, having no skill and less interest.

When we did set out we walked to Fashion Show shopping mall, and then on until we tired.

Checked out Canyon Adventure theme park at Circus Circus, which was a strange place for what is essentially a children's thing. The water flowing everywhere released so much chlorine that I had a lot of trouble with my eyes. We also the balancing act when we finally found the circus acts. There was bungee jumping from the tower, with screams audible for long distances. Why do people do these things to themselves?

To the Stardust for their $6 all you can eat buffet lunch, which seemed good plain food value. All that walking must have made me hungry.

I bought some Myers rum for $14 at Bonanza, as an emergency supply. The boy scouts motto is that you can't have too much ... well, it may not have been Myers rum, but probably should have been.

A crowded bus back, around 5 p.m., after maybe four miles. It was close to five hours of walking, even if we didn't seem to get very far. I really like walking in Las Vegas, as it is flat, not often too cold (more likely too hot), and there are lots of distractions along the way.

Stopped at Baskin Robbins for ice cream (well, we had to reward ourselves for all the healthy walking we had done).

Strangest sight encountered was a tourist with oxygen tank ... and at that stage he wasn't even in the hotel, where the smoke might make such aids neccessary. We saw him later at a gaming table. Some people don't let anything stop them from gambling. So far I haven't seen anyone at the tables in a hospital bed with a drip and oxygen tank, but if I did, it wouldn't really surprise me.

Too few drinks, too much touristing. Off to Freemont Street on the CAT bus to experience the downtown that evening. Two million lights, 540,000 watts of audio. And I think they used all the lights and all the wattage they had. The mesh covered a couple of city blocks, building to building in a long arch, so a vast crowd could stand underneath and see the entire display.

Cowboy songs at 8 p.m., with great sound quality and lots of flashing lights. I have no idea what technology in used in the multicoloured lights that cover most of Freemont Street. It was fun.

Couldn't find the cheap dinners most of the casinos offered, despite some searching. Until we got to Fitzgeralds we thought they were a myth or a come on. There we had an enormous prime rib with potatoes and salad. So much for plans for a small meal! I've been pretty impressed with Fitzgerald's usually.

Lean margueritas and strawberry daiquiris were on the menu at several casinos. I did a small amount of comparative sampling, and decided they must have left out most of the alcohol. Tasted ok despite that.

Viva Las Vegas was the 10 p.m. Freemont street show, and that was also enjoyable. I don't know that one would visit Las vegas just to see it, but if you were in the mood for fun, it was fun.

302 bus not apparent, 301 stop not apparent. Good move. We did eventually figure out where to get our bus back along the Strip, and it wasn't where most of the other passengers waited.

Saturday 15th November 1997

Up late and tired, thanks to the 24 hour running of the machinery five floors below next to the swimming pool. I wasn't impressed. Jean used her earplugs, as usual.

Ellie (Jean's friend from AWA) and Jean set out for breakfast, after we hung around the designated meeting spot (the race book) without spotting her. Indeed, we had trouble even identifying the race book itself, despite signs, as there were enormous potential areas, all appearing much like every other area of it. Ellie collected her winnings (how do people do that!) and they set off.

I walked through Caesars Forum shops, which are always entertaining, if only for up market overkill. One of the shops, by the Baccus fountain, has the biggest marguiritas I've ever seen, in a 50 ounce half yard glass. Just the thing to take with you on a long walk through town.

Had to head back at midday to meet Jean, but I have no note as to what we intended to do. I must have been bored. I updated my credit card purchases into Psion computer.

There was a party at Joyce and Arnie's place, which we reached once we persuaded a taxi where to go.

Linda Bushyager give us heaps of lists of Comdex shows and parties, and all sorts of instructions as to which to attend, and which she would be at, and what information to get and who to call. I'm not energetic enough to get to all the places she lists. Not to mention that with many of them on simultaneously at different ends of town, you really can't get to all of them.

Woody Bernardi was at the party, despite no longer being in FAPA nor all that active fannishly, and kindly gave us a lift back to the Imperial Palace. It was good to see him, and so many others, again. Getting to a Katz party is almost like a family reunion these days. Great stuff.

Sunday 16th November 1997

Work at Comdex occupied the entire week. We skip to

Saturday 22nd November 1997

We went to the Imperial Buffet around ten, just beating an enormous crowd. Several trips through the food stands later, we were full. Well, actually overful.

Jean's school friend Pat picked us up at midday for a trip to Valley of Fire, about an hour out of town. There were five of us crammed into a rather small car, with another of Jean's high school friends Suzie and her husband John, who were looking at places to retire to after years in Alasaka. I guess that is about as different to Alaska as you can get.

A straight run along a four lane separated highway, followed by a narrow, twisted two lane road through rough red rocky desert. To my sorrow, I didn't see a roadrunner ... or even Wily Coyote.

At a visitors center, a tiny ground squirel put on a cute display begging for food. A sign inside the center suggested they were infected with bubonic plague. Away, away, cute critter.

Mouse's Hole walk, through magnificent desert scenery, and wind eroded stone canyons with petroglyphs on some of the walls. There was some magnificent scenery, although how anyone could have lived in that country seems almost impossible. It seemed inhospitable, but apparently some people lived there for months while being hunted by the US cavalry.

Tracks of wild Rebocks abounded, although in Las Vegas we had seen only tame ones, grazing on tortilini trees.

Back at Pat's place, I finally met Suzie's dog. Skittish, and afraid, after moving from Alaska, but I finally made friends with it. Well, perhaps not so much made friends as at least persuaded it I wasn't going to bite it.

Pat dropped us at Joyce and Arnie's place, and we talked briefly with them and Tom before we all went to a great Mexican restaurant to overeat yet again.

Afterwards we sat around talking about the state of fandom. An alternative world where Ted didn't smoke pot in 1968. Whether amateur journalists are a more reasonable recruiting ground for fandom than is science fiction.

Sunday 23rd November 1997

Another all you can eat brunch at the Emperor's buffet.

Susan Williams (a friend of Joyce and Arnie) collected us and took us to see Boulder Dam. Aileen had planned to take us, but her work week was rescheduled. Ken was also off work (as a dam guide), with a bronchial condition. We could sympathise, as both of us had allergy symptoms all week, and couldn't decide if it was smoke in the hotels or some plant pollen new to us.

We drove up Flamingo, miles and miles, past shopping centers and whole estates of new homes, past business areas, and the new town of Henderson, with our local driver exclaiming "This wasn't here last time I came through".

At the dam at 2 p.m., Jean and I took the one hour extended hard hat tour. We figured we would meet Susan (who had a book along and had seen the dam before) at the point on the dam where Nevada and Arizona meet, on the only large road between them.

At the bottom of the 500 foot descent we emrged from the elevator to find a Japanese tourist attempting distractedly to find her way out. Well that was different.

Garrulous tour guide Dick Ford took us on our hard hat tour, and we saw lots of neat turbines, great views through the dam wall (after crossing a real deep pit, covered with a grill like somthing out of a horror movie). We saw needle valves, like a nine foot version of the one on your hose. It was a great tour. We emerged at about 3:30, from a one hour tour. Susan thought the earth had swallowed us, as the group that followed uis in had already emerged. We got to keep the really neat hard hats, but couldn't fit them in our luggage, so we left them with Susan.

Stopped at Souper Salad for what I thought was dinner on the way back to Las Vegas. I was wrong. It was actually afternoon tea.

Susan and Ken Forman collected us from our hotel at 7 so we could all head for the Hilton, to see one of the last performances of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's Starlight Express. This was strange but delightful, a story of the little train who could, played out on roller skates. Lots of speectacular lighting and scenery, played out on one of the largest stages I've seen. The "trains" even rushed through pathways between section of the audience. Been ages since I've seen a live stage show, and Vegas does them well.

We collected Aileen (who had kindly provided tickets) at the exit. She had been rostered a different shift, and couldn't get off to see the show. Went to a wonderful Mexican restaurant with enomous portions, where Jean nearly fell asleep in her salad, and I nearly fell asleep in my five glass marguirita sampler. Perhaps I had been somewhat incautious in ordering that particular food item.

Monday 24th November 1997

We were really energetic today. If you believe that, I have a bridge for sale. Probably the one outside New York New York, which is about as far as we walked in the 70 degree sun. We had a 2 for 1 meal coupon for the Alladin, but the buffet in question was permanently closed. This seemed to the the story of our quest for free food in Las Vegas. Not that it mattered, as the regular prices were fine.

We got sick and tired of walking, and ended up back at the hotel, writing up Comdex notes, or collapsed. The casino got the last few rolls of 5 cents I had, but Jean won $15. I can see being bad at cards being a matter of lacking skills and interest, but slot machines should just be a matter of statistics ... wo how come Jean always wins and I always lose?

Seattle Tuesday 25th November 1997

A taxi to the airport at 8:30, and an uneventful flight to San Francisco. Jean bought sandwiches at San Francisco, since the Shuttle flights don't have real food.

Got to Seattle around 3 pm, and searched for the rental car place. I managed to cut my head badly on the boot lock while loading our luggage in yet another Geo, while trying to avoid low slung metal signs just above the car. Luckily Jean drove through the rain to her parents home in Panorama City near Lacey.

We basically spent the rest of our trip at Jean's parents, in a very relaxed atmosphere. I wrote up lots of Comdex notes, we took walks into Lacey and around the area whenever the weather permitted, and we ate exceedingly well at a variety of local restaurants when we went out for dinner. I think that was the most relaxed I got during the entire trip, and it felt great.

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It was once traditional for Australians to winge about all manner of things. However, in our modern industrial society, these complaints seem to have all but disappeared.

I say this isn't good enough. All too often we get lousy service, or faulty goods, and we simply accept it, buy a replacement, and contiue with our lives. Office chairs that fail under the mass of an average sized person, with the failure due to bad design and worse manufacturing techniques. Organisations that claim to solve problems, but seem to refer them to committees instead of actually doing anything. Computer programs so badly done that they crash your PC every week or so, instead of running for months or even years without a problem like mainframe and Unix systems do.

Instead of being wimps, we should be returning all this junk, and demanding refunds. And if the company won't come to the party, contact the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, or the state Department of Fair Trading, or sue the bastards for damages, or get out with a picket notice in front of their headquarters if there isn't any other remedy. Be a bloody nuisance.

Constitutional Amendments

We recently had a "constitutional convention", to "democratically" decide what changes to make to the convention in the event that Australia decides to change from a commonwealth with an absentee queen to a republic. The Labor party (who sort of started this) wanted us to become a republic, because if the timing was right it would stir all sorts of nationalistic feeling, and it took voters minds off the economy. Lots of opposition, especially from older people, with most of the rest of us asking what is in it for us. Then the Labor party lost office, and the Coalition were sort of unenthusiastically stuck with continuing the process, with Prime Minister Howard obviously hoping that it would all come unstuck and not really be changed.

So they switched things about so what was going to be offered was to break all the ties with the monarcy. A heap of Australians wanted this, since royalty is increasingly irrelevant to us, and they haven't exactly been great role models of late either. This was bundled in with increased centralism of powers to the federal government, which most Australians aren't nearly so keen to see.

The delegates were elected democatically. Well, you didn't actually have to vote, and lots didn't (unlike normal elections). And a bunch of the people standing were politically naive, but generally wealtthy celebrities under Malcolm Turnbull's republican banner, or they were arch conservative old time monarchists. Well, actually, only half the delegates were elected. The other half were, surprise, surprise, selected by the government, and included 40 members of parliament. And the terms of reference precluded interfering with our grand parliamentary schemes. And they couldn't decide to actually let the people (heaven forbid) decide who was to be head of state (despite all the polls showing that was what we wanted).

At the end of all thees manouvers, we had a "clear" conclusion as to an acceptable republican model. One actually voted for by a whole 75 delegates out of 152, and by only 33 of the 76 elected delegates.

Doesn't this sort of shit remind you of one of the Asian "guided" democracies? I wonder when they bring out the tanks?

Working Class Woes

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I think for some of the bosses it may be the best of times. I keep seeing news items about how this executive or that executive is getting million dollar bonuses. Sometimes this is said to be productivity based, dependent upon say the stock prices increasing. But sometimes when you look a little closer, it turns out that nothing on earth could stop a stock price rise. Like when the AMP floated, it was obvious to blind Freddy that the initial price would be above the "nominal" price.

Meanwhile at the coal face, the miners still get black lung disease, and fight for every dollar pay increase. The business lunch manages to lurch from fringe benefit tax to business as usual, but the clerk who returns late from lunch gets docked. No job security anymore, unless you are really good at a specialised task and really can't be replaced. Young inexperienced staff cop lousy conditions. Even experienced people end up working long hours, trying to keep ahead of the next generation. It is the Microsoft way, the Silicon Valley values. I see it in my friends working there.

There is more to the good life than meeting corporate goals, and I'm not doing that any more. I took my last job under my own conditions, with the four day week, and the 50,000 photocopies a year, and then gradually drove myself into a situation of wanting to always prove I could cope with whatever changed circumstances existed. Well, I was wrong, both to try it, and wrong in having pride in my ability to cope with whatever turned up. This time around I'm doing what I enjoy, and if that happens to bring in some money, that is great, but money isn't going to be my primary motivation again. To which Jean will probably say, about time.

Why One Nation gets votes

One Nation is a fairly new red neck political party, which appears to me to be heavily infiltrated by the radical right, and with racist and very conservative policies in most areas in which it has any sort of policy. Despite which, it won a lot of seats in the receut Queensland state election. At least part of these wins came because the Coalition parties, in a totally unprincipled vote grubbing move, gave their preferences to One Nation in some seats.

I believe a lot of the votes going to One Nation are protest votes against the existing major parties, the Coalition and Labor. Personally, I've never put a major party first on any vote I've made, and many of my friends vote likewise. These days, I don't think any of the major parties deserve to be in power. I believe strongly that every election should provide the public with a none of the above option when voting. If none of the above wins, then we don't have a government until a new election is held. Back Australia, don't vote for any of them.

Why are our politicians now held in the lowest esteem ever known? Just look at their own actions. Usually legal, but absolutely no morality to be seen in many case. Certainly oportunistic, and giving every evidence of having no higher aim than get their own nose in the trough for a bigger share of the rewards.

WA Labor Premier Carmen Lawrence didn't have a clear recollection of events before a 1991 tabling of a damaging petition about lawyer Penny Easton. Easton committed suicide in 1992. Lawrence gave her evidence to a 1995 Royal Commission, and together with former staff, is answering perjury charges.

Sometimes the truth hurts. Former Labor Minister and numbers man Graham Richardson actually admitted "lies are not uncommon in politics" in 1994. Whatever it takes was the attitude. Graham also got made Olympic Village mayor recently, as one of the most blatent bits of political cronyism in the NSW State Labor parliament handing out well paid senior SOCOG jobs.

Paul Keating, Labor, then Federal Treasurer, was late filing his tax return. That can happen to anyone, of course. He also claimed a travel allowance for living in Canberra. The Prime Minister retrospectively changed the rules to allow his claim.

Speaker of the House of Representatives Leo McLeay claimed $65,000 compensation and damages in 1992 when a bicycle hired from the Joint House Department gym collapsed under him. Staff at the gym specifically advised his staff hiring the bike against using the fold up bike. He was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Ros Kelly, Labor minister for Environment, Sports and Territories, managed to arange grants for facilities with a very strong pro-Labor bias in the areas getting the grants. The evaluation of which places deserved grants was done "on merit" ... on a whiteboard in her office that was conveniently wiped. I'm going to use that idea next time I have a dispute with the taxation department ... but I don't think they'd buy it, and neither do I.

In October 1996, Assistant Treasurer Jim Short had to resign over a conflict of interest, when he approved an ANZ bank subsidiary operating licence while holding ANZ shares. Parliamentary secretary Brian Gibson resigned after making a favourable decision for a Boral subsidiary while holding Boral shares. Liberal Resources minister Warwick Paper is responsible for the coal industry and his family trsut holds $2 million in coal shares. He didn't resign.

Ex Labor MP Mal Colston copped charges for rorting travel allowances.

In February 1997 Liberal Secretary for Health Bob Woods resigned. Turned out his former lover had taken out an apprehended violence order against him, and told police he was rorting his travel allowance.

In the Blue Mountains where I lived, Liberal MP Barry Morris made death threats to an environmentalist on the local council, and copped a year in jail for his troubles.

NSW Liberal MP Tony Packard, well known earlier as a car dealer, resigned after being convicted of planting listening devices to monitor customers in his car salesyard.

A Federal Labor member Nick Sherry claiming $43,000 travelling allowances for days spent at his mother's home outside Hobart. He was sorry later, after he was caught, and tried to commit suicide. Three Coalition federal ministers had to resign in September 1997 after presenting misleading or amended travel claims. National party MP Michael Cobb got to stand trial in December 1997 over false travel claims, when it came out he was claiming accomodation for nights he spent sleeping in his car at a truck stop near Dubbo.

NSW Legislative Council president Max Willis dumped from the post in 1998 because he was drunk and nearly falling out of his chair while chairing a debate. Max, and Speaker John Murray, also took six MPs and three other staff (including his driver to carry the bags) on a ten day $70,000 junket to California in June 1997. Claimed to raise investments worth $2 million, and 800 jobs. The companies involved denied that any such results happened.

Must have been catching, as MP John Johnson also fell asleep in the NSW Upper House. Never mind, he is taking a five day Pacific Island trip to Kiribati on 20th July, all paid for by the taxpayers.

Meanwhile, there are moves to scrap late night sittings. It isn't as if the members have to attend the place all that many days, so why do they do things at night?

Maybe it is so they can put up their own superannuation entitlements. Around 1 a.m, as the NSW parliament broke for Xmas 1997, the pollies managed one real act of cooperation. They gave themselves a huge unfunded superannuation increase. And then when the news finally leaked, they all said they hadn't actually understood the implications of what they voted for. On one count they are thieves in the night, on the other incompetant for not reviewing the legislation we pay them to produce.

The other reason is if they get to midnight they can claim taxi dockets to return next day. There are videos of them laughing and wasting time awaiting midnight so they were eligible. This was while they were supposed to be debating an Independent Commission Against Corruption finding against former Fair Trading minister Brian Langton for false travel claims.

There was a marvellous article by Fia Cummings and Frank Walker in The Sun herald listing lots of such little scandals. I hope they do an update some time.

What we need is another option on our electoral ballots. One that says None of the above.

Meanwhile, let us drink a toast to Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder plot. Here is to the only person to ever enter parliament with honest intent.

Digital Dangers

Over four years ago, Testra, the government telecommunications monopoly, funded a scientific study apparently intended to prove there was no danger in using digital phones. The study was organised by a vocal opponent of the idea that cellular phones were dangerous, physicist Dr Michael Repacholi. Three others were involved, Professor Tony Basten, Dr Alan Harris, and Val Gebski. Repacholi left to take up a WHO job. The members of the study insisted it be supervised by the independent National Health and Medical Research Council, to eliminate any suspicions of interference by the sponsor.

Two hundred cancer susceptible mice were divided into two groups, housed, fed and handled the same. A cellular antenna was installed about 36 cm above each group, but only one group was exposed to GSM signals equivalent to using a cellular phone for two half hour periods a day. The trial was done blind, with Dr Harris not being aware of which mice were in which group when he did the autopsies. Over an 18 month period, the GSM exposed mice had 2 to 4 times the tumour rate of the control group, results that are significant at the 1% level. The first tumours appeared after about nine months. The results were reported in Radiation Research. There was also a significant increase in B-cell lymphoma, which is associated with 85% of all cancers.

I personally believe this research (and other examples) prove that microwave radiation at cellular phone frequencies can have an effect on animal tissues that is entirely apart from the heating effects (upon which current safety levels are based), and that these effects occur at lower radiation levels. I believe that industry captive funding groups like the US Wireless Technology Research group, and the various cellular phone manufacturers are deliberately ensuring that only compliant researchers are funded. I believe this is exactly akin to the distortions and outright lies that are commonplace in the tobacco industry.

Two interesting examples of these distortions happened when Vodaphone put out a pamphlet quoting the research as finding "there is no substantial research which indicates the level of emissions from mobile phone base stations could lead to adverse health effects." The US Cellular Telephone Industry Associate advised its members to say "The mice were exposed to radiation that was more than 1000 times higher than average exposure in the service area covered by a typical cell site". Absolutely true, but totally misleading. The test was of the effects of the handset, where exposure is right next to the head. Most of us are aware of the inverse square law for emmission and would be happy to agree that the base station is unlikly to be the problem.

My own reaction is that a prudent person should avaid all unnecessary use of a GSM mobile phone. And that there should be follow up studies.

Just taxes

Despite losing an election when it proposed a Goods and Services Tax (GST), and despite promising this election that a GST was right off its agenda, the government wants to put in this tax. It promises that the rate won't increase, and that it will replace many other taxes and charges. Sometimes it promises that income tax will decrease.

A GST or Value Added Tax seems less than helpful to me in terms of fundamental and useful taxation reform. The main point in doing a VAT is that it is somewhat harder to avoid. However I'd think closing existing loopholes should be much higher on the priority list, especially given that the main taxation area currently used is Income Tax, and that the largest earning individuals and companies are paying substantially less tax as a percentage of their earnings than are those earning an average income. In short, they found loopholes.

Granted an argument can be made for removing payroll taxes (which increase costs for exporters in an unrecoverable manner, thus making them less competitive). However payroll tax, like most of the ones being targeted, are state taxes, whereas a GST is a commonwealth tax. Without agreements between the states and the commonwealth, there isn't actually any way to directly substitute one for the other. Unless the Commonwealth does something like reducing State funding by an amount equivalent to State taxes if they don't give up a tax, then why should the States change their own taxes?

More important, simply using a fixed rate, no exceptions GST will very much hurt low income earners, who will then pay a tax on food and rent. It will lower the taxes on high income earners (the GST on luxury goods will be much less than current sales taxes, which are deliberately set higher on many items considered luxuries).

Sales Tax here is a wholesale tax, not a retail tax, so it is levied two steps away from the final consumer. This has the advantage that retailers don't have to account for it, except in the situation where the customer is sales tax exempt (schools, government departments). Less paperwork for retailers, which means that of the one million or so businesses in Australia, only about one in ten has to spend time on dealing with such taxes. A VAT style tax means pretty much all businesses have to put time into handling the taxes.

The tax is levied on the wholesale price of goods, not on the retail price, so the actual percentages quoted are not a percentage of the final price, but of the wholesalers selling price to the retailer. This helps explain why the tax isn't listed (given the actual tax figure, you can calculate the retailer's margin on the goods). Many retailers would be real unhappy about that; gives potential buyers too much bargining power when they can calculate your exact margin.

More importantly, the tax is structured to have social effects, with luxuries attracting a high rate, and essentials usually exempt. There are a number of anomalies, and certainly some reform of the tax could be helpful.

Exempt: Books, magazines, building materials, clothing, footwear, most foods, primary products.

12%: Bathroom fittings, flavoured milk, fruit juices, low alcohol drinks, ice cream, biscuits, confectionary and chocolate, household furniture and appliances, water heaters.

22%%: Commercial furniture, computers, toys, motor vehicles, pet food, photographs, soap, detergents, shampoo, hair care products, cosmetics, antiseptics, disinfectants.

32%%: Cameras, furs, jewellery, luxury goods. televisions, video recorders, watches.

37%%: Beer and spirits.

41%%: Wine.

45%%: Luxury cars (which is partly why a Mercedes van costs less than a Mercedes car).

To ease accounting, a GST or VAT needs to be a single rate tax on everything. Any single rate tax does terrible things to low income groups, relative to high income groups. It just isn't socially equitable.

Just who wants this new tax? Lots of large businesses like the idea, and no wonder, since the top 200 companies in Australia look like they might save up to $25 billion dollars a year on sales tax, fringe benefits tax, capital gain and the like. At the same time, the average cost to small business (who if in retail don't have to collect the wholesale sales tax) is likely to be around $7,000 in direct costs, plus 228 hours of extra bookwork. All these figures come from the National Tax and Accountant's Association.

That said, broader based taxes, especially in an economy increasingly focused on services, are also a reasonable aim. If you chose the distortions of a GST with mutiple rates (and since present sales taxes are done this way, there is precedence), then you can chose to favour some activites and penalise others. You might hypothetically chose to exclude fresh garden produce, and fresh fruit. You might have a minimal rate on processsed food products, and a luxury rate on sweets and soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, sticking to food items in this example. You would get manouvering to have products considered as part of the lowest rate, but you can theoretically provide pressure towards whatever is decided to be the "right" way to live. This already exists with the exceedingly high taxes (well above GST levels) on tobacco, alcohol, and petrol. I'd assume all these will be subsumed in a GST system, thus making all three cheaper and thus increase their use (goodie!)

Incidently, just what happened to the 600 page report of a GST prepared by former Commonwealth Statistician Sir William Cole and a bunch of other experts for John Hewson's tax reform plans? This proposed a 15% tax with no exemptions, not even land and building and not even financial transactions. A little bit of supression, or just mislaid?

The single most fundamental reform needed to the taxation system, and one that no major party has ever had the guts to tackle, is bracket creep on income taxes. Average wage earners now pay a greater percentage of their income in tax than does the largest company. Income taxes are now more than 5% higher than when the Coalition came into power, solely due to bracket creep, but those creeps never mention that sort of creep. The Government managed to index pensions; taxes should be indexed also. Should have been done 20 years ago.

Whether you can trust politicians is dubious; just look at any recent example of political promises. For example, I don't believe a GST would result in income tax reductions. Personally, I'd like to see an legislated honour system in politics. If you promise it during a campaign, and break the promise, you are out of office, with no superannuation benefits. After all, the ASX makes companies stop lying in stock market prospectuses (or at least penalises them when they get caught).

I think it socially desirable to attempt to equalise incomes somewhat more (for which an income tax with an increasing rate per unit of income is not all that terrible). I really don't want to live in a country where there are enormous extremes of income. To deliberately allow the development of a generation of working poor seems to me a betrayal of all that a democratic government should be doing, and that is what has happened in the USA, and is happening in Australia.

Look at tax rates. According to think tank Access Economics, if you are on the average wage of $38,000 a year, you pay 50.4% of it in taxes in Australia. The same outfit says EEC average is 41.2%, the USA 29.9% and Japan only 19.4%.

I also think that the present system totally sucks. If you make windfall gains, you keep it all! Where is the logic in allowing luck to avoid taxes? If you win a lottery, you don't pay taxes. If you get a bequest, you don't pay taxes. At least there is a tax on capital gains. But equally, there should be one on windfall gains. If, by much effort, you build a new factory, and start producing new materials, and are successful, you pay taxes on every stage of the process.

It seems entirely wrong headed to me to concentrate taxing on productive individuals, and yet allow all sorts of winners to walk away with almost all their gains in zero sum games like gambling, playing the horses, futures exchanges and the like which add absolutely nothing to the productivity of a country. What this says is that manufacturing and producing and inventing are for suckers. Conversely, that manipulating non-productive elements in the economy is the true aim of business.

There are plenty of methods of taxation, all of them pretty much totally arbitrary, and driven almost solely by governments being revenue junkies. For example, we have a deeming rate, such that pensioners are considered to earn a certain percentage on their assets. Let's apply the same reasoning to companies. We assume that, as a private company, you are efficient (we keep getting told of the merits of privatisation), so we deem that all companies make say 8% profit on their total turnover. We tax on that, no deductions allowed whatsoever. Same thing for all investors.

There are kangaroos in the main street

I've often laughed at reports of overseas tourists expecting to see kangaroos hopping down the main street of a city. After all, Australia is one of the most urbanised of countries, with the vast majority of the inhabitants living in the major cities, and few of us actually in the Outback.

A police report from the northern suburbs of Melbourne (yes, where Aussiecon will be held) tells of police and wildlife officers chasing a 1.5 metre tall male eastern gray kangaroo first sighted at 5 a.m. about 10 kilometres from the city centre. The roo led the chase for 6 kilometres through four suburbs before being netted and returned to the bush.

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Book Review

Star Wars X-Wing #5 Wraith Squadron by Aaron Allston

Bantam (Transworld), May 1998, 403pp, US$5.99 A$14.95

Games designer provides a well written war novel with some humour. It has absolutely no reason to exist except that it can be sold to people who apparently believe they are reading science fiction. This stuff is much closer to formula fantasy.

CoSM by Gregory Benford

Orbit, 1998, 373pp, A$19.95 tpb

A high energy physics experiment creates a ... pocket universe. However the book basically covers the reactions of working physicists towards each other, and the infighting to gain control of the discovery. Very much a character (or should that be, lack of character) driven story. I thought it was very well done (but then, I also liked Contact). Soon to be made into a movie (and I'll bet Benford will have some stories to tell about that!)

The White Abacus by Damien Broderick

Avon, June 1998, 342pp, US$5.99 A$14.95

In a world of sophisticated humans, and self contained mobile augmented intelligences, two such beings investigate the suspicious death of Telmah's father on an asteroid world that deliberately rejects many aspects of the more advanced societies around them. Great fun, some grand concepts lightly raised, used and discarded. If you see a passing plot resembalence to Hamlet you may be right. I think we are fortunate to have writers like Broderick in Australia, to show that clever and stylish books can be entertaining and fun.

Shadow Dawn by Chris Claremont

Bantam (Transworld), June 1998, 511pp, US$5.99 A$14.95

Story by George Lucas, sequel to Shadow Moon. Another formula fantasy with a princess, evil forces, dragons, etc.

Sphere by Michael Crichton

Pan (Macmillan), April 1997, 500pp, A$14.95

I'm convinced I've read this work previously. Fairly ordinary (for Crichton) scientific and military encounter with a strange sphere in a giant crashed space ship found sunk deep in the ocean. Alien, or from the future? And what madness might come if the sphere can be opened? Looks designed to make a decent movie, with lots of character conflict. Seems to me Crichton ignored pressure problems when his characters explore the actual ship, but this is a monor quibble.

Star Wars Han Solo Trilogy #3 Rebel Dawn by A C Crispin

Bantam (Transworld), June 1998, 389pp, US$5.99 A$14.95

Laborious filling in of how Han Solo gambles, won his ship, modified it, etc. Brings in a bunch of characters from the films, and ends at the scene where Luke and Ben first hire Han Solo. For keen SW enthusiasts only.

The Man Who Melted by Jack Dann

Harper Collins, 1998, 220pp, A$12.95

Apparently based on a 1984 hardcover from Bluejay in the USA. This edition has a Nick Stathopoulos cover that is doubtless even more stunning in the original. A fine character study, as you tend to expect from Jack Dann. I'm not convinced SF is the correct genre for this dystopia.

Diaspora by Greg Egan

Orion Millenium, 1997, 295pp, A$19.95

Egan's characters aren't even human (well, they originally derived from human) but they continue to show such human traits as curiosity about the universe. Another fine metaphysical work.

Echoes of the Great Song by David Gemmell

Corgi (Transworld), June 1998, 446pp, A$14.95

Immortal magicians, dying empire, invading army, etc. Heroic fantasy. Enough said. Doesn't anyone write science fiction anymore?

Leonard Nimoy's Primortals by Steve Parry

Bantam (Transworld), June 1998, 288pp, A$14.95

Based on a Nimoy imspired comic book, written by a prolific action writer. This moves along at a good pace, as it covers first contact via radio with a CETI listener, government suppression, and the like. Pretty good character development for a comic based novel. Didn't actually get anywhere by the time it ended with the alien finally landing. If you follow the series, be prepared to buy lots of novels prior to reaching a conclusion.

The Other End of Time by Frederik Pohl

Tor, July 1997, 343pp, US$6.99 A$13.95

Alien abduction, as a handful of humans investigating signals from space are involved in a vast clash between groups of aliens. Throws in Frank Tipler's ideas of the Omega Point (which I've never thought likely), plus duplication of pretty much anything, including humans, as part of their transportation network. Basically a story of a few humans in a situation of conflict. Must admit it read somewhat stilted and clumsy compared to many of Pohl's stories. And none of the ideas were new to me. I'd heard of Tipler's ideas long ago, and the multiple copies of aliens was done in the 1940's by Van Vogt.

The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Science Fiction by David Pringle

Carlton (Macmillan), Nov 1997, 304pp, A$29.95

Large format illustrated guide with many excellent colour photos of magazine and book covers. Since it is heavily biased towards films (and to a lesser extent TV), it should appeal to many SF viewers as an entertaining and readable summary. There is a small but well done section on SF books, preceeded by some short but informative essays on SF themes and their early treatment. You could well consider this as a gift for a new SF film enthusiast to whom you would like to introduce some of the better SF books.

The Year's Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy Volume Two edited by Jonathan Strahan and Jeremy G Byrne

Harper Collins, April 1998, 443pp, A$14.95

The editors of Eidolon provide their selection of 13 stories. While I believe several others could have been considered, it makes a very reasonably entry to the Australian works that appeared in the year. The names are mostly familiar - Egan, Dowling, Dann, Sussex, Dedman, Williams, Brown, with some newer figures. I've been very impressed with how good many of the short stories are. Far more literate and better written, in my opinion, than the interminable fantasy novels that doubtless provide bread and butter for the publishers.

Six of the entries came from Eidolon (and I'd advise readers to get a subscription), the others from a variety of sources including FandSF and Interzone. Go out and buy it, so that the publishers do this sort of thing more often.

Xena Warrior Princess by Robert Weisbrot

Doubleday (Transworld), April 1998, 231pp, US$14 A$24.95

The Official Guide to the Xenaverse, written by a Professor of American History, who claims to have formerly been a productive citizen. This one is a lot of fun if you have ever enjoyed the pequliar manipulative humour and approach that show. While not as blunt as The Simpsons the show still does a fine job of taking the piss out of everything (while stil appealing to anyone into dressing in leather, women in short short skirts, lesbians, Kung Fu enthusiasts and advocates of violence as a means of settling disputes once and for all). The book explains how some of the marketing decisions were made. Well written, lots of photos, cast guide and episode guide.

The Resurrected Man by Sean Williams

Harper Collins, April 1998, 605pp, A$14.95

Another fine future noir work from this relatively new writer. Those who enjoy a touch of mystery in their SF should enjoy this well done effort. Williams future do have a nicely lived in feel to them, and the plot moves along at a decent clip despite the length of the novel.

ThylaXene, N. E. Doran, Stewart Newman, Craig Wellington

Desdichado Publishing, 1996, 236pp

Three different Tasmanian authors, ten stories, an interesting and unusual cover, and a really great publicity launch, when they managed to fool a number of reporters into attending at a museum "thylaxene sighted!". I enjoyed the various stories, several of them taking a weird eye view of various traditional sf events. Support local authors and publishers, buy this book.

The Spike by Damien Broderick

Reed Books, 1997, 280pp, A$19.95

If extrapolation of various trend lines can be believed, human technology (and by extention, human abilities) are headed towards a singularity. There is a possibility that some humans living today need never die. The essence of a singularity is that you can't predict exactly what will happen after it happens. In this book, subtitled "accelerating into the unimaginable future", Broderick has naturally attempted to imagine at least the outlines of the singularity, which he is calling "the spike".

Science fiction fans at least should be partly prepared, both from fiction such as that written by Vernor Vinge, Robert Forward and Neal Stephenson, and by reading in related areas by Eric Drexler, Marshall Savage, Roger Penrose and so on. We are familiar with the ideas of nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and genetic manipulation.

Even so, I doubt many of us have sat down and considered what it might mean to how we live our lives. Damien Broderick has produced what might be considered a laymans guide to ideas that should be spread more widely, and I believe he has done a good job of it. Meanwhile, for anyone seeking a short fictional view, I'd recommend Fred Pohl's short story Day Million.

MUP Encyclopaedia of Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy edited by Paul Collins

Melbourne University Press, June 1998, 188pp, PB A$29.95 HC A$39.95

Available in a large format paperback or hardcover, this is a very welcome addition to the reference section of anyone interested in Australian science fiction and fantasy. With major contributions by co-editors Steven Poulson and Sean McMullen, Paul Collins has managed to have published a wonderful resource for Australian science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts. This works covers a wide range of individuals and topics. It is perhaps somewhat stronger on individuals than on topics, but that said, there are some very welcome and wide ranging essays on various subjects. It is also (deliberately) stronger post 1950 than on earlier authors, something I suspect contributor Graham Stone somewhat regrets. But at some point perhaps additional material could appear on earlier writers.

Overall, I am very impressed. It contained everyone I could think of in a quick flick through. I didn't notice any particular errors in any form, but I'm not a careful reader. It will be interesting, when I have some time, to go through item by item comparing the entries with the material I have gathered in my ozwriters web site. Except where I have managed to obtain a long biographical article by an author, I believe this book will have significantly more material.

Address changes

Our new address is PO Box 640, Airlie Beach Qld 4802 Australia (all addresses at Faulconbridge and Ryde are now obsolete).

Any physical mail we don't catch on our redirection notices will probably end up lost (the redirections don't appear real efficient so far). We will have a redirection on the PO Box at Ryde and at Faulconbridge at least until the end of 1998. Jean's phone is (07) 4948 0450 or +61 7 4948 0450 (from outside Australia). I don't have a phone (Jean stole my line for her fax ... she also stole my modem ... and the phone, come to think of it), and have no current plans to get one (I know some people have trouble grasping the concept, but I don't like telephones.)

Jean is downgrading her email address, while she also has her own domain jeanweber

My email address at work, eric at may possibly disappear shortly after 17 July 1998 (it depends how long the system stays up), but will start bouncing email at 13 July (however copies of email will be retained on the system), as I have resigned from the University. I have established other (untested) email accounts elsewhere and there is some (considerable) possibility no-one in authority will notice these or remove them for a considerably period. However I won't be checking any email frequently, only when I happen to use a Internet Cafe. I'll eventually link up with an ISP, probably, but it might not be for three to six months.

My SF fanzine Gegenschein is currently available from my web site and I hope issues will stay there for at least a few more months. I can see considerable problems in updating the old site once I leave (don't ask about Windows NT ftp access, because in my 15 minutes of fighting it, I can't get it to accept anything), so I'll probably arrange duplicates at the original Sun Unix based site ... and that I can get into). That Unix site is now dead.

Gegenschein 82 was mailed in late June, but lots of extra work needs to be done on the web issue. I have started to photocopy Gegenschein 83 in the week before I leave, but a decent web issue may take a while. You can check out where we moved to and see photos at my site

I have arranged to get a few "free" (powered by advertising) web sites. [obsolete] contains my palmtop computer pages, and will probably end up with most of my computer stuff. and/or will probably end up holding my fanzine material and Airlie Beach material. If you turn off frames, animated gifs, ActiveX, Java and JavaScript in your browser, the advertising on these sites is not nearly as obtrusive (and my own sites only need a text browser, although there are some .jpg scanned photographs). In early 2001 these sites have all moved to

I'll be leaving Faulconbridge on Monday 20th July, and driving Jean's car (packed to the gunwales) slowly up the coast. Jean is flying meet me in Brisbane on Thursday, and we will continue slowly up the coast doing tourist type things. Hervey Bay and whale watching perhaps, or visit the Bundaburg rum factory. Another excuse for a trip report!

Sorry about the rushed, messy and incoherent nature of this message. You should see things from this end! Eric

Andy Porter's Science Fiction Chronicle is a monthly Hugo nominated newsmagazine, essential reading for those interested in the SF field.