Sunday, September 25, 2011

On Weather

Dear All

As newly appointed Assistant Junior Minister for Climate Change (with particular responsibility for local weather) I would like to set out some of the initiatives we've been discussing down here at the ministry over hot milk and chocolate biscuits. Our mantra is 'Tough on climate, tough on the causes of climate.'

Having consigned global warming to the wicker receptacle marked 'excessive difficulty', a radical new approach is in the offing (or on the iffing if you will). The government will now focus on local weather, where it is felt change can be affected, if not effected. To this end, we will be introducing the following strategies in order to procure a positive outlook going forward with respect to the weather.

1. Those benefiting from warm to hot weather e.g. ice cream salespeople, vendors of visors bearing the names of local hardware stores and poikilotherms, will be required to pay a set charge for every degree over 25 degrees Celsius.

2. A royalty will be charged every time someone says,' Hot enough for you?', 'Geez, it's hot as hell today.', 'It's not the heat it's the humidity.' ,'Cor blimey, it's hot enough to cook a (insert name of foodstuff here) on the (insert name of flattish surface not normally employed in a culinary capacity)' or any similar invocation of the bleedingly obvious.

3. Anyone using a mobile phone during a film screening will be horsewhipped. This will have no effect on climate change, it just shits me off.

4. In midsummer, public servants will be paid to don Eskimo gear and walk down the street. They will walk up to members of the public and say, 'Brrr. Howdy stranger. Have you seen my husky?'

5. Weather systems not officially authorised to enter the country (including cold fronts, warm fronts, isobars and unseasonably freakish sleet) will be diverted to territories outside the Commonwealth of Australia where they will be processed in our own good time. We will decide what kind of weather comes to our country and under what circumstances. To this end, the Navy will patrol our northern waters armed with the latest in rather large thermonuclear umbrellas.

Should these strategies fail to have the desired effect, I will retreat to my igloo on the coast, turn up the air-con and re-read Dr Zhivago.

Thank you for your time.

Friday, January 7, 2011

On Alternatives to Cars

Dear All

One or two nay-sayers of late have been muddying the waters in connection with the vexed question of global warming. The science of climate change is so clear even a four-year-old can understand it. In fact, here at the institute, one of our four-year-olds has just published an article "Reduction in volume of conical based dairy confectionary due to seasonal upward fluctuations in ambient temperature." He will be lecturing and answering questions next week, nap time and tantrums permitting.

Thankfully, the government has their best man on the job and will have the solution for us this time next week. Right after he works out where he left his spectacles. (Shh, their on top of his head. Don't tell, you'll spoil all the fun). In the meantime, we have located a leaked memo looking at one possible solution before the balloon goes up and we're all oven-baked to crinkle-cut goodness.

From: F. Montag

To: The Right Hon. Rupert E___________ Minister for Energy, Environment, Road Safety and Gastropoda.

Subject: Alternatives to Cars

Minister, you are of course aware of the popular momentum with regard to global warming. If not, there is an exectutive summary below*. One of the solutions we've been kicking around here at the ministry is the substitution of automobiles with other viable modes of transport. It would be remiss if I were not to point out that there is a conference in Riyadh next month on this very issue. Some of the possibilities being considered are petroleum powered bicycles, gas driven blimps, and oil-based space hoppers. Perhaps we should consider sending a delegation by government velociraptor.

On an unrelated matter, I think Josef K should be investigated by the Magistrate. He has been heard to openly criticise the Minister's taste in dental implants and poses a serious threat to national security.

* Evil industrialists are producing tonnes of carbon dioxide each day. Well, not the industrialists, per se, but rather the industries vouchsafed to them. Simultaneously, huge schools of the whales are being felled at the rate of three football pitches every second, or possibly minute with a concomitant rise in documentary crews and students dressed as koalas or grim reapers. The situation is no longer sustainable and a tipping point is estimated to be reached about, ooh, three weeks ago last Tuesday.

Thank you for your time.

Monday, January 11, 2010

On the London Olympics

Dear All

Two years out from the next Olympics would seem to be a good time to take stock of what lies in store for London in 2012. Much attention has been focussed on the threat of terrorism. But of more concern surely is the predilection for the British to cheat. Now before the Times editorial team sharpen their goose-feathers in a collective flurry of spleen venting (mops at the ready, gentlemen! You'll never get those stains out without a little gumption etc.) one need only lightly peruse the historical record. Heavy perusal will probably chip the duco.

One need only cast one's mind back to the 1908 Olympics held in London. In a cheap bid to win more medals, British Olympic officials started events in 1907, 12 months before the arrival of other teams. Despite this duplicity, they still managed to be disqualified in two events. In the 1000m caprine steeplechase Lord Arqhuat and his goat, Ludovic, fell foul of the offside rule. In any event, Ludovic's non-regulation bathing cap was just asking for trouble.
Three days later, a member of the lacrosse team returned a positive test for choleric and was told to lighten up.

This despicable lack of sporting ethic was not dissipated by the arrival of the other teams. The Swedish team were given a false address and spent almost the entire time in a boarding house in Ealing, where a Miss Ponsonby entertained them with selections from Gilbert and Sullivan and her impersonations of famous Prussian comedians. The Bohemians were lured into a dodgy off-licence with the promise of cheap absinthe and the Greeks were bundled into a taxi and driven around Islington for two weeks with the intermittent promise that the Olympic Village was just around the next corner.

In the final reckoning, Great Britain won a total of 789 gold medals, despite there being only 110 events. Questions were raised in the House of Lords, but a royal commission of enquiry (somewhat peremptorily titled 'Groundless Accusations by Johnny Foreigner regarding the Stirling Performance of the King's Olympic Team') revealed nothing untoward, and awarded a further 5 gold medals to the British Team, including one for synchronised empire building.

My advice for other teams in 2012 is make sure you count all the silverware before you return home.

Thank you for your time

Monday, November 16, 2009

On Computers in Schools

Dear All,

Here at the Institute we pride ourselves on keeping the government of the day accountable. Our Policy Review Committee is second to none (although arguably third to quite a number of similar bodies). By applying stringent statistical analysis to election promises and their real world outcomes we have benchmarked world's best practice to the point where total quality control is no longer an issue. So it comes as slight embarrassment to reveal that the head of this august body has actually been dead for the last 18 months. Professor Sydney von Trapp had, in that time, been promoted three times and was mooted as a possible Vice-Chancellor. His protracted silence, which until recently had been admired as canny fence-sitting, was revealed to be advanced putrefaction. The dangers of tenure!

My intention today was to reveal the results of our study into the current government's promise to supply every high school student with a computer. Obviously, our top analyst's rigor mortis (not to be confused with academic rigor, which is an understandable mistake) put paid to such hopes. Fortunately, or to put it another way, fortuitously, a letter chanced across my desk this week from an old friend, the head-mistress of Our Lady of the Reformed Viper School for Girls. I think you will agree that it provides a salutary lesson in the dangers of promises made hastily in the heat of an election campaign.

Dear Sir/Madam (Editor's note: maybe not such a close friend as I believed)

I have retired to the drawing room in the west wing. The east wing has been closed due to an accident with our school computer. You may recall that it was large enough to necessitate the removal of three year ten classes, could calculate the square root of 144 with a week's notice and still have enough memory left over to play a game of Pong. It's much vaunted Chess program was revealed to be a sham. If the computer was losing, a voice simulator would say. "My God! Will you look at that very interesting thing behind you." and then simulate a sneeze that blew all the remaining pieces off the board. Admittedly the large glass valves gave off an attractive glow when operating at full tilt, but the resulting heat killed off 25% of the girls in the class 9G and scorched our priceless collection of Monets painted by Manet.

Subsequently we made a request to the relevant government department for 125 lap-tops. However, a second syllable administrative error resulted in the arrival of a score of chihuahuas, lhasa apsos and shih tzus. Melanie Howitzer, a particularly bright girl in one of the upper forms, has used the dogs in what she calls a canine binary Turing machine. The details are a little sketchy, though the RSPCA are expressing great interest in the results. Maintenance is much easier, involving a number of rolled up newspapers in lieu of an expensive IT department.

This is merely a stopgap measure, though. The bursar is concerned about the level of expenditure on squeaky rubber bones which is 12% higher this financial year. Any advice you can give me on this matter would be greatly appreciated.

Best regards and felicitous salutations

Sister Dulcie Dostoevsky.

Thank you for your time.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

On Office Work

Dear All

Office work (or office-work as it has come to be called in more fashionable sectors of the labour market (or labour-market as it has come to be called in more parlours of the dilettantes and hyphen jockeys)) is perhaps one of the more misunderstood of career choices. In a recent survey of desirability it polled at number 387, positioning it between fluid retainer and Arts Minister of Albania. And yet it boasts a fine history of achievement with a surprising number of dignitaries working in its hallowed halls. Albert Einstein's Uncle Wolfgang, Bertrand Russell's second cousin Ernest and Orson Welle's labrador retriever, Sparky to name but a few. The latter headed up Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for 10 years during the Menzies era, a fact which is often forgotten when discussing Australia's primacy in the export of doggie treats and low-angle camera shots during the 1950s.

The dignity of office work derives from a purity of purpose which can only be obtained by the combination of two daily fifteen-minute coffee breaks (or coffee-breaks) and the application of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity to the dimensions of time sheets and office space. Members of the general public fail to discern the Zen aspects of the work, with its concentration on prolonged periods of meditation (with the unfortunate side effect of drastically elongating customer phone call queues) and mindfulness of daily experience, particularly which colleague has stolen the office stapler (or stapler as it is known in the Redundant Zen school of thought and thinking).

While it is well known that Einstein himself worked in a Swiss patent office, few would be aware that a large number of prominent physicists also worked down the hall. Erwin Schrodinger would often lock colleagues in a broom closet with a vial of poison and back issues of National Geographic in an attempt to demonstrate quantum entanglement. He was asked to leave the office after experimenting with a Geiger counter and entanglement with one of the secretaries from the typing pool. Also, Heisenberg worked for a time as a team supervisor but was chronically unable to make firm decisions. Neils Bohr worked on an early draft of his theory of the complementarity while acting as tea-lady. When questioned about his frequent absences from the office he would cite his dual nature whereby he might appear to be in the office or not but could exist in both states at the same time. When observed coming into the office the quantum wave would collapse and he would, indeed, exist in the workplace environment. In the end, his immediate supervisor encouraged him to take early retirement and a Nobel Prize in Physics. The disappearance of the company tea urn, however, have never adequately been explained and this may be part of the reason that Bohrs and Einstein fell out over the years.

In any event, office work has been the metaphorical smithy in which much of modern science has been forged. Lest we forget - many are cold-called, few are chosen.

Thank you for your time.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

On Freedom

Dear All

A recent brush with the law has forced me to reflect on the flimsy nature of freedom in this country. I was taken into custody after allowing a guinea fowl to drive me down to the shops for a magazine and a flavoured milk. Apparently I had transgressed some obscure regulation forbidding the operation of heavy machinery by poultry. Fortunately, my attorney managed a plea bargain and my sentence was reduced to the death penalty.

It goes to show, however, that freedom cannot be taken for granted. A salutary example from history - Corporal Lance Heinrichtoffen. He is the only man to have escaped from Stalag XI a total of 476 times. Revisionist historians have belittled his feats by pointing out that he was a guard at the prison and after going home each evening, he returned to his post early the next morning. Such mean-spirited point scoring is the kind of thing we have come to expect from the time-wasters and lickspittles who typically occupy university History faculties in this day and age.

So what is freedom? How do we define such a tenuous concept? Is it just another word for nothing left to lose? And should we even be leaving the discussion of such pivotal concepts to Kris Kristofferson? Or anybody with double initials for that matter? And why so many question marks in this paragraph? What's wrong with the odd exclamation mark!?

Freedom does come at a price though. After all, when Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, he found his coffee shop loyalty cards had expired and a crippling overdue bill for a video he had hired (That Touch of Mink, as it happens) - a debt that South Africa still finds itself trying to address, letters to Cary Grant's agent notwithstanding.

Well, as much as I would love to discuss these matters further, I have a pressing engagement with an Australorp, an iced coffee and a copy of Recidivist Weekly. Now where did I leave those car keys?

Thank you for your time.

Monday, June 8, 2009

On the Future of Newspapers

Dear All

Editor of Die Katzemitkartoffelzeitung, Heinrich Muttergottenhammer, once said "Morgen fahre ich mit dem Zug nach Heidelberg." Despite having uttered those words in 1765 he encapsulated the essential dilemma that faces the modern newspaper today. The fact that he was born in 1766 need not bother us here. What is important is that he nailed his colours to the mast, which proved a little inconvenient when he needed to wear them to softball practice.

The newspaper was once the prime purveyor of information to a data hungry populace and major supplier of insulation for avian accommodation. Now it faces a future as uncertain as it is futuristic. It seems a sad demise for a medium which has spanned several centuries of illustrious innovation - from the use of movable type in the 17th century through to the invention of the bingo card in the 20th. What has brought this once proud documenter of the doings of kings and common people, statesmen and servants, plenipotentiaries and podiatrists to its metaphorical knees?

Television delivered the first smack in the kidneys back in the fifties. In a typical assault on the urban tissues, a sock-puppet named 'Sneaky Rochester' read the news on network television in the States while juggling a bag of nectarines. The direct knock-on effect is said to have cost the New York Post 35% of its readership. Such events were indicative of a general shift in mood in newspaper readers. The modern equivalent would be the Fox News Channel. Coincidentally, 'Sneaky Rochester' owns a sizable stake in Fox and has since retired to a luxury deck shoe in Florida.

Of course, nowadays the boogieman is the Internet. The advent of the world wide web is said to be the last nail in the coffin of the urban dailies. In a well-publicised survey, it was found that 56% of Americans got some or all of their information re the 2008 Presidential elections from a website. What is not generally known, however, was that the website was 'Naughty Congress Capers', a hard core pornographic site believed by federal authorities to be a front for a sinister group who share deviant macrame patterns.

In short, the fall of the newspaper has been overstated. As long as a computer screen cannot be folded into a workable pirate hat or rolled to provide a disciplinary tool for micturitionally challenged canines, the newspaper still has a role to play.

Thank you for your time.