Friday, March 31, 2006

Am I ageist?

I've managed people older than me for most of my working life. They've mostly been only a little bit older than me, or else I've known them for long enough that I've forgotten that they're older than me by the time I manage them.

I've realised lately that I feel uncomfortable with the idea of hiring someone too much older than me to work for me. It's particularly difficult for me if it's someone I've known since I started working (and was clearly junior to them) but even if not, it's a struggle for me.

It's a combination of difficulty in feeling justfied in being someone's boss if I'm older than them, and a bit of prejudice about the ability of workers significantly older than me to adapt to the modern world (since I'm being honest). That last one is completely unfair. I've seen quite a few older workers who are proud of their inability to use a computer, but they're usually the ones that are senior enough that they can get away with that kind of silliness. The more junior ones, the ones who might work for me, are usually just as capable of using a computer as anyone else doing their job might be.

I think the answer to my question is yes, I am ageist, but as I become aware of it, I hope that I can avoid being ageist in any way but my thinking.


I probably started thinking about this because for the first time in my life I'm working for someone younger than me. Only by six months, but I'm sure it won't be the first time.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

I don't think I'm nearly this intellectual (or this depressed) via Pavlov's Cat :

You're Prufrock and Other Observations!

by T.S. Eliot

Though you are very short and often overshadowed, your voice is poetic
and lyrical. Dark and brooding, you see the world as a hopeless effort of people trying
to impress other people. Though you make reference to almost everything, you've really
heard enough about Michelangelo. You measure out your life with coffee spoons.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.


Ross Gittins has a great column in the SMH yesterday about infrastructure (hospitals, schools, public transport etc), and why it is that the great services end up being provided for the people who can most afford it. I'm a great example - I live in a place where I have the choice of bus, train or ferry to the city, I have a major teaching hospital within five kilometres of my house, and some of the top schools in Sydney are within walking distance.

The point Ross Gittins makes is that the richest people live in suburbs like that because they are desirable suburbs. Their great facilities pushes up the prices in that suburb, rather than the services being provided because the rich people live there. So the government ends up providing great services to richer people because they can afford to live where the services are. If I were to downsize to a cheaper part of Sydney, I would be giving up a lot of that infrastructure.

And when an attempt is made to move the facilities to where the people actually need them (a prime example is hospitals out in the western suburbs where the majority of the people live) the articulate inner-suburbanites are very good at stopping any services moving out of their areas.

So even though public provision of services like health and education is an attempt to even the playing field, our government would have to be far more active than it is in providing services to the poorer areas and taking away services from the richer areas (after all you've got to pay for it some how) to make that happen.

Of course it's not just an accident of purchasing power. In Sydney, public transport provision basically stopped being built at around the time of World War II, so you can tell exactly how old your suburb is by its transport provision. Train - pretty old, or on a major country line. Public bus - not quite as old, or else in a place that is impractical for trains. Private bus - occasional provision for commuters in new suburbs. Nothing at all - the last 30 years or so.

It is a shame we don't occasionally have state governments with a bit of vision.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Work Life Balance

In our executive team today, we had a bit of a discussion about work-life balance, and how to maintain some sense that work-life balance was possible in our environment (one which at least some of the time, there are a bunch of people working ridiculous hours to meet a deadline like business planning or year end reporting).

The thing that rang true to me is that the most important thing is the culture (around the place, but often driven by the senior people). If you get a bunch of people subtly (or not so subtly) competing to send the email at the most anti-social hour, or having spent the whole weekend in the office, it's pretty hard to talk about work-life balance in any way that doesn't promote cynicism.

If, on the other hand, you have a group of people working similar hours, but who are more embarrassed than proud of their long hours, and who might just take the odd afternoon off in the days when they're not as busy, then you get to a point where a real meaningful aspiration for everyone is some kind of work-life balance. So it's seen as a point of pride that the whole team managed to work a short week, and get away at 4 on a Friday for drinks (or something) rather than as a point of pride that someone managed to send an email at 1 am.

I don't have any answers, but I don't think people outside this kind of culture realise just how difficult it can be to turn it around, when everyone in the culture has grown up that way (in their working life at least).

Monday, March 27, 2006

Over-using the hospital system

I had a scary night last night. D (aged 2 and three quarters) woke up at 2 am needing to go to the toilet, was trying to yell out to get help, and discovered that he couldn't talk, and could barely breathe. So I heard some strange barking noises, went to investigate, and discovered a terrified child who was trying to simultaneously breathe and pull his shorts down. I was pretty sure (from the barking) that it was croup, but two years ago, when D had croup, I got a pretty severe lecture from the nurse treating him that if he had trouble breathing, I should take it very seriously.

After a brief confab with E, I called 000, and an ambulance came and took them both to hospital. He was absolutely fine - by the time the ambulance came, he was just wheezing a bit, and after some drugs at hospital, and an hour or so of observation, they were sent home in a taxi.

I'm now wondering whether to feel guilty about over-using our wonderful health system (all completely free, by the way). Should I have waited the extra two minutes it would have taken to make it clear that a drive to hospital would have been adequate (rather than an ambulance)? Should I have then given him some ventolin (from previous wheezing episodes), and put him to sleep in our room and listened to his breathing all night instead of using getting the hospital to check him out?

Certainly any parent of a child with asthma would deal with that kind of breathing trouble pretty regularly, I imagine. They would probably laugh at my alarm. But they would also have strategies to deal with the little episodes, that I don't have. I also know that asthma, left untreated, can kill a child (it put one of my cousins in intensive care for a few days at age 20), and D has shown wheezing tendencies in the past.

Upper-middle class parents like me are more likely to have the sense of entitlement that leads them to just call the ambulance, rather than feeling a burden on the system and waiting until it's clearly a matter of life and death.

So which is right? The over-use of the hospital system to make sure nothing terrible happens, or rationing yourself to make absolutely sure it's necessary?

Most studies of the rationing of health care that happens when patients are charged for it show that patients don't have enough understanding to decide which treatments are necessary, and which are not. The trouble is that charging for it is unlikely to change the use. I would still have called the ambulance, even if it cost me a fair bit of money, and the parent who is already worried about being a burden on the system would be even less likely to, as they would have the added worry about being able to afford it.

Sunday, March 26, 2006


This week's book review is Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist explores the Hidden side of Everything, by Steven J Levitt and Stephen J Dubner. I've seen this book reviewed all over the place, and knew it was the kind of book I would devour very quickly.

Steven J Levitt is an economist who likes looking at everyday problems. A few examples of the conclusions he has drawn in various papers that are discussed in this book:
  • swimming pools are much more dangerous than guns (there are 100 times more child deaths per swimming pool than per gun in the US)
  • legalised abortion is the reason that crime has substantially reduced in the US (the babies who would have grown up to commit the crimes were aborted)
  • baby's names start in the upper class, and gradually filter down to the lower classes, by which time they are a clear signal of a baby/child's lower class status.
  • real estate agents behave in a way which will maximise the selling price when selling their own house, but when selling a client's house, they will minimise the selling time.

I enjoyed the book, but it does feel quite lightweight. I imagine that the various learned papers it's based on have more evidence to back the conclusions, but with most of the conclusions, I just wanted to argue with the evidence. In particular, the abortion/crime linkage seemed full of unwarranted assumptions, and completely lacking in comparisons (places where abortions hadn't been legalised and crime hadn't fallen, with everything else including the economy and the drugs of choice remaining the same).

If I had time, I would probably go and find his original paper about that, and the baby names, and read it carefully, but as it was, it felt like a book that was too lightweight for me. And I don't especially like my books heavyweight, but maybe when it involves numbers, I'm more discerning.

It's the kind of book that will be in the library (it's quite popular), so I'd recommend borrowing it, not buying it (as I did).

Friday, March 24, 2006

Why don't women make Partner?

Laura at 11D has a post wondering why women don't make Partner in US law firms (inspired by a NY Times article).

From my experience, I don't really think it's that different a question from asking why women don't make it to senior roles in business. Some law firms (I don't believe all of them) have a bit of an approach to promotion that if you're not devoting your life to work, then you don't deserve promotion. But every investment bank I've ever seen in action is like that, and you never see articles about the dearth of women in investment banking. And many corporates are like that too. Accounting firms (at least in Australia) have a smaller proportion of female partners than law firms, but at least partly, that's because partner is a more senior role in an accounting firm (law firms have, broadly, 1 partner for every five non-partner professionals, but accoutning firms aim for more like 1 in 10).

The most specific thing about the law (and more broadly, professional services firms) is that mentoring is very important - you learn by working with someone more senior than you, and you need to be chosen by someone to get that intensive training. But it's only a matter of degree. Most successful business people will talk about the mentors they have learned from. It's just more obvious that it's necessary in a professional services firm.

Some of the commenters over at 11D suggest that the fault is with the women - they're not ambitious enough, or view the hours they have to put in as a chore, rather than with excitement.

My view is that the causes are complex (of course!)

- in an environment when there are few senior women, it's hard for women to get good mentoring, as both men and women are often more comfortable mentoring someone of their own sex (if I look at the people I have mentored informally over the past five yeras, the majority have been women, even though my junior colleagues have been more often men)
- in any career, but particularly professional services, the big demands in terms of hours often come in your late 20s early 30s - many women are thinking about children at that age, more than men, and not sure they are willing to put in that time, so they consciously or unconsciously reduce their ambition
- simple sexism shouldn't be ignored. Just as men are more likely to pick men as the talented up-and-comers to mentor, they can be more likely to rate other men highly in performance appraisals. Particularly, they can be likely to assume a man has ability without strong evidence, while women generally have to show stronger evidence of their ability. I realise this one is a strong statement, but I've watched it happen a lot.

So is there hope? I think there is a tipping point, where there are enough women that the mentoring and sexism issues above reduce substantially. The senior women don't feel so outnumbered that they have to be "one of the boys", and are able to make a difference. Probably about 25% is enough. In my experience, at that point, I don't feel like an outsider any more.

And the companies that get there earlier will have a competitive advantage, as they will have a bigger talent pool to choose from.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


This weekend is the annual corporate triathlon in Sydney. I'm really sad not to be doing it this year. It's a combination of moving jobs at around the time when the entries went in, and the doctor telling me not to exercise too early after my bout of bronchial pneumonia a month ago.

I've done it every year since 1997, with the exception of 2003 when I was eight months pregnant. I even did it four months pregnant in 2001(when I was in denial about how much my life was about to change by having a baby). It's the most consistent event I've done of all the events I've tried since I got into running. The distances are short enough that you don't really have to be fit to have a go at it (the winners take about half an hour), but you have a great sense of accomplishment when you finish. The course is on the same course as the Sydney Olympic triathlon, including a swim in Sydney Harbour, which, although it scares some people (the thought of sharks) I think is the highlight of the day.

And it's just at that perfect time of year in Sydney when it's not too hot, but the water is still warm from the summer, and the days are (mostly!) clear and crisp. I'll have to come back to this post next year when the entries go in, to make sure I do it.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Cyclones and climate change

In the wake of Cyclone Larry, I'm surprised that there hasn't been much press about global warming and increased cyclone activity. It's sensible, because you can't possibly blame one cyclone on global warming, but sense never stopped the media before.

So it was co-incidental to read a summary of the recent research and press on RealClimate - there's a reasonable amount of dissent, but most scientists believe that the increase in cyclones is real, and that it is related to the increase in sea-temperature in the last 50 years.

But if you are an insurance company, the major reason why insurance claims from cyclones has increased over that time is that there is more insured property in cyclone prone areas. And the reason why Australia, even though we have a vast coastline exposed to cyclone risk, hasn't had as bad a time with cyclones than the US over that time (even counting Cyclone Tracy, I think the US would be worse off as a % of GDP lost) is because a lot of our coastline is thinly populated. Larry has caused horrendous damage, but if Innisfail had been a big city like Miami, it would have been much much worse.

So if you're thinking about moving to the coast, you should realise that if you go to the tropics, you're going to need to be protected against cyclones in future. And you should also realise that cyclones are going to come further south (in our case) than they used to - Byron Bay perhaps shouldn't be the ageing hippy's choice after all!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Book Review - The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars: Who Decides What Makes a Good Mother?

This week's book review is The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars: Who Decides What Makes a Good Mother? by Miriam Peskowitz.

I'm way behind on this one. Elizabeth at Half Changed World reviewed this nearly a year ago, and Rebel Dad has been trying to googlebomb the term "Mommy Wars" to this book as he is convinced it is the only sensible commentary on the topic.

I was really looking forward to this book, as I had read a lot about it (all favourable) about it when it was first published. And really, it is far more sensible than most, because it talks about how the real issue is how difficult it is to raise children in an environment where the workplace just doesn't believe in the family's existence (except as a photo on someone's desk).

The book weaves anecdotes with the many women (and some men) Peskowitz interviewed about how they were raising their children, and combining that with the need for a family income. There are as many solutions as there are families, but nearly all of them suffer from the difficulty of combining work with a family in any meaningful way. I really enjoyed the book - it was an easy read, and it was nice to read something that I mostly agreed with. And it was great to read something that didn't just assume that work and family issues are only about upper-class New Yorkers and whether they drop out of the workforce. And yet...

I read this immediately after reviewing Kidding Ourselves, by Rhona Mahoney. And, for me, it suffered by comparison. It was covering similar ground, but Mahoney's book was chock full of statistics, with a bit of anecdote, while Peskowitz's book was all about the anecdote. It's unfair of me to criticize it for that - that's how she set out to write the book, and she interviewed a lot of people from all different races and classes (in the US of course, but you can't have everything!). But still. I'm an actuary. I like statistics.

For me the book suffered also from what felt like an airy conclusion that the workplace needs to change to make it more family friendly, and part-time work more feasible for all kinds of jobs, without really giving any kind of concrete way in which that will happen, except for really US-specific things like making health care not so dependent on full-time jobs. From a country like the US where there isn't a lot (legally) different between part-time and full-time jobs, just how many hours you choose to work, I think it's easy to be seduced into the idea that part-time jobs will magically appear once you remove the obvious barriers.

It's not that easy - the way in which professional (which is a broader and broader category these days) work has changed in the last 30-odd years in ways that make it less family-friendly, but the reason is not just an unreasonable conspiracy against the family. Some of the changes involve the greater proportion of workers who are "knowledge workers" - the more you can engage their brain and keep them thinking about work every waking moment (preferably at the office, but even at home), the more productive they are.

I would love to work in a more family-friendly world (and the average Australian workplace is more family friendly than the US, at least in a legislative sense, if not in actual flexibility), but too many of the articles and books I read about this topic seem to think that if we ask for it enough we will just get it.

I found Better than Sex - how a whole generation got hooked on work, which is much more of a business book, to be a more interesting exposition of how we got into such a family unfriendly place. It doesn't have solutions either, but it does acknowledge some of the problems - the reasons that employers find it easier to employ people who will put their life and soul into a job and don't have a life outside the office. You have to acknowledge these issues to fix them.

But back to the "mommy wars" - the main point of this book is that the "mommy wars"* should really be defined as parents against the workplace - what creates the animosity is the sheer difficulty of being a parent, seeing your children, and anyone in the household having a job that demands your life without giving anything back. And it's a point that needs to be made often, so I'm very glad this book was written.

*actually even the name says that this war is about the US - I've found it very hard to write "mommy" numerous times in this post

Commonwealth Games

I've never been exactly sport obsessed, but the sports I follow and enjoy are generally Olympic sports, rather than the rugbies or cricket. (partly because I do enjoy watching women compete at elite level - tennis is the only sport that gets even close to equal time for women compared to men outside the olympics).

But even given that, I can't get into the Commonwealth games. It's just too far away from the best in the world. Last night the women's gymnastics was on, which I had to watch. Unfortunately Channel 9 decided many others had the same idea, so I watched the entire telecast from 7.30 to 10.30 before they put any of it on.

There were one or two events that were clearly pretty close to world class (both women!) - women's pursuit cycling (Olympic champion against World Champion) and women's 100m swimming (Olympic champion against world record holder), but most were clearly a long way away.

In the gymnastics, the bronze medal was won by a gymnast who fell on all four apparatus. That's a pretty damning indictment on the quality of the competition.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Happy St Patricks Day

I'd completely forgotten it was St Patrick's Day today until I got into work and one of my colleagues was wearing a bright green shirt and matching tie. It actually looked quite good - and he isn't even red-headed!

I enjoy St Patrick's Day. The wowsers probably say it involves too much alcohol (and it probably does), but it seems to me to be a better model for a national day than most. Certainly compared to our own very conflicted celebration that is only a celebration if you don't think very hard about the anniversary that we are actually commemorating. St Patrick's Day is a straightforward celebration of intrinsic Irishness that anyone who can claim a vague relationship to the country can join.

Of course Australia is full of people of irish background; and as a national stereotype, we do love a drink (although that's not nearly as true as it used to be), so it is a perfect celebration for us. No commitment needed except the vague willingness to wear green.

My father tells me that I have one thirty-second Irish ancestry, so I figured that was enough for a quick drink down the pub after work today.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


For at least ten years now, in Sydney, government primary schools have had a no-hat, no-play policy. There is a hat as part of the uniform, and if you don't have it with you, you can't play in the playground. It's extraordinarily cute on masse - particularly the kindergarteners.

I live in an area brimming with high schools (mostly private) and I realised the other day, though, that only very old-fashioned private high-school students seem to wear hats. I was wondering if they wear their hats at school when they have to, or whether it's just too hard to have compulsory hats in high schools.

Since my boys were old enough to notice, I've taken to wearing a hat whenever I make them wear one. Gradually, we'll probably all modify our behaviours to set a good example to our children, and we'll be back to everyone (sensibly) wearing hats in the street again.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Job share

The AFR has an article today (subscription only as usual) about job sharing. It is very favourable, basically saying that most of the myths about how hard it is and complete rubbish. A few myths:

- it costs too much
- takes twice as long to supervise
- needs a perfect match to work properly
- too hard to communicate with two people in one role.

The report (with research from consulting firm Catalyst) suggests that not only are these things not true, but you don't need a formal cross-over day either - a handover telephone call is enough. I'd love this to be true. Apart from any long term interests I have in family friendly organisations, I have a real shortage of good people and if I could add to my pool by using part-timers, it would be particularly good.

I have had one experience, though, and it was mixed. A secretary in my team (not my own) was a job-share position. They even had a whole handover day. There were still things that got lost in handover. I probably had high standards, as when each of them was full-time, they were fantastic, but I thought there was some loss of follow-through.

The case study in the article talks about the two job-sharers running a journal with the tangible and intangible "stuff they need to know" - maybe my secretary friends just needed to be slightly more organised (I suspect they relied too much on their handover day).

I'm starting to think I should do that for my job so that I keep track of my brain better day to day.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Open plan offices

Jason Soon at Catallaxy has a post about open plan offices that I violently disagree with - basically saying how useless open plan offices are, and how teleworking will get everything done anyway.

I'm a big fan of open plan offices, to the point that I have just asked for my cubicle walls (marking me out as a slightly more important person than the people around me, but providing no acoustic privacy, and reducing my natural light) to be removed.

I think the difference is that in my job, collaboration is important, and adds to everyone's productivity. People learn and take in knowledge differently, but my experience is that if I spend an hour with someone explaining an issue to me, that time will be much more productive than if that person spent an hour composing a report, and I spent an hour reading it. Those interactions, writ small, are much more likely to happen if you can just wander over to someone's desk and ask them a question.

Of course, you get the occasional annoying person who talks very loudly right next to you about the weekend, but if most people around you are polite and considerate (which happens surprisingly often in an office full of professionals who are treated like professionals) then it works very well.


The interesting thing about this for me, is that my reaction is similar to my reaction to the difficulty of making part-time work happen professionally. I believe that a significant part of my productivity depends on interactions with other people; if I'm not there half the time, then it's very hard for those interactions to take place. For some jobs it works; many it doesn't.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Book Review - Dancing with Strangers

This week's book review is Dancing with Strangers, by Inga Clendinnen. It is a detailed historical narrative of the first five or so years of the white settlement of Australia. I've read Inga Clendinnen's essays before in weekend papers, and found them hard going, so I wasn't sure that I was going to enjoy this. Surprisingly, I found it excellent.

Her aim, in this book, is as much as possible to reconstruct the story from both sides - white and aboriginal (or in her words, British and Australian). What she does, while writing her historical narrative, is spend a lot of time with the primary sources. She makes it clear to the reader the process of working out a narrative from sources that often contradict, rather than (as in most books of popular history) making one interpretation and reporting it as fact. There are six main sources, which is not many, for such a momentous event, particularly as nearly all of them were consciously writing for publication and posterity.

The best example of this is a detailed deconstruction of the story of Phillip (the first Governor) being speared by Aborigines in Manly. The usual interpretation of this event is that suddenly, without warning, a group of Aborigines turned on Phillip without any reason. Clendinnen makes a convincing case, while showing her evidence from the primary texts, that what actually happened was that Bennelong was making a power grab and creating a ritual spearing event in a standard response to Phillip and his people's many recent offenses.

Ths book makes pretty clear that Phillip, and many of his officers, started the colony with very good intentions towards the Aborigines, even if they didn't create a treaty, or legally acknowledge prior ownership of the land by a hunter gatherer culture. But it chronicles what seems to be an inevitable slide towards conflict from both sides, because the cultural gulf between the two sides was just too great.

What I find interesting is that this is a classic example of the post-modern history hated by many traditionalists, in that it clearly shows how much history is in the eye and interpretation of the beholder. For example, from John Howards's Australia Day address:
"And too often, history, along with other subjects in the humanities, has succumbed to a postmodern culture of relativism where any objective record of achievement is questioned or repudiated."

But it is the kind of book that would have created real understanding in my school study of this episode of history, because it creates empathy for both sides - both the early Aborigines and the early British settlers appear to be real people, as opposed to the cardboard cut-out stupid native or racist British stereotype they usually were, depending on who was telling the story. Done this well, there should more post-modernism, not less, in school histories, and those for the general reader.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Market forces

I've moved to a different part of town, and I've been noticing that coffee is 10% cheaper there. I'm trying to figure out why that is. I used to be on the fringes of the tourist district, in an area that was full of investment bankers. Now I'm closer to the shopping district, and I think the average person working there is probably paid a bit less.

So I'm trying to figure out whether it's demand or supply that's changed the price. I think it's probably demand - the investment bankers don't care how much they pay for they coffee so the demand is inelastic. But it could be supply - there are coffee shops everywhere in my new part of town, so there's usually more choice in the same block.

I know the fact that I can tell you the price of coffee in at least ten coffee shops within a block of each of my old and new offices is not something to be proud of. But at least it's got me thinking about economics.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Jennifer and Gentlemen

I've moved jobs lately, and my predecessor was male. I've noticed that many of the emails that he sent me to get me up to speed with things were originally addressed to "Gentlemen". Very early on, one of my frequent correspondents sent me an email addressed to "Jennifer and Gentlemen". I think he thought I was over-reacting when I asked him not to send things like that. He's a nice guy, and was genuinely seeking information when he asked me what I would prefer.

And maybe I was over-reacting. But early on in my career, I was promoted to a management team where I was the only woman of about 15 people. We had a monthly, incredibly formal meeting, which the very important senior executive running it invariably started by saying "Jennifer and Gentlemen". It really annoyed me, but I was never quite sure why. The most annoying thing, though, was when after a year another woman joined the team. He never opened the meeting formally again - just started with the first agenda item.

After reflection, I realised that what annoyed me was the pointedness of it. It wasn't enough that I was (very obviously) the only woman in the group. The pompous senior executive had to point out the weirdness of it at every meeting, in a subtle way that nobody could take issue with. He probably wouldn't have realised that that's what he was doing, but he was clearly quite taken aback with having a woman on his team.

I'm pretty sure my current colleague was genuinely just moving on from addressing his emails to "gentlemen" (he's english and wears three piece suits in summer, so he has eccentric formality on his side as an excuse). But I'm glad I asked him to stop. I just asked him to figure out a greeting that didn't single me out. Hopefully that request will make him think next time.

Now that I'm catching up on my blog reading, I've remembered that yesterday (International Women's Day) was blog against sexism day. I've been really stressed about work lately, so I forgot, but it is still (just) March 8th somewhere in the world (maybe Hawaii??). This post is probably a bit frivolous, but contains one of my most annoying sexism at work stories, so thought I'd put it in anyway.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Places I've been

Here's a map of all the places I've been in the world:

create your own visited countries map

I found it via a bunch of US bloggers who did the equivalent for the US states. The thing I found interesting when ticking the boxes is Asia. I had thought I had been lots of places in Asia (for work), but I realised as I was filling it in that I've really just touched the surface. Because I've done work relating to quite a lot more places than I've been (Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, India, Philippines for example) I feel like I know the place. But I don't really. But funnily enough, the map looks like I'm an Asian old hand because on the strength of four or five visits to Hong Kong, totalling less than two weeks time there, I've been to the whole of China. The power of political change.

South America is the place that's missing I feel I'd like to go next. Every time I see it on the Amazing Race, they are in another really cool place that I had never heard of before. I do work with quite a few South Africans, and although they're happy they've moved here (crime mainly), their homesick story of the natural beauty of places like Capetown make me want to go there too.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Global warming

I was reading the New Yorker this evening. The article on Katrina and New Orleans and the aftermath really struck me. There are a whole lot of causes of Katrina, and reasons why there is a good chance New Orleans as a city will never be rebuilt properly again. Part of it, as the article makes clear, is just about building a city on the delta of a mighty river. But part of it is that with the combination of potential increases in sea levels, major increases in storm frequency, as well as the general poverty of the place, the chances of enough people taking a risk with their financial futures and rebuilding there to remake the New Orleans of legend are pretty slim.

Unlike the overdramatic headlines I've read about various tiny islands being "the first casualty of global warming"*, when we look back in 50 years time, New Orleans may well be the casualty we remember - the city that was lost.

* when you look past the headline, the only island I've seen that involved actual evacuation was to a higher spot on the same island, where the people lived before westerners valued beachfront more than security - it will come, but it hasn't yet in a serious way.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Obesity again

The ABS has released their regular survey of Australians and their health. There is a wealth of detail in there, but 62% of men, and 45% of women (up 4% each from 5 years ago) were overweight or obese. Mostly, the increase is in the obese proportion, as people move from normal weight to overweight, and then again to obese. I've realised again that my eye has got used to people's new proportions. One of my colleagues mentioned to me the other day that he was classified obese (BMI marginally over 30). If you'd asked me before the conversation, I wouldn't have said he was overweight. But then if 62% of Australian men are overweight, that's the man you're used to looking at.

Just to put it into perspective, one of the health conditions asked about is diabetes. Right now, 3.5% of the population has it (or knows they have it - most estimates are that as many people again have Type II diabetes without knowing about it). Last survey, five years ago, it was 3.0%. It may not sound like much of a change, but it is a 15% increase.