Friday, September 4

Washing away the cobwebs

Nothing blows away the cobwebs like a run on the motor-cycle. Yesterday, however, it was more like washing away the cobwebs.

I rolled out the motor-cycle and pointed it over the hills through Kulnura and later north along the old alignment of the Great North Road – you can still see the convict-built masonry walls and culverts along the way – before I pulled up in Wollombi.

Wollombi shops

It's a charming heritage township, and well worth a visit. As usual, my bike came to rest in front of the tavern best known for a fortified wine labelled Dr Jurd's Jungle Juice.

Me? I kept under the limit with two beers and a hamburger while I chatted with some of the other bikers along the veranda. Rode off at 1.45pm – just as the rain started. And it rained all the way home, through Cessnock and down the F3 freeway.

It wasn't heavy rain, but steady. Soon my wet-weather gear was sodden. – and I was experiencing dread as I mixed it with the freeway traffic.

That gives me a subject for this post. But after building up the revs. I'll then speed through a few other topics I'd been looking at.

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Hey guys, give me more room in the wet

We didn't have much rain, less than 6mm in the gauge back home. But that was more than had fallen in all of the month of August.

Steady light rain after a long dry spell means one thing to a biker –a treacherously slippery mix of dust, oil and water may be coating the tarmac. Often, you can feel it as you turn, accelerate or brake.

It's OK for you guys strapped in your metal boxes. If you slam into the car in front because you're travelling too fast or too close, and then someone slams into the rear of your car, you're still likely to walk away from the pile-up.

I know many of you dislike bikers for the way we zip past on sunny days, but surely not so much you'd not care if I slid under someone's tyres.

If I ride a prudent distance from the car in front, don't drop into it. I have to throttle back to restore the safe distance, and then the driver behind gets upset and tailgates me.

And please turn your lights on. I'm peering through a rain-spattered visor, using my mirrors to see what's coming up behind, and in the poor light and through the misty spray I can make out only the grey, blurry outlines of the semis and B-doubles about to pass me.

Let's be nice to one another in wet weather, and I'll promise to give you a cheery wave next time I zip past you on a sunny day.

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And another thing about anti-smoking campaigns

Tougher measures against smoking moved closer this week with the Federal Government likely to accept the recommendation of its Preventative Health Task Force to push the price of a packet of 30 cigarettes up from around $13.50 to $20 – or from 45c to 67c per cigarette.

Grumpy Old Journo still has reservations about this. As this blog pointed out on July 13 (“Clearing away the smoke” [1] ), it may cause many to quit, but there will be some families from lower socio-economic groups who will just buy less food for their children.

And in newspaper reports, I see no support for two measures I suggested in the July post. First, that the government try to push down the price of nicotine lozenges, patches and chewing gum – for many heavily addicted smokers, the most effective way to quit.

Second, that we encourage people to treat directors, executives and PR staff of tobacco companies as scum. After all, they promote an industry which, in the ordinary course of its business, kills many Australians. And as Australian parliaments make it harder for them here, they just turn to killing many of our Asian neighbours to keep the profits rolling in.

Another point has occurred to me. As I walk near the local high school before classes begin, I see students in school uniform in groups around nearby corners – and many of them are smoking.

Most anti-tobacco advertising is aimed at persuading smokers to quit. Surely we can commission the best minds in the advertising industry to produce convincing campaigns which persuade teenagers not to start.

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Appalling gun-lovers blackmail NSW

So it's happening, as forecast in mid-August (in “Appalling politicians”, posted on Aug 17 [2] ). The two members of the Shooters Party in the NSW State Legislative Council are refusing to vote for any government legislation unless the government agrees to let their gun-happy members hunt feral animals in the state's national parks [3] .

They hold the balance of power in the Upper House. Because of the preferential voting system by which members are elected, they got in with minuscule public support [4] .

It's a dreadful choice for the NSW Government – cave in to appalling people who kill animals for pleasure, or see vital legislation stalled.

And if it does cave in, what will these appalling people demand next? The Shooters Party policy includes a US-style right for all citizens to own and use firearms [5] .

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John Della Bosca? What's left to say?

My sympathy is with the former NSW Labor Health Minister, who resigned from his ministerial post after a tawdry tabloid, Rupert Murdoch's top-selling Sydney Daily Telegraph, broke the story of his sexual affair with a woman aged 26 – half his age.

But I'm not putting my hand up to say so. It could lead to speculation, unwarranted of course, about some of my past.

However, you might find two feature articles in this morning's Sydney Morning Herald both informative and enjoyable.

In the first, legal affairs commentator Richard Ackland gives some interesting information about the affair and the Murdoch press's actions. He says the Daily Telegraph has damaged the media's case against tighter privacy laws [6].

In the second, Professor Rodney Tiffen offers a seven-point guide to ministers on how to survive sex scandals [7] .


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