Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Running for Greens in Brisbane March 2008

I've placed my first election ad for my campaign in the MacGregor ward of the Brisbane City Council on YouTube:

So what do I stand for?

In short, a liveable city.

What does that mean? A city that puts people first.

In the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, one of the main characters is called Ford Prefect. He was a space alien and in an error in his research prior to landing on Earth, he thought cars were the dominant life form. If you look at the priorities in development in Brisbane, you'd be excused for making the same mistake. Billions of dollars are being committed to building a car tunnel that no one will want when it's built, because petrol will be so expensive, we'll all want to use our cars as little as possible. After totally neglecting the issue for 4 years, Lord Mayor Campbell Newman has announced $100-million in future spending on bike paths. He and his Labor opposite number are in a bidding war on the number of new buses they will lay on.

All of this is pathetic and inadequate, a reaction to demand for better public transport and alternatives to cars, rather than a coherent plan.

For example: why do Brisbane buses not run anywhere close to on time? Because the system is designed that way. For buses to run to a timetable you need:

  1. busways and bus lanes that isolate buses from regular traffic
  2. minimal or better still no ticket sales on buses
  3. rapid entry (related to avoiding selling tickets on the bus) and exit

What do we actually have? A limited network of busways, in which most of the routes spill out onto regular streets. Many routes do not go on busways at all, and don't make much use of dedicated bus lanes. Ticketing is mostly by buying tickets on the bus. While there are other options, you can't buy tickets at most stops. Ticketing alone is a significant factor in the difficulty in having buses run to time. Add to it that getting off buses at a popular stop can take considerable time, and there is too much variance in stop times to make accurate timetabling possible. Add in the other issues, and you can see that any attempt at maintaining an accurate timetable is a joke.

Brisbane buses, in other words, don't run to time by design.

The Labor and Liberal side of politics (pretty much the same side on this issue) can make all the election promises they like, but both have had ample opportunity to address this issue. The Libs have held the mayoral office for the last term, and Campbell Newman, as a Civil Engineer, ought to be capable of understanding the problem. Instead, he has ignored it in favour of building tunnels. The Labs ran the city before him, and they set things up the way they are today.

That's it for now. Watch this space for thoughts on bike paths and other failures of the existing city government. And how things could be done better, with examples from other parts of the world.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Lucky Americans

Lucky, lucky Americans.

You may be wondering how I can say this when your economy is in the toilet, the war in Iraq is a disaster, Afghanistan is unravelling and there is no obvious end in sight.

Well, one thing is obviously ending soon: the Bush presidency.

Can George Dubya Bush be as stupid as he sounds? People have argued that you have to be smart to get to be president of the US. However, we have some contrary precedents. Not only was Ronald Reagan not exceptionally intellectually gifted, but he was sliding into Alzheimers. To what extent his trademark ad-libs were carefully scripted and the property of well organized reminders we'll probably never know, but that he used cue cards extensively and could be totally incoherent without them has been widely reported.

Look at Bush's record on Iraq. The ostensible reason for the war was weapons of mass destruction. WMDs of course are not a new issue, so why the urgency? Because Bush somehow connected Saddam's alleged WMDs to 9/11. What's the connection? If Al-Qaeda somehow got their hands on WMDs, there would be big trouble. Well, maybe. That part makes some sort of sense. But why would Saddam give an Islamist organization WMDs when he is one of their natural enemies? Some of the enmity between the US and Saddam would have pushed him closer to Al-Qaeda but would Saddam have really contemplated giving such dangerous weapons to an organization fundamentally opposed to his style of government? It's unlikely to say the least.

The more obvious explanation is that Bush's inner circle with their oil connections saw it as a hostile takeover of one of the world's biggest oil resources. That they saw the whole thing in terms of a minimal-cost war, with fewer ground troups and a smaller post-invasion effort than most experts considered reasonable is an indication of a closed mindset with limited objectives in mind.

So, yes. I do think there's a case that Bush is not that smart, and is there primarily because he has powerful backers.

So why the “lucky” thing?

Because none of the frontrunners are nearly that stupid. While they may have widely differing positions on some issues like how to get out of Iraq and how to run the economy, they are all candidates of substance. Not only the election, but the final stages of the primaries are shaping up to be a great contest.

None of this of course eases the short-term pain of the downhill slide of the economy and the continuing disaster in Iraq, but an end is indeed in sight. I don't know exactly what it will be because the candidates have different takes, and there are no obvious answers to some of the hard problems up ahead – but at least they are candidates with the potential to take them on. And it seems unlikely that whoever wins will carry on with the Bush approach to climate change denial.

So, not just lucky Americans – lucky rest of the world too.