Corporate Greed


Cross City Ripoff

Regular readers may recall that back in March of last year I posted the transcript of a letter I sent to CrossCity Motorway Pty Ltd with the toll fare and fine I was forced to pay after accidently stumbling through their badly signposted bloody cross city motorway.

Well, just a couple of little updates on that one—Fire sale as tunnel price plummets and Tunnel owes taxpayers, too.

The traffic flow was a third of the estimates. The tunnel is now worth a third of what it cost to build. Banks and investors are hundreds of millions out of pocket. Unpaid phone and electricity bills. Even staff are owed holiday pay.

It never ceases to amaze me that banks and corporate organisations will spend hundreds of millions on a complete fuck-up which could have been completely avoided if they’d asked the opinion of few people in the street. We didn’t want existing roads changed to funnel cars into their tunnel, and we didn’t want to pay a fortune for the privilege of using it. I won’t use a toll road that forces me to buy an automatic electronic payment system (extrapolate how that will ultimately be abused). Of course, the real fat cats responsible won’t be touched—as usual, it will be the taxpayers who suffer for their greed.

I’m sick of having to pay extra for basics that should be covered by our taxes. Hopefully this debacle will bring up short the greedy bastards who think building roads and tunnels is a licence to print money. The people of Sydney have spoken!

The Code to the Kingdom of Stupid


CodeI received this little beauty in my mailbox today. I immediately rang the Reverend over at Tetherd Cow to share the good news, and in the brief pauses between my indignant splutterings he suggested I blog it. Or if you don’t want to, he went on, send it to me and I’ll blog it. Hold on, he said triumphantly, let’s both blog it!

Calm in the knowledge that his finally honed sense of the ridiculous would be the perfect foil to my impotent outpouring of rage at the stupidity of mankind, I agreed to a world first: a simultaneous posting by Headless Hollow and Tetherd Cow on the same subject!

Let’s have a good look at this gem, shall we. From a design point of view, we have here a classic example of jumping on the bandwagon long after the bandwagon has left town. Note the pseudo-Da Vinci Code stylings. Let’s sit in on the design meeting …

Client: “I was thinking we should make it look like that Da Vinci code movie, because those sinners out there are all obsessed by that stuff, and if we do it in the same style, we might actually trick them into believing that it has something to do with the Da Vinci code and get them to read it before they realise that it’s actually a Christian flyer, ’cause then we’ll actually be fooling them because we’ve subverted the style and are using it for our own worthy cause and we’re therefore not only being culturally relevant but cleverly twisting around the whole sinful Da Vinci concept into a pure and Christian one!”

Designer: “OK. I’ve got this clip art picture of a Chinese dragon I can use.”

But wait, no sub-Christian spin-off church flyer is complete without those two classics—the clean WASP mother with her clean WASP baby, pointing off to the wonderful new horizon just ahead (“we’ve got the Code—and money—and you don’t!”), and the troubled WASP teenager, her face partly in shadow, wondering “what’s it all about? Should I let Bobby feel me up, or will I burn in hellfire for all eternity if he touches me there?”

Now, about this Code … sorry the Amazing Code to Real Hope, Spiritual Peace & Happiness®. Shit! I’m not safe! I don’t Know the Code! Quick, tell me! All I can say is, lucky for me it’s all Free!

Look, if you’re Christian, and you feel you really must bother other people with unsolicited mailings, at least be upfront about it goddammit! Don’t treat me like a complete frackin’ idiot! The truly horrifying thing is, there are no doubt people out there who will be fooled by this transparent marketing junk into actually giving away their contact details. Receiving the postcard in their mailbox, their thought patterns go like this …

Hmm, something to do with the Da Vinci Code, great … everyone’s into that … though I only got three chapters in when I was on the beach last Christmas, but the movie’s got Tom Hanks in it, so it must be ‘serious’ … wait— True Happiness? I could do with some of that! The kids are screaming and my husband is having an affair and my life is meaningless and empty and Dr Phil just doesn’t seem to be giving me all the answers anymore … and it sounds easy, I don’t actually have to question anything or put any effort in, I just need to be told The Code and I’ll finally find the answer to all the confusing non-black-and-white situations that life keeps throwing at me every day … wow, I’m sending this in! This is really it this time!

Two weeks later in the newsagent … Shame that Code thing didn’t work … hmmm, what’s this paperback? ‘Six Easy Steps to Real Hope, Spiritual Peace & Happiness’—wow! I’m buying this! This is it! This is really it this time!

Possessed by an Imagination


Back when I was a little tacker, at about the age of twelve, I discovered Dungeons and Dragons. For me, like many others of my generation, the game was to make a big impact on my life. It sucked up many, many hours, both with friends—sharing adventures in imaginary worlds—and alone—designing worlds and underworlds, painting figures and preparing for the next game. I was always the ‘Dungeon Master’, or game referee, which meant I did a lot of work to prepare the games we played and make the whole game experience as smooth and enjoyable for everyone as possible. In contrast, the players pretty much just had to show up with their characters on a piece of paper (a ‘character sheet’ that I’d lovingly designed) and play.

DM GuideAs D&D became more popular in the early-80s it started to cop some flack from hysterical fringe groups, due to a few isolated and unfortunate incidents involving obviously unhinged teens taking the game a bit too seriously. Right wing Christians, in particular, attacked the game for its inclusion of demons and devils, and accused it of being a ‘thin end of the wedge’ for Satanic groups. Sniffing a good story, the media latched onto these accusations and ran sensationalist stories about this strange new obsession that was gobbling up the minds of innocent teenagers. I remember in particular one story by the American Sixty Minutes show that was run here in Australia, that focused on a teen homicide supposedly inspired by D&D. In the story, the camera zoomed dramatically into artwork from the game books, focusing on monsters and demons and juxtaposing them with a lurid reconstruction of the crime. Enough to send any parent running terrified into their teen’s room to grab those D&D books and chuck them on the fire.

The story so incensed my early-teen self that I wrote the program a carefully composed letter berating them for their sensationism and extolling the virtues of playing D&D and similar games: what about the fact, I asked, that players were being creative, developing their imaginations, learning skills (I still credit those early days with my later interest in graphic design, at which I now I make a living), socialising etc. Why were the actions of a couple of crazy people overshadowing the millions of happy, well-adjusted gamers?

Well, more than twenty-five years have passed and, surprise surprise, millions of teens didn’t grow up to be Satan-worshipping nutjobs. In fact, they mostly grew up to be highly intelligent and often unusually creative adults, and some of them, along with whole new generations, still play role-playing games. Of course, the fringe loonies still rail against the dangers of D&D. Here’s a quote from one of their websites: “Literally millions of young people are unknowingly participating in genuine occult practices and opening the doors for demons to enter their bodies through this seemingly innocent game.” Uh huh … riiiiight.

PentacleSo what reminded me of this kind of intolerance? The upcoming game BattleLore by Days of Wonder has a terrain piece called a ‘Magic Pentacle’ that features a pentacle symbol. To my amazement, some people on public forums have expressed concern that the use of such a symbol will offend some Christian sensibilities and possibly lead to some sort of ‘backlash’ for the company; or that it was a bad marketing decision to include such a symbol.

Leaving aside for the moment that the pentacle is a symbol that goes back to ancient times and was only co-opted by occult groups in the last century; or that Days of Wonder publishes in several countries, not just America, where the vast majority of this kind of criticism comes. Instead I just have to shake my head in slack-jawed amazement at the kind of people who go through life with beliefs so intolerant, with world-views so narrow, with ignorance so complete, as to be offended or angered by the use of a pentacle symbol in a fantasy boardgame.

Save us from the small- and narrow-minded, those who strive to restrict the boundless possibilities of the imagination to the claustrophobic confines of the religious fanatic. Tonight my girl and I sat down and watched The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring again together. I still had to hold back tears. Imagine if Tolkien had been forced to take out the balrog because it was too much like a demon, or Sauron himself because he offended right-wing conservative Christians with his similarities to the Devil. Let’s get rid of those witches in Grimm’s Fairy Tales shall we? Look, while we’re at it, Edgar Allan Poe wrote some occult stories … imagine how grey the world would be if we were not allowed to play imaginative games, or read stories or see films, until they’d been approved by some self-appointed, self-righteous body who had decided they had the right to determine what was a threat to our morality? There are always those who want to stifle creativity, sanitise stories, censor art. What a terrible shame their imaginations have dried up from disuse.

Anyway, all that aside … repeat after me people: it’s just a game.

Hell is other people?



I’ve been thinking about other people lately. Mostly because my neighbour is proving to be a dickhead, and it has reminded me of the times I’ve come up against other dickheads in my life. I’ve also come to the frightening conclusion that there are a hugely disproportionate number of dickheads out there.

When you’re a child, you live in a safe little family cocoon, insulated against the frustrations and horrors of the outside world. Your main concern is whether you’ll get to stay up past 8.30 at night, or whether you can complain just enough to get that bag of lollies, but not too much so it results in really pissing mum off. You get taught a set of rules, not only about how to behave at home with your family, but how to behave in the outside world with other people. And you learn—well, some people learn—the fine art of self-awareness and self-control. You learn to examine your own actions, and weigh them against your ideas of right and wrong. To do the right thing.

But as you get older, you start to realise that some people—a lot of people—somehow missed out on learning a lot of these rules.

Some of them are capable of the one thing I really fear, the mindless rage you cannot reason with. Twice in my life—and I’m not counting the occasional schoolyard bully—I’ve come up against it. Once, I was in a car that ran over a dog. The dog wasn’t on a leash and ran at full speed in front of the car; there was no way we could have avoided the collision. Of course we stopped, but the dog owner (a local drug dealer of no fixed address, we later discovered) completely freaked out, with the result that the next thing I knew I woke up in hospital with concussion. I still can’t remember exactly what happened.

Another time, in England, I drove out into a road in the countryside and, unbeknowst to me, in front of a fast driving car that had just come round a corner. The driver began swerving all over the road, obviously gripped by road rage. It looked to me that he was just trying to dangerously overtake, so when he did so, I gave him the finger. That was a mistake. The driver and passenger got so angry that the passenger was opening his door as they drove at high speed ahead of me, eventually cutting me off and forcing me and the car behind me to brake suddenly. They then got out of the car, ripped open my door and started pummelling me with blows.

You can’t reason with people like this. They could kill you—your life could end—because of their moment of stupid, unthinking rage. It happens all the time, all over the world. And in a thousand tiny ways, every day, people do stupid things because they have no manners, or don’t think about others, or allow the anger that is bottled up inside, possibly because of some totally unrelated frustration with their life, to explode violently.

We gather a group of like-minded, good people around us to protect us from the world. People who are kind. Friends and family. Sometimes it seems like we’re outnumbered by the stupid, the ignorant, the rude, the angry, the self-righteous, the blinkered, the un-self-aware.

There’s no way of changing this state of affairs, and sometimes I get angry and do stupid things too; but I also try to do little things to help. Smile at people behind counters. Always indicate when I’m driving. Walk quietly in my house at night. Make sure I’m not jumping ahead of someone in the queue. Warn the neighbours when I’m having a party. Park so I’m leaving enough space for the next car. Don’t let my ego dominate others. When I’m accused of doing something wrong, try to put myself in their shoes. Admit when I’m wrong.

We all have to think about other people, people.

Don’t strain yourself


They’re resurfacing a laneway near my house. I just walked past and counted fourteen Council workers. One of the men was on a machine; the other thirteen were standing around talking, smoking, drinking Coke and talking on mobiles.

To CrossCity Motorway Pty Ltd, Sydney

1 comment

Cross City Ripoff

Dear Sir/Madam,

Please find enclosed my payment for $13.56, being the toll amount of $3.56 and your additional administration charge of $10.00.

Allow me to suggest you enjoy this payment, as it will be the last time I use the Cross City Tunnel, which I will be making a point of avoiding in future. I used it on this occasion solely because it was so badly signposted by your company on the Eastern side that I stumbled into it by mistake.

Personally, I refuse to get an Electronic Tag account purely because of the the fact that your company gives me no choice not to, and I refuse to submit to the blatant extortion, Government inefficiency and corporate greed that I believe the Tunnel stands for.

I hope you find this frank and honest customer feedback informative.

Yours sincerely,
etc etc

The owner needs a licence too


I may ruffle some feathers here, but I think it is far too easy these days for people to own a dog. There seems to be no restrictions on the kind of person who can walk into a shop and buy one. A potential dog owner should have to undergo a series of rigorous checks.

Let me explain. I live in a pretty crowded inner city area, where houses butt up against each other, or are divided into terraces, and most have pretty small yards. I’m continually amazed at the number of dogs in the area, and even more amazed about how unhappy many of them are. Since I work from home, I hear them barking all day, cooped up in tiny yards, when their owners are at work. Sometimes there’s so many going at once I feel like I’ve been suddenly transported to a corner of Doggy Hell.

There’s a little white lapdog a few houses up that I have even gone to check on, since his barking has been driving me nuts. When I found the house and looked over the back fence, I saw him sitting up against the back glass door of the house, where he yaps at his missing owners all day. I left a polite note in their postbox informing them that their dog seemed very unhappy while they are away, but nothing’s changed.

Next door, there’s an old guy whose tiny square of outdoor space faces our tiny square of outdoor space—but in his, a Jack Russell—a dog specially bred to run and work, mind you—is trapped. In seven months I have never seen this dog taken for a walk, and not only does it bark, but recently it has begun crying and whimpering for hours and hours at a time. This disturbing sound woke me up at 4.15am this morning.

Today I finally got the courage up to talk to its owner (who I might add seems imprisoned himself—he listens to talk-back radio and watches TV all day every day, though I’ve seen him walking about the neighbourhood). He confirmed that it never gets to go for a walk, but that ‘he’s an active little guy’. I pleaded as politely as I could for him to take the dog for a walk, noting he really should do so once a day. He looked at me somewhat nonplussed, as though I was telling him what colour shirts he should wear from now on.

My point is, when you get a dog, no one comes to check how big your yard is, whether you will walk the dog every day, whether it will get enough attention and affection—damn it, whether you will be considerate of your neighbours—nothing. You just slap your money down, register it, and take it home to whatever fate awaits the poor powerless animal.

Doesn’t seem fair. Not on the dog, and not on the non-dog-owning neighbours who have to put up with its yapping all day.

All right, I fully expect a barrage from dog owners here. Go for it.



As I write this, Nguyen Tuong Van has about eight and a half hours left to live. I’m about to go to bed. Tomorrow I’ll wake up and have a normal day. I might not do anything special at all, but Nguyen would give anything—anything—to have another normal day just like that.

Here’s what I think. I think killing is wrong, and that no one has the right to take the life of another, for any reason. Nguyen was twenty-two when he made the dumbest decision of his life. Twenty-two. How smart were you when you were twenty-two? I’m not saying he didn’t make a stupid mistake, or even that he didn’t realise the consequences of what he was doing. But all of us are entitled to forgiveness, a chance to make amends. A second chance. Even the worst of us. Because even the worst of us can learn, and perhaps even become a better person—even become one of the best of us.

No one has the right to take a human life. No one.

Amnesty International.

Keeping score


I don’t know about you, but I’m occasionally struck by a sense of frustration that I haven’t really achieved anything yet. Since I was in my teens I’ve developed a bad habit of occasionally comparing my age to that of people I admire; I see things like the new King Kong and realise it was created by someone just a few years older than me; I watch a documentary of Michelangelo and discover he painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling when he was thirty-seven … well, I could go on and on.

Of course, in my late teens and early twenties I could always convince myself that I had plenty of time to paint a Sistine Chapel of my own, but as the big four-oh looms it’s getting a bit trickier to maintain that deception. Have you ever noticed how so many famous creative people did their best work in their twenties and thirties?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of what I’ve achieved as a graphic designer, and I don’t have self-esteem problems as a rule. I can’t imagine doing anything else for a living, and eleven years working for myself is something to be proud of. But I sometimes ask myself if I’m ever going to create something really memorable—something that impacts culture, or inspires people … even changes their lives. And as I get older, the possibility that I will seems to get smaller.

Casual theft


I have a suspicion I left my car open last night, because this morning some bastard(s) had seized on my momentary lapse of vigilance by breaking into it, thankfully without damage, and stealing a wallet with about twenty CDs in it. We heard a group of people in the early hours outside our house—pissed and walking down a side street at four in the morning on a Thursday—so I suspect it was them. Apart from the gob-smacking shittiness of stealing in general—what, were they checking every car as they walked home?—I am most amazed by the fact they took the time to make some musical choices. Or perhaps it was because the wallet full of CDs was such a convenient pocket size, because they left behind four other CDs in cases—The Doves, Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen, Tori Amos and Coldplay.

Lessons from this experience? 1. Never leave CDs in car. 2. iTune all my CDs (thankfully I have most of them in digital form). 3. Set up things with an iPod so I never have to use CDs again and 4. Never forget to lock my car (it must have been the first time in twenty years dammit). I completely fail to understand how the mind works of the person who is this morning playing my CDs, probably unburdened by the smallest twinge of conscience. It’s times like this I really hope that the whole karma thing works.

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