The Time Has Come (the Walrus said) Archives

F*&^ing Low Cost F*^%ing Airlines… Merry Christmas

Tomorrow we hop in the silver bird and go away for a coupla days over Christmas.

Lets run a tally so far on what’s gone wrong.

The accommodation. More on this later. The place where we and the extended family are staying has been sold. We found out just recently that not everything we booked AND PAID for will be available. The new owners say they were not paid for our booking, and in fact had no knowledge at all of it! The former owner doesn’t want to be contacted. Looks like we (collectively, amongst the 8 of us going) have done some of our dough. The place is still available, we are just not getting what we paid for.

Airlines. From the original booking, Qantas have changed one of our flights, now Jetstar have changed the other one. At least they informed us.

But today I’m trying to do the on-line checkin thing, reserve seats early and often, that sort of thing. Because the flights have been changed, the online checkin is not available. After half an hour on the phone, online checkin is now available but it does not work for me! I still can’t reserve the damn seats or print a boarding pass from home.

In the normal course of events this might not be a big deal, but She Who Must Be Obeyed gets travel sick at even the thought of stepping over a skate-board. It looks, from the comments of one of the call centre folks, like we are allocated to steerage – the very back row next to the chemical loos. The worst seats in a plane for those who barf at even the thought of a bumpy ride. NOBODY on the phone can change the seat allocation – but if I could get into online checkin I could do it! What is wrong with these people?

And as for F*&%ing Jetstar. The booking references I put all come up and tell me they have system errors, or maintenance, or other bullshit. There is no information in their system about the flights at all. And their call centre can’t or won’t help either: “Sorry, we can’t do anything.” web site useless. Call centre completely f*&^ing hopeless.

Thanks Mr Branson, by lowering the cost of travel you have also forced all the other carriers to join the race to the bottom. Low prices, crap service.

Here’s hoping the car company actually have the car we’ve booked.

At this rate, I CAN’T WAIT.

Boys, boys boys

Why is it that boys can eat their food and:

- cover the table in grot

- cover their fingers in grease

And when you say nothing they go putting those greasy fingers all over walls, the fridge, door handles, furniture. You name it!

And when you say “go wash your hands” they do a 5 second burst under a fully-on tap with cold water, then go dry those greasy hands on a towel. Result: greasy tap, revolting towels, and still greasy fingers.

Arrrgggghhhhhh!

Can anybody tell me if girl-children so this? Boy-children are driving me mad!

Leverage

Seeing as I’m on a mgt course (you figure out, is that management, or midget?), here is an auto-post to keep you amused. It’s especially pertinent given the course I’m on!

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More management waffle-speak: Leverage.

“Lets leverage our staff!!”

“We leveraged our sales teams”

(Argh – two in one go: Leverage and Team!)

“We can leverage our development resources team”

(BINGO – you win for getting 3 waffle words in a single meaningless sentence: leverage, resources, and team.)

What the heck does Leverage ACTUALLY MEAN in these contexts?

Only thing I can think of is “we flogged their arses with a cat-o-noine tails, arggghhh!!!, and now they be workin’ hard for fear o’ gettin’ sacked! har harghh!!”

Sorry weasels, but whenever I see anybody use the term “leveraged”, the bullshit detector starts ringing with a loud “clang-a-lang-a-lang”, and I switch off. Credibility just got flushed down the loo.

Be Scared, be very very scared

Today’s scare:

“If you vote for Mr Rudd the inflationary consequences will be so severe that a recession is inevitable”

Thus speaketh Mr Liddle John & Mr Costello.

Hmmm.

There are 4 weeks of the election campaign left. What can they use next week?

“If you vote for Mr Rudd he will come and eat your children.”

And the week after? Perhaps Mr Rudd will take away all your women? And after that? Who knows… Perhaps he’s so evil he can single-handedly change the direction of rivers, cause storms, steal all our money, or something similar!

Oh dear.

Resources

Pet hate.

Hate hate hate.

“Resources”: used in companies to refer to their staff.

I really dislike this, though it’s all-pervasive: we don’t have Personnel Departments any more, we have Human Resources. It might sound more high-falutin, but it’s wank-factor 10 (on a scale from 0 to 10), and a move in the wrong direction.

Referring to people as resources is dehumanising. It comes with a connotation that people are interchangeable cogs, you buy them in boxes down at some store.

In a (heated) conversation about this at a previous employer, a project manager told me to pull my head in, with the explanation:

When we refer to resources to get a project done, we mean everything. We mean the people, the computers, the desks, chairs, software tools, and so on. It’s the whole lot.

This, frankly, is bullshit.

Computers, desks, chairs, and so on – tangible assets, can be obtained quickly and relatively easily. You can get all that stuff in a week, or less if you try hard.

Getting the right people to do the right job, at the right time is where creative and project work (and much other work) always suffers. Getting the right people can take weeks at best, months or even years at worst. And getting them interested and motivated to do what’s needed! Harrumph!

We all know, usually from bitter experience, that employing the wrong people usually produces a worse outcome than employing nobody.

We know the importance of having the right people.

So why the pretence?

Why do managers insist on the illusion that people are just interchangeable lumps, to be shuffled around as conditions permit? Why are people called resources?

People are people, they have talents – or lack thereof. The have strengths and weaknesses – and part of management is to use their strengths and make allowance for, or steer around, the weaknesses. They have a life outside work, they have families, they have feelings.

Treating people as numbers is not good for the people, and it’s not good for the managers of those people.

I’ve been preaching this at work (current work – not old work referred to above), the message is gradually sinking in, but getting old habits broken is difficult.

If we are to take this seriously, though, there are only two approaches possible:

1) Be specific. If you need desks and chairs, say so. If you need people, say so. And say what sort of person you want: What you want them to do. What sort of personality you want. What sort of experience you need. Don’t treat them as numbers.

- OR -

2) Drop the bullshit, don’t call people people, don’t call them resources either. Be completely up front about your purpose and intent. Refer to them as Carbon-Based Work Units.

You’ll find a low acceptance in the workplace for calling your staff CBWUs.

Try this at your workplace some time – next time some twit refers to Resources (meaning people), correct them: “sorry, not resources, CBWU’s”. Then explain. 1 in 10 will understand what you are getting at.

Help spread the word!

Together we can destroy the scourge of referring to people as resources!

Howards (History) Way

His Royal Highness, Prince Howard of Canberra wants all schools to teach Australian History, with an officially sanctioned curriculum.

I’ll bet this bit won’t be taught.

1931 / 1932 – The Great Depression.

Have a guess, readers, which countries had the highest unemployment during the Great Depression?

HANDS UP all those who guessed Germany (highest) and Australia (second highest)?

And which country had armed militias prepared to overthrow their elected governments during this period?

Yep – Australia again.

One of the more interesting – and lesser known – parts of Australia’s history is that during the 1914-1918 First World War, Australia agreed to help out the British Empire by supplying troops for use as English canon fodder.

However, Australia may have supplied the troops, but it was also required to pay them (their wages), pay for uniforms, pay for ammunition, pay for transport, pay for billeting, and on and on.

The money for all this was not available to the young Australian nation, so it was BORROWED – from English bankers. At the end of the war, Australia owed £350 million.

By about 1931, during the depression, the Australian war debt was £90 million (about $6.3 billion in todays terms). At the same time that the British had persuaded the USA to grant interest rate concessions on their war debts, they refused any such concessions for Australia.

The interest being paid by Australia was an unbelievable £36 million ($2.5 billion) per year!!

At that time the Federal Government had very limited revenue raising ability, this money was paid by the states.

The amount of interest being paid on war debts was crippling to Australia and led to massive political ramifications, including all state government policies being dictated by the British banker Sir Otto Niemeyer. This policy was for severe austerity measures, which in turn exacerbated the already large unemployment.

Consequences of the austerity measures included riots in Adelaide (the Beef Riot), Perth (Treasury Building Riot), Cairns (Bloody Sunday riots), and Sydney (Glebe and Newtown riots).

Only one politician was prepared to challenge the financial measures being imposed by the British – Jack Lang, Premier of New South Wales. Whilst he was denouncing the measures, and threatening (and later carrying through with the threat) to refuse to meet the interest payment, there was a young, aspiring Victorian politician who felt differently:

“If Australia is to surmount her troubles by the abandonment of traditional standards of honesty, justice and fair play, it would be far better for Australia that every citizen within her boundaries should die of starvation during the next few months.”

This address by Robert Gordon Menzies was greeted by rousing applause – such were the polarised times!

While political feelings were heated, shadowy groups were preparing to overthrow the governments of New South Wales and Victoria. In New South Wales, the New Guard was led by Eric Campbell, and at one time boasted over 100,000 members – prepared to remove the Labor government of the day. A similar group in Victoria was much less well known, and called the White Army. The best, most publicly known of the exploits of the New Guard was the slashing of the ribbon by Francis de Groot at the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Such were the times of the Great Depression: Riots, 700,000 unemployed (and adding at the the rate of 5000 per week), massive political unrest, private armies, and a politician who would rather see the people starved than fight payment of usurious interest to Britain.

Will this be taught in the Australian history curriculum?

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References and further reading:

“1932″, Gerald Stone, Pan Macmillan Australia, 2006. (A cracking good read).

“Working for dole – Commonwealth relief during the Great Depression”, Don Fraser (National Archives)

“Riot acts – The history of Australian Rioting”, David Lowe, 1993, pp 16-18.

Australias WW1 debt to Britain, in 1931, in answer to a question in the Senate was £79,724,220 (National Archives).

The Australian newspaper, Peter Lalor Blog (Sword Point article, comments): “Feel free to call me Peter, Pete, or even mate. Feel free to explain to me why the UK never fully repaid its war debt to the USA but Britain demanded Australia pay it back. Also explain to me why it took the same country 60 years to pay off its WWII debt but never gave Australia such latitude.”

“The Centenary of Treasury 1901-2001, An Informal History”, Highlights (Part 3), Commonwealth of Australia, 2001: “Significant economic instability followed the end of the war. Australia emerged from the war weakened by the loss of the maimed and dead and by the monstrous burden of a £350,000,000 war debt…”

Three main points of the Lang Plan (from: http://www.alor.org/Library/Commonwealthbank.htm):
1. That until Great Britain agreed to fund Australia’s overseas debt in the same manner as America funded that of Great Britain, no further interest upon her overseas debt should be paid by Australia.
2. That the interest rate on this debt should be reduced to 3%, and that all interest rates on private finance should be correspondingly reduced.
3. That the existing system of currency be altered from a nominal gold standard to one more suited to modern conditions, preferably the goods standard.

This policy was greeted with a howl of mingled rage and fear from private banks, the insurance companies and the bond­holders in general. The press denounced Lang in the most unbridled terms, as a swindler and a thief, whose proper place was gaol. It published ‘scare headings’ such as ‘Lang will confiscate Savings Bank deposits’, ‘Lang will smash your bank and seize your savings’, while politicians vied with each other in prophesying the bank’s ruin in every newspaper – one Federal Member publicly stated that he gave the bank four days to run (Hansard, Vol. 128. P. 1087/8, 1181).

Things that make you go GRR! (Part 2)

Continuing from before…

6. The woman from Brand Power.

Who IS this woman?

Why does she always smile? And not just any smile, this is a SMILE where you need sunglasses for protection.

Am I supposed to know who she is? Is she famous for some passing fad I missed?

And what the heck is with BRAND POWER anyhow?

See, I thought business worked liked this: You think of a name for you / your product / your service. You use the name (that’s the Brand, see) and build its reputation over time. You become known, recognised and respected. You have earned some power for your brand.

So along comes this Brand Power thing… isn’t this like a meta-brand? The brand is not important any more, what matters is to have it plugged by the Brand Power lady with the extremely white teeth.

Gahhhhh! I just don’t get this!!

7. School newsletters printed in colour

Our school has just started sending home the fortnightly newsletter, printed in full and splendiferous colour.

Somebody has a new toy – a colour laser printer. YES I KNOW THEY ARE CHEAP TO BUY. I have one. It was about $300 – delivered! The toner cartridges though are far from cheap. A complete set for the one I bought comes in at a mere $500 – so we are aiming to make the primary colour units last a long, long time. The black toner is about $90, so you can see what the cost of the others is.

The school print off 800 copies of the newsletter, in colour. The newsletter has a lifetime of about 8 hours. Long enough to get home so we can see the pictures of somebody else’s liddle darlinks, and then it goes into the recycling.

But somebody has to pay for the colour refill cartridges that have led to such a short-lived thing, and that somebody is me. Well, ok, me, and all the other parents of the liddle darlinks. Printing in colour will MULTIPLY the costs of the newsletter by about 4 times!

This is not a wise use of my hard-earned. No doubt it’s good for some administrative ego-tripper. But I don’t want it.

Time to write them a nasty letter. Perhaps I should suggest they bring back stone tablets.

8. Politicians who have suddenly discovered there is a lack of water… And all the boofheads screaming for desalination

Der… There must be an election in the air.

Suddenly Our Glorious Leader has discovered that the capital cities have little water in storage, and his prayers for rain have not been answered. Perhaps God is listening to somebody else.

At the same time as Dear Leader is posturing, we have the Victorians who won’t play the same game as the rest of us and try to actually allow centralised management of the major waterway of the country. See, they have spent years putting in more irrigation ditches and growing crops and moo-cows on irrigated pasture. Makes cheap milk.

And we have the Queensland Government who are still selling off water allocations in the upper reaches of the various waterways!

These are all Labor states. They are all supposed to be on the same side. Just imagine how difficult it would be if one of those states was not Labor!

While that’s going on we have cries for huge numbers of desalination plants to be built. Now this might be a Good Thing, in terms of actually having something to drink apart from ones own urine (Adelaide excepted… see later). However for those concerned that Global Warming has caused the change of weather and thus lack of rain, they seem to have overlooked the fact that desalination uses a LOT of electricity. Thus, more power consumption, more coal burned, more CO2, etc etc.

Next we get told we will be able to have some water, but because it’s desalinated it will be expensive so water bills will go up. The unwashed masses start whining that this isn’t good enough. SA Liberal Opposition in particular plays along with this one.

Fer crying out loud you morons, stop ya bloody whining and accept either eating shit or paying more.

Adelaide is in a special position: being at the tail end of the Murray Sewer, we’ve been eating other peoples shit for years. Strangely enough, it’s not good enough for Toowoomba. Last I checked only 3 of my neighbours have 2 heads.

9. Corporate OMO-Men

“Corporate What?”, you may ask.

Remember the adverts for OMO washing powder: cleans so well your whites won’t be white, they’ll be whiter than white.

There is a certain class of corporate junkie, mostly the sort who are desperate to climb the greasy pole of success. These are the OMO MEN.

When the boss says “Hmm, I wonder what the effect of XXX would be”, these are the guys who turn the musing into Holy Writ and pronounce to all and sundry the new policy and that henceforth we’ll be doing XXX – oh, and a little bit more dreamed up by the OMO MAN on the grounds that, well, more is better. And the boss will love it for having gone that little bit further.

I should hasten to add that OMO MEN is a catchy title, but some of the worst OMO MEN I’ve come across have been women. You know what I mean.

Omo Men are not new. They are the clichéd chaps in the Army who when told to go jump ask “How High, Sir?”. They are always on the lookout for the next thing that will make them look good. Usually they struggle to find a single brain cell to actually think with, but their quota of self-preservation drive is exceeded only by their quota of self-advancement drive.

Thomas Becket (Archbishop of Canterbury in 1170) was done in by OMO Men, when the King in frustration cried “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?”.

10. Career Managers

There have been advertisements appearing in some newspapers for months now, something along the lines of “Earning > $250K? Want to be head hunted? Want a board position? Want advancement?” etc etc – I’m sure you get the drift.

Now you can outsource your own climbing of the greasy corporate pole!

Pay somebody money – and while you meddle and scheme, or act as an OMO Man, or more frequently, futz about avoiding decisions – they will look after your career advancement for you!

Those who get advancement by plotting and scheming, or by outsourcing it, are like politicians: Those who want to be there are precisely those who should not be there.

I really seriously need a bucket – the contempt I feel for those who would use such a service warrants a quick throwing up!

Things that make you go GRR!

I’ve been thinking about those things that happen where you (OK, I) get cranky / grumpy or pissed off.

So without further ado, here are a few:

1. TV advertising.

How stupid do advertisers think we are?

Do ALL mums really have an angelic smile when their cuddle-umpkins arrives covered in mud, with grass-stained clothes? I think not.

Last I knew they either heave a sigh of oh-no-not again, or start ranting about who buys the clothes and how difficult it is to repair / replace / wash this stuff.

And its not just washing powder, or chocolate bars. It’s all that other patronising crap. Singing about your product has to be the last refuge of the scoundrels.

And why are these damn things always louder than the program we were so rudely interrupted in watching?

2. Radio Advertising.

If TV advertising is bad, radio advertising is worse. Far, far worse. Especially if you are ever unfortunate enough to have to sit through commercial radio.

I’m convinced that the reason some people are as thick as two bricks is because they started out quite smart, and through the sheer horrors of commercial radio their brain cells imploded in a misguided attempt at self-preservation.

Which brings me to:

3. Morning Radio Announcers – commercial radio

These folks seem to take some kind of super-grade happy pill each morning.

Every sentence, everything they do, say, think, announce – all are done with a voice TONE filled with breathless excitement at the sheer wonder and fantasticalness of what they have to say.

Er, pardon me, but after about 5 minutes of this I want to go after these people with a baseball bat. Trouble is, I expect that education with a baseball bat applied liberally around the ears would be narrated with a tone of breathless excitement at the sheer wonder and fantasicalness of the experience.

4. Car drivers who mind the gap

Adelaide drivers are renowned for their rudeness, my pet hate above all about Adelaide drivers being their inability to let anybody merge.

In Adelaide, a gap is an EVIL THING, to be eliminated at first sight. And if somebody else is indicating to show they wish to change lanes and move into the gap, then the gap must be EVEN MORE EVIL, and eliminated ever faster.

Perhaps some Adelaide drivers should be eliminated instead of the gap. A slow, painful elimination has appeal.

5. Toilet paper that breaks

This is for those who have been waiting for the next poo-post.

Know how some toilet paper is not quite strong enough?

There seem to be 5 types of toilet paper:

- The Sandpaper. Tough, never breaks. Usually sold as eco-friendly, the give-away being the chunks of wood still in it, showing off its low-processing credentials. Shame about your arse. If the roughness don’t get your, the splinters will. Owww!

- The Cheap and Nasty. Comes in two sub-types: Shiny, and Thin. This type can be used provided you fold between 2 and 4 sheets over each other – thus making you use lots, and finding that its actually very expensive.

- The Baby Bear. This is the one that’s Just Right. Not too thick, not too thin, and does not break when you use it. Able to withstand chilli, red wine, nuts, and other challenges. If you’ll excuse the pun, this one is a bit thin on the ground.

- The Deceiver. Looks fine, and does a reasonable job, apart from the one time in about 4 or 5 when it tears at that critical moment and you end up with poo on your fingers. Oh bliss!

- And last but not least, The Commercial Monster. These are the giant rolls about 14 inches in diameter that are so beloved of workplaces. The rolls are so big and heavy that the paper either breaks when you try and pull it off the roll, or it’s so tough that you call pull it from the roll but then can’t tear it. The Commercial Monster is the ultimate abomination, specially chosen so that recalcitrant employees won’t be tempted to save a few bob by defecating at work.

The two I really dislike are, naturally enough, The Deceiver, and the Commercial Monster. The other bad ones are easily avoided, but the Deceiver gets you at home when you least expect it, and the Commercial Monster is in every workplace – as unavoidable as breathing, but far more noxious.

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There are bound to be more, todays list of pet hates will do for now. No doubt I’ll find more to post during a fit of boredom or stupidity.

Quote of the week

Thank you, Aurelius, for this.

The death of personal responsibility – a second go

There has been a bit of a fuss about the Labor folks thinking the Shreck promotional stuff is going too far, especially in selling junk food to children.

The other day, this reply / comment appear in Crikey. It’s worth quoting, and commenting. For information, Christian Kerr wrote an article about fat people. Paragraph break additions are mine.

Nutritionist Dr Rosemary Stanton writes: Christian Kerr’s claim that “if you’re fat or if your kids are, it’s probably because you’re also lazy – too lazy to exercise, too lazy to cook and eat properly and too lazy to fight marketing” shows he has never worked with people suffering from obesity. Blaming the victim is also unlikely to lead to any solutions.

Of course, people can make decisions about what they eat and drink, they can learn to cook (it would help if schools taught kids to cook) and they can (usually) do some exercise.

But many people are unaware of what is in foods and drinks and the food industry rejects a clear “traffic light” labeling scheme that would make it easy to choose from the 30,000 different foods on offer in a typical supermarket. Many of the two-thirds of Australian men who are too fat are unaware that abdominal fat is a problem and wrongly believe they just have “a bit of a beer gut”.

Studies in Victoria also found that most parents do not recognise that their overweight children (especially boys) have a problem because they look pretty much like their friends.

Few people in our society make a decision to be fat — it’s more a combination of genes and an environment that makes it difficult for people to make good food and exercise choices. Many people also eat for emotional reasons — including picking up the message from unsympathetic people that fat = lazy. There is no evidence to support such an assertion.

Two world experts in food policy (Professor Tim Lang and Dr Geoffrey Rayner of London City University) have stated that obesity is a function of “the rise and rise of car culture and other advances marginalising daily physical activity; widening distances between homes and work or shops; the over consumption of food accompanied by its unprecedented, plentiful availability; the culture of clever and constant advertising flattering choice; the shift from meal-time eating to permanent grazing; the replacement of water by sugary soft drinks; the rising influence of large commercial concerns framing what is available and what sells.”

Some of these factors are under individual control; others are related to the way we organise our society to satisfy economic and political ends. Governments must address obesity as the ensuing health care costs will cripple their budgets in the near future.

There are things that can be done and finding ways to counteract the efforts of clever marketing gurus that seek to subvert kids is a small start. At least Nicola Roxon is prepared to look at the issue. Some more comprehensive positive policy statements from Kevin Rudd would be welcome. Damning the victims of our obesogenic environment will achieve nothing.

Well, Rosemary, sort of agree, and sort of disagree.

Picking over a few of the arguments:

Blaming the victim

Blaming the victim is a convenient and shorthand way of saying that people – individuals – must take some responsibility for their own lives and their own actions.

Ignorance, rather than laziness, can make doing so difficult, but in the end the only way that people anywhere have ever made significant progress against their problems is because they have wanted to do so. Nanny-state prescriptions don’t work. How many examples of this need to be wheeled out?

Blaming the corporations

A common approach is to lay the root cause of all our troubles at the feet of rapacious corporations.

But corporations are just people, they are just you and I, and they are owned by us and our superannuation funds.

Corporations live in the market economy, something that’s deemed in today’s world to be A Good Thing. whether that’s the case or not is the subject for a separate philosophical debate.

An attribute of competition in the market economy is not just sales growth, it’s survival. Everybody wants an edge, and in a competitive market the edge is about whatever works. Frequently it’s taking sales from your competitors. New (really new) sales are jolly hard to come by.

A wee digression: think of those retailers who want more opening hours, less regulation, blah blah blah. “More opening hours will make more jobs”. Phooey. There is only a certain amount can be spent on STUFF. More opening hours might make more convenience, but it does not make some magic-pudding of retail money magically appear and get spent.

Anyhow… For the food corporations to survive they will do the SMALLEST POSSIBLE amount of marking of their products. In fact, the smallest possible amount of compliance with regulations. Why? Because their competitors do! And even if food items are marked, how many Joe and Joesephine Averages read it anyhow? (back to ignorance)

The corporations deserve part of the blame, but by no means all.

THE SYSTEM, that allows the corporations to do what they do, is equally culpable. But in the end, that’s just us (the people) as well. We can include our governments, but hey, they just us, the people as well!

A traffic light labelling scheme

Spare me.

Really, who will set the standards? And on what basis?

And what about when research leads to changes in what’s considered acceptable?

SOME FOODS ALREADY HAVE TRAFFIC LIGHT-ISH LABELLING: Just look at the rampant use of nonsense like “97% fat free”. (And ice-cream makers are especially bad – pull out the fat and put glucose in instead. Lots of it. Glucose is very nasty stuff.)

Simplistic solutions rely on some all-knowing benevolent father passing knowledgeable decrees down from on high. And what if they are wrong?

Remember when it was the thing to eat lard? To have an egg for breakfast every day? You must have cereal for breakfast! No, grains are bad, eat protein! Protein – ergh – evil stuff, eat cardboard. On and on the advice goes. And changes.

Fat factors

“the rise and rise of car culture and other advances marginalising daily physical activity;”

Hard to disagree with this one, but seriously, what is to be done about it? The serious answer is nothing.

“widening distances between homes and work or shops;”

Ditto.

“the over consumption of food accompanied by its unprecedented, plentiful availability;”

Now we might be getting somewhere. Once, food was expensive, people had little money left for McMansions after basic survival, and they ate enough to survive, not always to live well. Here I’m only going back about 50 to 70 years.

Factory farms, intensive agriculture, mechanisation, cheap oil, modern fertilisers have all helped drive the price of food down dramatically in modern times. A natural consequence of plenty is to eat more. Hard times may make a change, little else will. Cheap food will be with us for a long time to come.

“the culture of clever and constant advertising flattering choice;”

Go back to what I wrote above – advertising is a fact of life in a market economy. Whilst we might all agree that the advertising is evil, and wring our hands, we need to question the alternative.

Governments can try and regulate advertising, which is possible but difficult, or they can nationalise the means of food production. Oops! That’s sounding like Communism, and we’ve had a 50 year experiment conducted to show how well that works!

“the shift from meal-time eating to permanent grazing;”

Ahh! Now what might cause that? We could start with families who don’t eat together, or who shovel food down whilst watching Neighbours or Big Brother. This is where we end up in the land of personal responsibility again!

“the replacement of water by sugary soft drinks;”

Arrggghhh! Ditto!!

Seriously – are we to ban the sale of soft drinks? Or super-tax them?

HOW are governments going to reduce the sale of soft drinks?

Governments in Australia give us clean drinkable water from our taps, and one of the fastest growing product sales groups is bottled water!

For heavens sake, if the population is so stupid that they pay extra for water that they can get from the domestic tap for cents per litre, how the heck will you wean them off the lolly-water?

It’s a PERSONAL CHOICE to drink this muck, and it’s up to people to stop doing so.

“the rising influence of large commercial concerns framing what is available and what sells.”

Arrgghh and arrgghh again.

If people were not lazy, and actually cooked their own food, this would be a non-issue.

Back to personal choice again. Buying pre-prepared or take-away food is about speed, and convenience – hey – isn’t that really about laziness?

Buying basic food ingredients like meat, milk, cheeses, vegetables, fruit, flour, bread and such like is always possible, always available, and is damn hard for the “large commercial concerns” to do anything with. And the resulting meals taste better too!

Parents, children, body and image

Fat kids not seen as fat by the parents?

What the heck is wrong with the parents? YOU CANNOT blame governments or the mysterious “they” for this.

Parents need to lift the scales from their eyes. Rolls of blubber on a 10 year old is not healthy, no matter how it is rationalised.

Parents bear significant responsibility, and must take the blame.

Parents who allow lots of take-away food, who give in when the kids want a drink by buying a LARGE soft drink. Parents who won’t cook. Parents who won’t think. Parents who want to buy their childrens love with yummy tasty fatty sweet food. These are the parents who MUST accept responsibility for their actions and make changes.

Blaming governments, schools, or corporations for obese children is a cop-out. Who puts food into children’s mouths?

Teaching in schools, exercise in schools

Oh dear, ANOTHER cop out and blame-shifting exercise!

South Australian schools do teach children cooking, my oldest son has been doing it, and he’s a pretty accomplished 13 year-old. So… some do. It helps. But it’s not everything.

Expecting schools to pick up after slack parents is crazy. This is no different to schools feeding breakfast to children with parents who can’t / don’t / won’t do it themselves. It might be started to satisfy worries or feelings of responsibility on the part of the teachers but it’s masking something far far worse.

And then we come to school exercise programs.

Doing an hour a day of The Health Hustle, or running, is surely predicated on the notion that the victims ARE to blame and can be cured by taking them away from feeding their brains, and getting them out raising a sweat.

The increased use of cars, and the large increases in fatty and sugary foods over the years will NEVER be compensated for by a few measly minutes of school exercise. The calorie balance just isn’t right. All this will do is create a nation of overweight and under-educated children!

These things are an exercise in futility, they will have no significant effect.

What to do?

We can accept that radical changes to our social systems are unlikely to happen – so corporations and advertising will be with us for a long time.

We can regulate advertising, and we should. It was done with cigarettes – among many squeals of outrage – but it can be done, so it should be.

What about lolly water and take-away food? Banning would never be accepted by the great unwashed masses, so that won’t even happen. There is already choice with diet / low sugar drinks containing all manner of soup from the chemical factories. Educating parents, somehow, might be feasible. (But look at smokers – advertising bans have not eliminated the puffers.)

There can be financial incentives, or penalties – perhaps a Medicare surcharge for people more than some percentage overweight? It needs to be a large amount, some people have genes that make putting the kilos on very easy, but many of the naturally big people are not obese and should not be punished for being a feather heavier than Kate Moss.

Family doctors could provide leaflets and advice.

A brave government could introduce compulsory obesity counselling and education.

In the end, though, the solutions to our problems lay within ourselves.

We, the people who eat the rubbish we do – we have to make the choice for how to live, and what to eat.

Expecting a magical bale-out is fanciful.

Now, I’m off to find some chocolate.

Haneef and all that

Now the dust has settled, here’s a few thoughts about the famous Dr Haneef and the SIM card.

For years, we’ve had Little John and his Merry Men trumpeting about terrorism, passing a bunch of draconian laws about sedition, allowing people to being held without charge, and so on.

At the same time, this lot supported the invasion of Iraq with impassioned speeches in the Parliament about the evils of Saddam Hussein and his Weapons of Mass Deception Destruction.

Once it was proven that Iraq was a quagmire and winning the peace infinitely more difficult than winning the invasion, we’ve seen Iraq become the attractor of every disenchanted nutter, would-be terrorist, and general looney with a chip on their shoulder.

Little John and Co have insisted that being involved there would NOT make Australia a more attractive terrorist target, and have ridiculed, rubbished and demeaned anybody who suggests otherwise – including the head of the Federal police.

These same people have exploited these situations and the attendant fear (be A Lert, not A Larmed :) ), along with border control and the occasional Tampa, as a means of differentiating themselves from the Opposition.

In general terms, until recently the Opposition have taken an opposing view – not supporting the war, not supporting the changes to laws, wanting more humane treatment for asylum seekers, and so on.

The Government have exploited this difference, watering down the message and simplifying to something like “that lot are weak on border protection”, or whatever suits at the time.

In political speak, this is “The Wedge”. Bang something pointy between the two sides and then belt it for all its worth. The politicians and the community become polarised, and Howard and Co are masters at it.

Or more particularly, Labor were really BAD at playing the game.

Now we have Haneef, and we have a new leader for Labor.

This government have been itching to find a new BIG issue to make a polarised split (the wedge) between themselves and the opposition.

What better than a real genuine home grown terrorist?

And if we can’t grow one ourselves, why not so what Australia does so well, and just import one?

Now we’ve seen the new laws used, with the disgraceful treatment of seeing somebody – a guest in this country – locked up without charge for weeks, selective leaks to the media about his supposed crimes, and the capricious removal of his visa. During this, no wedge. The opposition supported the actions all along.

Finally, it’s all come unravelled. The Howard side’s dream of having their own terrorist to trot out and exploit for months leading up to an election has evaporated and they are left looking like a bunch of school-yard thugs.

You can just imagine their prayers each night: “Please please God, just give me a real terrorist that I can parade around and then lock up… please… please!”

The great shame so far is that to avoid The Wedge, Labor have supported the Government in their actions. Now they look stupid as well – the one time that if they’d gone out on a limb and made a boisterous opposition, then would have been right. Of course, it’s a high stakes game. If they’d things had gone the other way they would have looked a right bunch of dills.

Now the best the Opposition can do is call for an enquiry – a cunning move in some ways because they can target the people concerned, and if an enquiry were to start it can be used to keep the issue in the media for months.

But the Opposition still look like a bunch of toadies for supporting this all along, and they look shrill for calling for an enquiry once it’s unravelled.

So far, the score card from this whole sorry episode looks a bit like this:

  • Australia as a country: -50 points, looks like an anti-democratic bunch of terrified over-reactive whiners
  • Howard and co: -50 points, look like a pathetic bunch of lying two-faced nasty ogres
  • Labor opposition: -40 points, because they refused to let themselves get Wedged they gain a few points for cunning but they still make us look bad
  • Dr Haneef: +50 points – irrespective of his crimes or otherwise, he comes out smelling of roses, looking like the little guy who got beat up by the monster and survived. Treated as a hero in India, you can bet he’ll not be back to Australia in a hurry.

From this whole sorry exercise you can only conclude that the actions of the Government, aided and abetted by a compliant Opposition, have serve to highlight the insecurity of Australia, and the rampant paranoia of its people.

This action, along with the shrill rantings of our leaders over the last 10 years will continue to make Australia a terrorist target by raising our profile.

From all of this, we are LESS safe, nor more.

And in the meantime, the government continues to pray for some horrible catastrophe which will rally the great unwashed around, and aid their re-election.

Pathetic.

Jass-what?

This morning I went to get the occasional fix of baguettes (aka stick-bread) for breakfast.

The girl in the shop had her name badge on: Jassmyn.

Really.

I was tossing up between screaming, throwing up, and asking her if a name like that hurt. I decided silence was perhaps the most polite response.

Seriously, who in their right mind would name a child like that?

For heavens sake parents, learn how to spell names properly.

%#$%@ meetings

I spent all of Monday sitting in a meeting, one of many like this over the years.

In these meetings there are always very senior people who bring their laptops, then we have 1/2 hour delay (or more) while they find power cables, figure out there are no LAN patch cables and get some, find a hub or switch, set it up, call MIS to get somebody in… blah blah blah.

All this time, all these highly paid people are futzing around. Sometimes they have travelled 1/2 way around the world to waste time like this.
Then finally the meeting gets going and those who don’t really want to be there tune out and use that expensive futzing around to surf the net, look at stuff they brought with them, or read their email.

Yesterday I was furious. I don’t have a laptop so I sit their with my old-fashioned pen and diary (aka Woodware), take occasional notes, and PARTICIPATE.

If people come to meetings they should bloody well participate or go away. Doing other things like reading emails is a waste of everybody elses time, and it’s RUDE.

F^$#ing evil laptops should be banned from meetings. The meetings might then be shorter, and more might get done.

Sports News

What the heck is it with Sports News?

For a start, about 1/2 of every radio or TV news bulletin is devoted to this drivel. But it’s only about a game, its not NEWS, it’s neither good nor bad, it’s just some bunch of folks bouncing balls around, or similar. Usually balls.

I’m completely nonplussed by all this. When the sports news come on the TV or radio, I have no interest at all. I get extremely bored.

An announcer – breathless with excitement – might say “Today Collingwood beat Carlton in a super-showdown at the WA swimming centre, winning by 93 laps to 2″, but all I hear is “wah wah wah wah wah wah wah”. I completely tune out.

One big trouble with tuning out is that in the mornings the weather report is always AFTER the sports, so I wake up, hear the news, then they move to wah wah wah wah wah – brain switches straight off again, I go back to sleep, and miss the weather report.

So when the chaps want to know what they should wear to school I have no idea. And SWMBO is not much help, she just sleeps through the whole lot!

On the few occasions when we ever watch the swimming or something (god forbid football. Ergh. Spare me.), some poor sod has just knackered themselves and comes off the field to have a microphone jammed in front of their gob to be asked inane questions. Strangely, we get inane answers:

“well like I figured I needed to give it like all I got and I did, but I though I should put on a real burst in the second quarter but like see my tactics (wheeze, puff) were not quite as good as they should be because like the other side were better on the day, y’know?”. Doh! In other words, you lost.

The poor buggers must want to say “Look you toss-pot, I lost, OK? Now take that microphone and shove it where the sun don’t shine, I’m tired, grumpy and pissed off”. But it they do that they cop a fine, so we instead we get a completely meaningless stream of platitudinous moronic drivel, delivered through a forced smile. Still, they are sportspersons, I suppose they deserve it.

The Hideous Bloatus Notes – revisited

I posted a while ago that we had changed the work email system to Lotus Notes, one of the most user-hostile and abominable pieces of software ever devised.

Now one of the things you can do on Notes is to change the look and feel of the application. Not completely, but a bit, here and there. It’s done with a thing called a template.

A few of the brighter sparks at work found an alternative email template that, whilst still horrible, made the thing at least a tiny bit more intuitive to use.

For example, in normal Notes, when you delete an email it does not get deleted, it gets a little “X” marked alongside it. It also appears in the Trash folder, but you can’t get the damn thing out of your inbox. Now when I delete something, I damn well want to delete it. This is only one example of hundreds of stupid behaviours of this most hideous of pieces of software.

At least the other template allowed delete to work properly, and it made sending replies easier, and a bunch of other little things.

Trouble with templates is, the Lotus Notes administrator can override them when you put in an alternative. And they did.

Every now and again we’d find our special look and feel would stop working and we’d have to re-apply it.

Today however, the tought police struck.

Not only did they re-load their standard template, blowing off our special user-moderately-friendly one, they also took away our rights to apply our changes!

So now we are stuck with the standard Bloated Notes behaviour-from-hell, with no opportunity at all to add a slightly more sane behaviour.

The Corporate Nazis won in the end :( :(

—-

(Even those people who thought it might a good change when it happened are now cursing Notes. It’s known as “The Abomination”, and many other unflattering names.)

Terror books and movies will be banned

A significant new layer of censorship will be introduced in Australia, where books and DVDs that “glorify” and “advocate” terrorism will be banned outright, and removed from store shelves.

More here.

This makes me wonder if Gra will ever see his name in print, at least in Oz-traya, after he won the prize of his name appearing in a Young Adult book by Cory Doctorow. Seems to me like “Little Brother” will be banned in Australia. After all, taking on the US dept of Homeland Security… thats pretty bad, right?

What the heck has got into Ruddock?

Nobody gives a toss about Australia, and would given even less of a toss if the token Oz troops were taken out of Iraq.

Woz this ‘ere Future Fund all ’bout then, dudes?

A couple of colleagues have been asking questions about Howard and Costello’s Future Fund. They were under the impression that it is some bucket of money set aside for the public good at some time in the future.

Well… chaps…, it’s nothing of the sort.

In short, the Future Fund is a bucket of money to be managed for the purpose of paying the Commonwealth Government unfunded Superannuation.

Gosh, that’s a mouthful. Before you all go to sleep from boredom, WozzItAwlMean?

  • The Commonwealth Government is the Feds. That’s the mob what’s in Canberra.
  • The Superannuation is the wodge of money paid to retired employees of the Federal Government. Superannuation pensions and lump sum super payouts.
  • The UNFUNDED part comes about because some (but by no means all) employees of the Government have a special type of super scheme called a “defined benefit” scheme – whereby they get a certain amount of money irrespective of how much they tipped in. More below.

Now for some more breakdown, details and analysis.

Who gets the benefit, and how, and why?

The money held by the Future Fund will be used to pay pensions and lump sum super payouts to former public servants, judges, and politicians who are in defined-benefit super schemes.

Erk – lost you again?

Public servants employed after about 1989 are not in a defined benefit scheme. In about 1989 or thereabouts, the old CSS (Commonwealth Super Scheme) was terminated for new entrants. From that time new employees are forced to join the PSS. The PSS the new super scheme, and it is a contribution scheme just like most private companies run.

Those in the PSS just get out of super what they put in, so new public servants after about 1989 are PSS members. Those PSS members do not, never have, and can never create an unfunded superannuation drain for the Federal Government.

The number of members of the old CSS is ever declining as those already retired die. There are many members and former employees (like me, for example) who have kept our CSS benefits. Imagine a 20 year-old in 1989 who stayed in the CSS. Now they are about 40. In another 20 years or so they will retire and take a benefit (payout).

Why did many stay in the CSS? Simply, the CSS benefits are defined as a multiple of your final average salary plus contributions made, so its a good deal! This is the unfunded part. The portion not paid by the members earnings has to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is government taxes.

So is the unfunded liability a big nasty problem waiting to bite the Government?

No. Never was, and because the number of people who need to be paid under the old schemes is declining, it will become progressively less and less a problem in future.

The important points to remember here are that:

  • The CSS had been running for many, many years and the amounts paid out were always manageable. The term “unfunded” is technically accurate but used effectively to create an emotional feeling of a bad, evil, never-ending drain.
  • One group of major beneficiaries of unfunded super systems are politicians, who have a different super scheme to public servants. Pollies are not in the CSS or PSS, they are in something different again. It was very generous until Mark Latham got some changes. As far as I know it is still a defined benefit scheme, its just less generous than it was. (I may be corrected on this point – it may have changed to an accumulation scheme).

Pretty much every economist, commentator, analyst or scribe who has looked at the Commonwealth superannuation liability has concluded that the Future Fund is not needed. Remember – the amounts that need to be paid out have been in decline for nearly 20 years and will continue to decline.

So why has it been set up?

The reasons are partly political and partly financial.

Let’s start with the financial, and move on to the more contentious part.

Part the first: It all comes down to Bonds.

A Bond is a financial thingy whereby you loan your money to the issuer of the bond for a fixed period(usually some number of years), and in return you are paid interest. At the end of the term the original money is repaid. Notice that bonds do not pay back more at the end to compensate for inflation.

Once upon a time, Governments used to fund major works, or just day to day expenditure, by issuing Government Bonds.

Because Governments rarely go bankrupt, the risk associated with a Government Bond is considered to be so low as to be negligible.

This has created a method of benchmarking financial products, and evaluating financial risk.

You simply compare against the 10-year Government Bond rate, which is considered to be a risk-free rate.

Therefore, anything paying less is silly, might as well buy Government Bonds. Anything paying more by definition has a higher risk.

Now the fun starts…

Mr Howard and Costello have run such large Government surpluses in the last few years that they are very close to paying off all of the Commonwealth Government debt.

This creates a conundrum for the financial markets – how to you price debt, and risk, and investments, when you have no Government Bond rate to compare against?

Solution: Don’t use all those surpluses to pay of debt, dump it somewhere else instead. But where, oh where?

Part the second: Politically, Howard and Cossie have the imagination of small dead ferrets*. The dosh could be spent on all manner of nation building:

  • Fancy a high speed rail system between Syderney, Melbourne and Canberra?
  • How about lower cost education?
  • Why not build some humungous pipelines from far north Queensland, heading south, to bring cheap water to the masses instead of expensive desalination plants?

And I’m sure you can dream up a few more.

But sadly, the powers that be in Canberra don’t want to spend anything on building a legacy for the future of the country. One has to wonder why.

So with all this money sloshing around there are two things that matter. Handing out tax cuts before each election (makes for a good poll result), and making DAMN SURE that if Labor get elected, they can’t get hold of it.

Suddenly, after months of hand-wringing by the financial sooth-sayers, the light-bulb moment occurred, something like this:

TING! (thats the light bulb turning on – use your imagination)

PC: Let’s make a fund, a special fund, where we can say the Government doesn’t really have the money any more. Let’s tip it all in there. Let’s invest it!

TING! (the second)

PC: Let’s use it to pay for super… all those aged evil public servants sucking at the public teat, we can palm them off and blame them for having to do this! And (shh) those pollies on their big post-parliamentary pensions. What a neat way of funding them!

JH: And look, it means it’s special money. Labor will get crucified if they try to raid it! Woo-hoo!

PC: And wow – now we still have Government Bonds and the financial marketeers can sleep easy.

JH: Noice one!

(Howard and Cossie give high-fives and sail happily off into the sunset)

———

* Small dead ferrets – with thanks to my uni fried Geoff who used this term whenever he possibly could.

Tried I have, really tried

Well it’s time for Mr Dump to admit defeat.

I was hoping for a well-reasoned Conservative blogger to come out of the woodwork and engage in something a tiny weeny bit intellectual. At first glance, The Thin Man Returns (notice no link) seemed to have some amusement value.

Then I found two things that have driven me away.

Firstly, labeling as “sexually abusing children“, the distribution of a booklet for children which includes diagrams and names for body parts including (gasp, shock horror) the exterior sexual organs. This is their term, not somebody else’s. Such a statement is just silly and over the top. Do they seriously want children growing up referring to willies, and god knows what else? At least the right names, surely?!

Secondly, I wonder if these people have children? And if they do, how old? And do their children have friends? I know they quote a reference in a post about obesity in children, but a single reference to a single study aint much to go by. just looking around helps a bit as well.

Let me instead quote back the experience of my children and many of their friends. These people eat junk food far more often than once a week. They always have sugary soft drinks in the fridge. Drinking water is a novelty. In one case we took some of the friends to the local pool for our (formerly) regular Sunday afternoon swim. I was pestered the whole time… “I’m thirsty, I NEED a drink”. After saying there was water when we got home for about 10 times I relented – child was soon back chugging down 300 ml of C*&^-Cola. NONE of our childrens friends are obese, but all carry too much body fat, and it sure as heck shows when you take them to the pool!

Claiming that the rise in the number of overweight children is due to changing travel patterns demonstrates a naivety that takes my breath away.

Sorry Thin Man, you are de-linked. Baseless opinions without a great deal of thought… these I can do without.

Politics Overrides the Rule of Law

From todays Crikey, in turn from Australians All.

Blatantly ripped off, without asking. Worth it. Hope Malcolm won’t mind.

Former Liberal Prime Minister Malcom Fraser writes:

Some people believe the Hicks saga is over. Some people believe the sentence was too light because he was a terrorist anyway. Some believe he was treated harshly and without justice. Others believe that what has happened over the last week was cooked up between governments to minimise the political damage to the Australian government through this election year.

If the fraudulent Military Commission process in the Hicks case had not been concluded, the government would have lost even more than it has lost. If Hicks had been given an extremely heavy sentence which the Military Commission law permits, the government would have lost more again. If Hicks were released before the election and were able to speak personally about events in Guantanamo Bay, the fallout for the government would be considerable. So it is the best result for the government, I do not believe by accident.

The Military Commission is controlled, in the first instance by the military, in reality by the United States government. Despite Australia’s silence and compliance in matters of fundamental policy, whether in relation to Iraq or the War on Terror, or the conduct of affairs at Guantanamo Bay and the Military Commission trials themselves, up to this point the American government had done nothing at all to repay Australia for its unseemly acquiescence.

Both governments will say: Hicks has had his day in court, he pleaded guilty, he has been justly treated. What we really need to concentrate on and to understand is that Hicks did not have a day in a court. He had a day in a fraudulent tribunal, controlled by a special law, which the Americans would never dare to apply their own people. A US citizen would be free to take a ruling from such a tribunal to the Supreme Court of the United States and the Supreme Court would say that the Military Commission does not provide justice.

What we have seen is the end result of unremitting and mediaeval pressure on Hicks. A pressure increased by threats of a long and continuing sentence in jail, by what Hicks would have believed to be a guaranteed guilty verdict, regardless of whether he were guilty or innocent, because that is what the system provided for. If he were to plead guilty, he was offered a way out. That also means that the particular evidence against Hicks did not have to be revealed. Remember that the more serious charges against him were struck down for lack of evidence. After everything that had gone on, Justice Susan Crawford could not have struck down all charges. She let the least important ones stand. The guilty plea meant the evidence or its sources did not have to be revealed, or the means by which it was collected made clear.

Hicks’s guilt or innocence is an open question. A plea of guilty was extracted from him by the pressure exerted upon him – and by the fear of that pressures continuing without an end in sight. What man would have pleaded otherwise?

I do not know if he is guilty or innocent, he was certainly wild and foolish but that is not the point. The point is justice, the Rule of Law and due process. If our government is prepared to allow any one of its citizens to be sacrificed on the altar of expediency, if our government demonstrates that it is not really concerned for justice, for a fair process, for one person, then none of us know whether circumstances might arise in which the same lack of care, lack of concern, will be exhibited in relation to ourselves.

The Rule of Law, its equal application to all people, is the most fundamental principle underpinning our democracy. In some ways it is more fundamental even than the right to vote. A government that breaches that principle so clearly, so plainly, so blatantly, a government that asserts that the Military Commission has provided a legitimate day in court, is a government that on this issue stands condemned.

I am convinced that there was a political settlement to get rid of the Hicks case, cool it, calm it, wash it out of our hair; it has become too hot to handle. David Hicks has been silenced until after the Australian election.

What has happened has stained Australia’s reputation. It will take a different example and a different concern to repair the damage – damage that we should not forget.

By the way (in the interests of clarity and avoiding the impression I’m a complete lefty):

I think David Hicks is most likely a complete dipstick. At the very least he’s a fool, at worst a terrorist. BUT, in spite of that, we are supposed to live in a liberal democracy where the Rule of Law is paramount. Whatever he did does not seem to be against any (at the time) Australian law. And 5 years in jail without trial is unacceptable. And going before a kangaroo court likewise.

Hope that helps. My position is about principle, not the person.

It’s MULCH you idiots!

A couple of weeks ago I was wandering amongst the fruit trees, looking at the ground.

This may seem an odd thing to do, but not where I live. When we moved into this house in 1991, there was nothing on the block of land at all – apart from the house, and 2/3 acre of Scotch Thistles and Salvation Jane (aka Pattersons Curse).
The soil here is terrible – about 30 cm of heavy clay with lumps of granite and limestone shale through it, laying over a solid limestone shelf, which in turn lays over many metres of limestone rubble.

Since we moved here we have planted about 25 fruit trees, and hundreds of native trees and shrubs. Every one of these required a hole to be dug, most of them needed a crowbar to break the ground. When young these were watered on a drip system, so we have a couple of kilometres of 25 mm black drip pipe buried, hundreds of drippers, and numerous points where these things are connected up to provide the occasional drink. As the plants get established, the drinks get less frequent.

So far so good, all terribly rural and boring and dull.

We have never, ever, put green waste out for council collection. Everything that we prune becomes mulch, so do the kitchen scraps, so do any plants that die. We make some of the mulch by grinding up smaller prunings using a grossly underpowered electric mulching machine, but a lot is just made by throwing the bits on the ground. If really keen, we might run over them a couple of times with the mower.
After doing this for 16 years, we finally have some decent organic matter on top of the soil, keeping the water in and heat out. As it decomposes it releases nutrients for the plants, keeps the bugs alive in the soil and helps water penetrate the soil better.

All this we all know and love about mulch. Again, terribly rural, boring and dull.

But back to my wandering around. I was admiring the ground, the amount of mulch on it, the fact that the soil condition after being so poor is finally looking reasonable.

Which brings me to today.

Today we received a notice from the Fire Prevention Officer on the local council:

Fire and Emergency Service Act 2005
Section 56 – Notice to Owner of Land

First and Final notice

Blah blah blah you are required to take the following action to reduce the risk of the outbreak of fire on the property, or the spread of fire through the property: by reducing all undergrowth, tree limbs and leaf litter from the rear of the property which may become flammable in the ordinary course of the season, to a hieght of 100mm (4 inches) and maintain throughout the fire danger season.

This work is to be completed by 1 February 2007

It goes on to describe the penalties, methods of appeal, and so on.

Now, I admit we have a couple of dead shrubs here and there, and a bit of leaf litter. It’s mulch! Well, the dead shrubs will be when we get around to removing them – but nature leaves them alone and I would like to as well. They still serve a purpose. It’s called breaking down slowly, and protecting the soil from erosion.
But first things first. Council quoted the act. The mystical powers of the world-wide information super-goat-track yielded the full thing. The council does in fact have the power to serve such a notice, and it is written appropriately. Damn! They did send it to the wrong address, but it seems under the act that this does not make much difference.

Figuring I’d better make a start in heading toward squeaky-clean, tonight I went out (in the rain!) to trim down the last of the uncut grass – a small patch about 3m x 1m had been left last time the grass cutter ran out of fuel.

While there I ran the grass cutter over as most of the smaller prunings, leaf litter and so on. This should break it up and get much of it under the 100mm limit. The bigger bits will be harder to sort out. Sending it off to the council for chipping is not an option, for two reasons: 1. I don’t want these pricks to sell it and make money from my discards, and 2. Some of the bigger bits of wood have termites, and I don’t want those to be spread to anybody else.

There are a couple of places where we could have done better. One of these is right up against the back fence, where one of the trees drops a lot of leaves, and where the guy over that fence has cut some of the branches off and dropped them back over my side!

I’m pretty sure this is the same guy who dobbed us in, because the back of our property is a long way from any road, and not visible from any road either. It HAD to be somebody who can see in, which only leaves two possible properties at the back. One of those has as much leaf litter and tree branches as us, the other is the home of Mustang Sally, the scorched-earth bikie desperado*.

Last weekend, Mustang was out setting fire to any last remaining vegetation in his neck of the woods (easy for him, his block is a lot smaller than mine). At the time I thought he was a mad bastard to be out lighting fires, given the prevailing climate and number of bushfires around. But I let it go. Looks like the bugger called the council when looking over my fence.

This means I’ll have to spend the next couple of weekends frantically trying to avoid a $10,000 fine by chopping old tree branches up small, to convince the idiots on council that it is not a hazard.

And next time Mustang Sally, the scorched-earth bikie desperado, is out burning in the middle of bushfire season perhaps it will be my turn to call the council Fire Prevention Officer.

(Murphys Law may yet apply. Who knows, perhaps Mustang Sally IS the council Fire Prevention Officer. He certainly does not appreciate mulch. His idea of well-tended ground is brown dirt after a liberal application of Roundup.)

———-

*Why the name? Why “Mustang Sally, the scorched-earth bikie desperado”? 12 months ago he had some old banger – not a Mustang. This sat in the back yard alongside the remants of a boat and various other pieces of junk. Over the summer, somebody was out cutting back the paintwork, grinding, polishing, and generally futzing about with a restoration job. The banger is now gone. Oh, and the guy has a chrome dome (bald head) and huge long bikie style beard. The name just seems appropriate.

Kilometre

Here in the wide brown land of Aw-stray-ya, we use the metric system of measurement.

Actually, it is Systme International d’Units (International System of Units, international abbreviation SI).

Anyhow, moving along and ignoring the French, the SI (aka metric) system uses PREFIXES to go in front of standard units of measure. The common prefixes are based on multiples of 1000:

(apologies to any Europeans who use “,” as a decimal point marker and “.” as a thousands separator – the exact reverse to most of the English speaking world, but that is a gripe for another day).

Anyhow, again:

kilo = 1,000 (10^3)
mega = 1,000,000 (10^6)
giga = 1,000,000,000 (10^9)

and so on.

There are some lesser used prefixes (for example, deca (10), hecto (100)).

The other common prefixes are the fractional ones, again, usually in multiples of 1/1000:

milli = 1/1000 (10^-3)
micro = 1/1,000,000 (10^-6)
nano = 1/1,000,000,000 (10^-9)

and so on.

The PREFIXES, as the term implies, are put before the unit of measurement.

Thus:

kilo-metre = 1,000 metres
milli-metre = 1000th of a metre

So, why do people mis-pronounce that term used by almost every person, every day?

I mean the kilometre.

It is pronounced KILLO-MEETER (or, sometimes, KEELO-METRE – depending on where you come from).

It is NOT pronounced KIL-Oh-MET-ER. This is wrong, and evil. There is an Adelaide newsreader who says this, it drives me mad!

Repent all ye who say it wrong, repeat after me:

KILLO-MEETER

KILLO-MEETER

KILLO-MEETER

You ever have one of those days?

Today was one of tho..o…o..s..s…e.. days.

Apart from the usual endless streams of bull, I had an altercation with colleague #43, it went something like this:

C43: “I need to talk to you about product X”

Me: “OK”

C43: “Well I have found all these definitions of things where product X can be used…”

Me: “OK”

Me: (looks at list)

Me: “Hmm. Well, this is not what we call these things, we do A, and B, and C.”

C43: “But well I found this on the net, and you need to look because what we call these things is not right.”

Me: “Well, what we call them is based on what they do, it might not agree but its down to how product X is used…. blah blah blah… blah…”

C43: “But that’s not what my web site says, let me show you.”

Me: “I don’t want to see, you have already shown me the list, we are not that same.”

(Our terms, by the way, come from a separate external contract where the contractor has defined the terms and operating conditions of the product, and otherwise designed it to our specification.

And… we have been working on this – us and the contractor – for 2 years, and we have produced hundreds of pages of documentation based on those terms…)

C43: “Oh, well, if you don’t want to listen there is no point me being here.”

C43 storms off in a huff.

Now strangely, out of this encounter, it’s me who comes home from work feeling depressed, grumpy, and somewhat pissed off.

I have my reasons for saying “no”, I don’t want to see something to back up your list, after all, you have shown me the list and I disagree. AND, I’m the senior manager and my time is valuable. We’ve got years of history doing things a particular way, and the industry we are trying this new product in has little standardisation. But I don’t even get a chance to explain all that.

Later visit from relevant project manager: “I’ve just had C43 all teary eyed because you’re not listening….” etc etc. Explain situation. Leave issue to calm down. Send email instead of talking.

Grr.

Sometimes, dealing with other people in the workplace sucks. Retirement is looking good.

Syderney-Hobart Yacht Race and other adventurers

There was something on the news this morning about a bunch of Yachties who had to be rescued – again.

After the Sinney-Hobart (many rescues), Tony Bullimore (1 rescue so far, lots of worry about needing to do #2), and numerous others, I have a suggestion:

By all means be an adventurer, just don’t expect to be rescued. After all, this is not real adventure. It’s not like these people are going off to places unknown, climbing mountains that have never been climbed before. IT HAS ALL BEEN DONE. The days of real adventuring, sadly, are over.

The current crop are doing it for whatever strange motivation they have, in the expectation the oodles of modern technology and navigation aids will help them out. And it they fail, or incompetence rules, then taxpayer funded search and rescue will sort them out.

Well… its time to stop.

You want to sail solo around the world? Sure. If you get shipwrecked or eaten by pirates, YOU DIE!

You want to climb mountains? Sure. You fall down a chasm, YOU DIE!

You want to trek through the Antarctic? Sure. You fall down a crevasse, YOU DIE!

Why should they taxpayer keep rescuing, and therefore funding, egoistical people who want their adrenalin rush?

Madness

What the heck is wrong with those idiots in Canberra?

Two examples:

1. Having flogged off Telstra, Helen Coonan is now working on a cunning plan to get State and Local Government to invest in telecommunications infrastructure. WHAT? Having sold off the government owned telco, she now wants to get cash-strapped state and local governments to create MORE government owned telcos. WHY? Sheer and utter madness.

2. Legislation has just passed both houses allowing FOREIGN investors to pay no capital gains tax when they buy and sell assets (real estate and mining rights excluded). Primarily this means that foreigners who buy and sell shares or whole companies pay no tax on the capital gain, but us poor mug citizens must pay the tax. WHY? Why are foreigners given preferential treatment? This is a fabulous incentive to flog off to foreigners what little of the country is not locally owned, and in the meantime tax the blazes out of the poor local sows who cannot manage to do a Rupert and escape. THIS IS A DISGRACE.

This evil government in Canberra must go. Mr Bonsai – I hope your lot suffer a crushing defeat in the next election. And you should be tried for treason, rather than being allowed to continue as Prime Minister.

F’ing useless bastards – part 2

Today I rang the F’ing useless bastards – after there was no phone call from my complaints email.

They finally called me back to say that my original change of banking instructions form was ignored (mind you they did not try and contact me about it – they just ignored it) – anyhow it was ignored because it was not signed right.

When I said huh? they told me that me and ‘t’other half had signed in boxes 1 and 2 and we should have signed in boxes 2 and 3.

Well, this is bullshit. It’s a joint holding, which means you sign boxes 1 and 2. Boxes 2 and 3 are signed by directors of companies…. which does not apply.

Seems like a total bullshit excuse to try and throw blame back on me, and does not explain why they changed my banking instruction to somebody else’s account, and does not get my dividend back. They have sent ANOTHER form which I have to fill out (this will be the 3rd time).

They also say they will start an investigation to get my money back – it might be completed in 2 to 4 weeks.

They still have not explained why they have not contacted me in response to a fax, a letter and an email.

USELESS WANKERS.

I’d love to find an appropriate authority to complain to and make life hell for the executives of this joke of an organisation.

F’ing useless bastards

I am a poor unfortunate who owns some Telstra shares.

OK, stop laughing, this is serious.

So, I had the dividends banked with an account at a big bank. This bank decided to close that line of business and sell it to another bank, so my account there was closed.

This means I had to notify the share register for Telstra that my banking details were changing, which I duly did, back in September.

Now the share register manages the shareholders list, the banking details, and all the boring bits on behalf of Telstra.

These stupid F*&^ers have changed my banking details to pay my dividends into somebody else’s account.

They sent me a nice letter confirming the change of banking details – showing it going to this other persons account instead of my new account. When I got this, I saw it was wrong and wrote over it, saying “Please put the banking details to XXX, this is incorrect”. I signed and dated it to make it all legal, and faxed it back same day.

Now the dividend got paid at about the same time, and I’m still waiting for it.

It turns out, after some digging, that these idiots have in fact paid my dividend to this other persons account, and they still have the wrong banking details there, so they ignored my fax. They did not ever try and contact me to tell me they had some kind of problem (which should not have been the case anyhow.)

So I wrote a nice letter to them 10 days ago, very polite, setting out my complaint, copying the fax, the letter they sent, etc etc. Everything marked up to make it clear to anybody 8 years old and over that they had screwed up, needed to fix it, and need to get my money back. I marked it all urgent.

So far… nothing.

These F*&^ING USELESS imbeciles have not done a bloody thing.

I’m $500 out of pocket with a dividend that’s been paid to somebody else, these idiots have not phoned (in spite of me asking them in the letter), they have not further changed the banking details.

Now I’ve sent an email to their complaints email address. Ha ha fat lot of good I expect that to do.

If you ever have the misfortune to deal with Link Market Services, tremble. F*&^ing useless.

I’ll give them another 5 days,then I’ll be writing and threating legal action.

Wankers.

Abandon hope all ye who enter here

At work we have just been changed from Microsoft Outlook email, to Lotus Notes.

Notes has rate as one of the most seriously stuffed pieces of software ever released.

User interface standards? Pfft!

Consistency in doing things? Pfft!

Easy to find how to do things? Pfft!

Easy to use and understand? Pfft!

Help that is helpful? Pfft!

Many years ago I had the pleasure (!) of using an early version of Novell Groupwise as a corporate email system. That was pretty sucky, but at least it was easy to use and understand.

Bloated Notes, on the other hand, is a step back to the primitive email systems of the early 1980’s.

Oh…. whoops… no… back in the 1980’s they were easier to use, and whilst text-based, the user interface was simple, reliable and consistent.

Bloated Notes… a small step up from stone tablets.

Where’s my chisel????

*%^&%*&

Poo, poo, blast and damn.

I’ve been called up for Jury Duty – starting in about 2 weeks and for the whole of December.

Lovely. Yummy. Just what I’ve always wanted.

(notice the sarcasm, anybody?)

Cranky

Big article in the Weekend Financial Review about water, Murray River, etc. mainly looking at the town of HAY, in NSW.

Hay used to be a pretty dry place – but a few years ago somebody put in big open trench irrigation ditches (a mere 20 km of it) to bring in irrigation water. Now Hay has loads of water, and the Hay plain is used for growing RICE (!!!???!!!), corn, grass for grazing, etc etc.

So, the big moan in the weekend paper is about what the drought, and the cut in irrigation quotas will mean for rural communities and Hay as an example.

CRANKY ATTACK #1. Hang on a mo. The irrigation is artificial, and extremely inefficient. And these people have the hide to whine about cuts in the quota. Give me a break. It’s people like this who have f*&^ed the system up for everybody else.

Particular focus in the article on one farmer, supposedly responsible, who said (I’m paraphrasing but the gist of it is the same):

I own water, and I’ll use it wherever the economic return is greatest. At the moment, that’s rice, so I’ll grow rice.

CRANKY ATTACK #2. For starters, this guy DOES NOT OWN WATER. He has an allocation, granted by a stupid and short-sighted state government. That allocation might have a value, but he does not OWN water in a river system. The water in the river system belongs to everybody. He has rights to it, whether allocated on a rational basis or not. And those rights affect many more people than just him. Responsible farmer? I think not.

CRANKY ATTACK #3. Geez. Growing rice. Which sells in the supermarket for about $1 a bag, and barely competes on price with the Asian imports. Something is seriously wrong if the higher cost of local labour means that Australian rice can compete with imports. And that something that is wrong is the cost of water. If jerks like this paid a more reasonable cost for a scare commodity, they would use their (or a smaller) water allocation for something more effective.

After reading this, I’m really grumpy. State governments need to admit the error of their ways, take back or buy back water licenses granted, and cut down on stupid irrigation. At the same time the cost of irrigation water needs to be PERMANENTLY increased – not just in times of drought, but forever. We need permanent economic signals, not short term chopping and changing.

GRRRRRRR.

Pathetic

The ABC have dumped “The Glass House”. Perhaps our dear pollies don’t like satire.

Says the ABC spokes-person (you can tell if they are male, then they are a spokesman, but if female, it’s spokes-person. That’s pathetic too.):

“We’re not axing the show but we’re not going to commission it next year.”

Well if that’s not axing it, I don’t know what is.

Little John has FINALLY got his wish. An emasculated, grovelling, weasel-word spouting, puerile ABC that can show British re-runs till the cows come home, but can’t allow local comedy or satire because it might offend his group of power-groupies in Canberra.

What a pathetic lot we have become.

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