The Time Has Come (the Walrus said) Archives

Barbarella’s

I had a couple of comments about this post, saying to the effect of “Whats the big deal about Barbarellas Sandwich shop. Just a building. Whoopy-doo.”

“Barbarella” was a film made in 1968, starring Jane Fonda.

With taglines like:

Who seduces an angel? Who strips in space? Who conveys love by hand? Who gives up the pill? Who takes sex to outer space? Who’s the girl of the 21st century? Who nearly dies of pleasure?

See Barbarella do her thing!

The space age adventuress whose sex-ploits are among the most bizarre ever seen.

Who can save the universe?

And Jane Fonda looking like this

And this:
Barbarella Desktop Wallpaper 1024 x 768

NOW PERHAPS WHY YOU SEE HOW IT IS THAT THE PHOTO TOOK MY FANCY – for being a teeny weeny bit off the mark!

Front door / back door

Today whilst wandering around the hacienda, clearing up some of the mess from the truck smash of a few weeks ago, I was ruminating (as you do when feeding a couple of cubic metres of tree through a mulcher) about conventions for going to other peoples houses.

When I was a kid, if it was somebody you knew, you always went to the back door. The back was usually the kitchen door and close to the occupied living areas. You never ever went to the front door. The front door usually led into a lounge room or similar, a special place for visitors that was kept clean and tidy, certainly not somewhere for kids to go and mess it up. For somebody you didn’t know, the front door was of course the way to go. Even when gates started to appear you could always open them, and it was still easy and normal to make an appearance at the back door.

These days, gates are far more common and usually locked. Back yards and back doors are considered private. With a few rare exceptions, I wouldn’t dream of arriving at most peoples houses and going to the back door. Perhaps going around the back carries an implied need to be invited. As well, modern house designs seem less amenable to easily popping around to a back door anyhow. But it seems a social norm has changed over the last 20 or 30 years. Not sure if this is a change for the better or not.

Lemon

In November 2007 there was the dawning of a new age:The age of the ex-Howard, the beginning of a time when the lies and deceit were finished and a new enlightenment was cast upon the land. And the people of the land looked about and were happy to see the ex-Abbott, the unsmug-Costello, and the croaking-toad-of-Downer. In spite of some of them still being in Canberra, and still getting their ugly mugs on the daily television, we all knew they were a spent force, marking time, and that now things would be different.

We felt the attraction, power and sheer nerdiness of Kevin07, the little blond man who could do no wrong, speak no ill. Who brought with him a new broom of honesty, integrity and accountability.

Like buying a new car, we were in love with the image. We had an emotional attachment. Like the new car when something expensive goes wrong, it was still a new car, and still good. Little by little though, as more and more goes wrong with the fantastic new car, the attraction begins to fade. Those expensive repairs change the feeling of the shiny car from good to passable, and then to lemon.

And so it is with Kevin07. The man who made national pride, for better or worse, by an apology to the aborigines, something the Howard would never do.

Starting on a high… perhaps the only way from then is down.

Since that high we’ve had the Kevin making pronouncements on the lower lakes of the Murray River: “evidence of climate change”. Bullshit Kevin. Evidence of a lack of rain and a systematic over-allocation to irrigation upstream, in states controlled by your party.

Along the way, the emissions trading scheme which will increase the cost of everything we buy and everything we do in this country, a sure recipe to send the last remaining vestiges of manufacturing offshore.

And then, off to inspect the Great Barrier Reef to look at coral bleaching, again, “evidence of climate change”. Bullshit again, Kevin. The scare-mongers have been harping on about coral bleaching for the last 30 years. Evidence of run-off from too much agricultural fertisler in your home state, more likely.

Like the shiny new car, as things go wrong, the realistation slowly dawns that it’s no longer good, it’s a lemon. And so it is with Kevin and the new Labor Government.

Folks, we might have removed one set of lies and deceit, but we elected another set.

We elected a lemon.

Yoof

Can somebody please, please explain how it is that World Yoof Day managed to last a whole week?

We had the endless hoopla, but nobody explained the obvious?

Or is it one of those unmentionables, like how we have a magazine called “Womens Weekly” which comes out monthly? But nobody in their right mind would call a magazine “Womens Monthly”, would they?

Sorry!

I’ve just watched the speeches of Kevin Rudd and Brendan Nelson from the “Sorry-fest”.

You can find the whole deal on the ABC web site. 1/2 hour of Mr Rudd, and out the same from Mr Nelson.

Mr Rudd presents very very well. Look on this oh Howard, and weep at your lost opportunity! Ten years you squandered with no vision, just being a mean-spirited weasel.

Mr Nelson tried hard, and clearly has some strong feelings, but his party is torn apart and don’t know which way to go. His message was a bit mixed up. Rudd is setting the agenda, and the Liberals are trying to maintain some dignity. They have succeeded in the main, just.

I’ve had very mixed feelings about all this (hence no blog posting until now), but after seeing Mr Rudd I suspect that maybe, if he does not get hijacked by other crises, then just maybe he and the new BIPARTISAN Commission can actually make a difference.

By making a clear point that words don’t actually make history, actions do, he has also tied his words to some deeds; and the deeds will define the real result of all this.

I’m now more optimistic that there might be a decent future for Aborigines than I’ve been for about the last 15 years. That said (written), it will be long and difficult to actually make a difference. Decades. But you can be sure there will be no difference at all if they don’t try.

To sit through two politicians speeches lasting a total of an hour is unheard of for me, I normally have such contempt for the species. Tonight, watching from the ABC web site, I was riveted.

So full marks, for the first time in years we have a polly who may yet turn out to be both inspirational and a statesman. He’s sure starting out with that kind of promise. I wish him, and Mr Nelson, well.

Forward, gentlemen, with goodwill. May the forces of evil be defeated as they try to ambush you.

Why?

Why is chocolate (by the block) always wrapped in aluminium foil?

Why not waxed paper?

Rolling into Christmas

Dunno about the rest of you, but its chaos.

I’d like to think we roll into Christmas with a bit of a slowing down in the last week or two, a bit like the school kiddies going to the pool and having “games day”. Stuff like that.

Not how it is in the working world though: Demands seem to be going up, not down.

Loads of things have to be completed before the Christmas break. This week I’ve had a day trip to Sydney, a day trying to write a visit report (still not complete), a day in the office where I started on the things I wanted to do at 6:30 pm and thought Ohbuggerit, I’m going home.

Still trying to get to that *@#$ visit report. Sick child. Stuff not done and needed ASAP. Things to do in evenings. People to phone. Still got #%$# cards to write and post. Haven’t even begun the annual Christmas letter.

Arrgghhh!

Think I need a holiday.

Kevin Rudds Poisoned Chalice

My previous comments about Kevin07 and Labor running a low key / low target campaign drew a few comments, so I’ll explain a bit further.

Very early in the campaign, Howard and the libs announced a program of tax cuts looking about 3-4 years ahead. We all know such promises are silly because nobody can predict what will happen tomorrow, let alone the state of the countries economy in a few years time.

Labor were immediately under pressure to match it, and they did – with one exception, a little bit of fudging with an aspirational tax rate at some far-distant time. Now that the shouting has died down, none of us can remember that fine detail but we can all remember a truck load of tax cuts being promised.

Labor HAVE to deliver those tax cuts.

Anything remotely reeking of non-delivery (eg, Keatings L.A.W. tax cuts delivered as superannuation, and Howards core vs non-core promises) will be seized on by the Liberal opposition as proof of their incompetence, and used forever to beat them up.

Howard and Costello knew for 12 months that they were on the nose, they knew their chances of winning were slim.

You can just imagine their reasoning:

- If we make this promise and the economy tanks, we’ll just dissemble like we did so many times before – it was a non-core children overboard promise, and look, well, the ecomony is a bit sick now and it would be unreasonable to give that tax cut we promised 2 years ago.

- But if Labor wins and the economy tanks, we can scream at them for YEARS about how they screwed up and could not deliver.

So Labor, by matching the tax cuts, have sipped from the poisoned chalice.

There is now NO SCOPE for tipping oodles of money into better State / Federal relations, no pot of gold to build a really flash rail system, nothing for expanded transport infrastructure, zip for reducing HECS or public school upgrades or building programs.

The education revolution will have to be funded on a shoe-string.

About the only large fund they can lay their hands on quickly and easily is the saving from Howards former advertising campaign. A million bucks a day will do a lot of hip replacements, but it’s small fry in the long run.

Howard and Costello have set the Labor agenda for the next 3 years!

Cunning, very very cunning.

Poor Rudd. He’s now in office and boxing with one hand – he tied the other behind his back when he matched the tax cuts. And if he had not done it, he probably would not have been elected – but we’ll never know.

Where are all the male weblog writers?

I keep looking, following links, trundling around the net. Usually when there is nothing to watch on the goggle-box.

So many blogs (weblogs) are written by women. At least, those I’m interested in because they are well written, articulate or funny. There are few that fit the criteria that are written by men, but very very few.

Why are so many male bloggers incapable of using capital letters? Lazy pricks!

Why are so many male bloggers incapable of writing a grammatically structured sentence?

And why are so many angry, rather than amusing?

It becomes tiresome reading inarticulate, unpunctuated, ungrammatical rot.

There seem to be plenty of bogan rev-heads and boof-heads in the world.

What has happened to the intelligent male of the species? Where are they? Surely there must be a few more around the place with interesting things to say?

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!

————–

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.

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?

—————————–

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.

——

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.

To pee or not to pee?

Should one pee on ones citrus trees?

In the best spirit of “The Worlds Fastest Indian”, I’ve been taking a tinkle on the lemon, lime and orange trees.

There’s lots of urea, and thus nitrogen, in urine. Citrus trees are supposed to need plenty of nitrogen. So the uninformed make-it-up-as-you-go-along theory seems credible.

Another off the cuff thought. With a dual flush loo, each flush is about 3 or 4 litres. Urinating about 3 times a day, and assuming one is home rather than at work, that’s about 1000 widdles a year, with about 3000 or 4000 litres of water to carry it away.

Flushed with pride at this advanced mathematics, it’s easy to see how a few males in the house can go through a lot of water, and thus save a lot by peeing on the citrus trees instead of using the loo.

But is it really good for the trees?

Bling’s the thing

Son #2 had his eleventh birthday a while ago, so folks, today was the the day to finally go and buy a decent watch.

Y’know, a wrist watch.

One a them thingys what tells the time.

We did the same for son #1 at the same age, and found something acceptable within an hour in a nearby large department store.

Today though, times have a-changed.

Bling’s the thing.

Really, we don’t ask much. Our needs are simple, but finding something is damn hard.

The current range of wristwatches are pretty awful. All we want is a DIGITAL watch, with a METAL wristband. Easy huh?

You’d think we were looking for leprechauns. After 2 hours of traipsing through the Modern Monster Consumer Mecca (aka the shopping mall) we’ve come home empty handed.

Old faithful, the department store, had barely enough stock to load into a shoe box – that’s what modern new private equity owners do.

And dare I mention the horrors that befell us in the Discount Department Store? Oh lordy, what hideous cheap, horrible looking crap they have there.

The only other alternative was the 32,000 jewellers dotted through the MMCM. One held some promise, but colours were not quite right. Everything else, everywhere else, is BLING.

Bling to the right, bling to the left. Bling in front, and bling behind.

Taste, simplicity, a reasonable price, functional and understated? NO SIREE! None of that sinful stuff for us in outer-Bogansville. It’s bling, or nothing.

A choice of chronometers for sir? Dials, knobs, buttons, display of tide heights and levels? Time in New York, Paris, and Nepal? Gold and silver, perhaps? Shiny shit, diamonds, twirley things? A watch so big the poor kid would have a permanent crick in the neck from lugging it around?

What the heck is it? Plastic bands get sweaty and dirty. Clear plastic watch bands discolour and look like crap – Literally. Leather bands fall apart.

So why are metal link watch bands so hard to find?

And kobs, dials, and twirly bits. EXCUSE ME! We want a watch to be able to tell the time. Here. Today. Not in London or Paris. It’s a watch for a kid – to last from age 11 to about age 20 or maybe longer. It’s going to take a few knocks and bumps.

Why, oh why, is it so hard?

Housing affordability

Got this thingy through the letter box – you know, the usual junk being peddled by the big land and housing developers.

Coupla highlights:

WIN $1000 worth of retail therapy!

This appears on the front page.

What might have once been a joke has entered the mainstream, when it appears on things like this it just helps to push the message home, and the message is a simple one: Spending Money Makes You Feel Better. Wonderful for a consumerist society, but in practice it just encourages waste and the accumulation of STUFF.

Oh, and buying things never makes anybody feel better in the long term. Like sex, the pleasure is short-lived, but the desire to do it again quickly arises.

Next up:

The W****** Home and land from $437320

Yep, thats right, nearly half a million bucks for a 4 bedroom house.

The cheapest in the brochure is $271000.

Who NEEDS a 4 bedroom house? Not many, there are few families of 3 children any more. I guess it has its place.

More interesting though is that these packages include the land, in the first case valued at $162000, in the second case at $126000.

This is land in what used to be a swamp.

There was a time when it could not be given away!

But do the sums: in the first case the building is priced at over $275K. That should buy a heck of a lot of house. In the second case, the building is priced at $145K. Again, that’s a lot of money on roof over t’ heads.

The point I’m really getting at though is the price of the land. In a drained swamp, the land is fetching $162K for 350 square metres, or $462 / sq m. And in the cheaper case, $126K for 240 square metres, or $525 / sq m!!!!

Seems like a LOT of money for land in a swamp.

Somebody is making a killing.

And damn hard to justify spending that kind of money on todays average weekly earnings.

Two Caravans

I’ve just finished reading “Two Caravans” by Marina Lewycka.

As well as being a rollicking good read, it’s changed my approach to some of the food we eat. I can’t look at those nice packets of chicken in the supermarket in quite the same way, any more.

The description of intensive chicken farming (admittedly in Britain) is terrible and I’m well and truly put off.

I’ll take the liberty of quoting a few passages to illustrate the point:

When Neil opens the door of the barn for him to look inside, a wave of heat and stench hits him, and in the half-darkness he sees just a thick carpet of white feathers; then as Neil turns up the light, the carpet seems to be moving too; no, crawling; no, seething. They are so tightly packed you can’t make out where one chicken ends and next next begins. And the smell! It hits him in the eyes as well as the nose – a rank cloud of raw ammonia that makes his eyes burn, and he coughs and backs away from the door, his hand over his mouth. He has seen paintings of the damned souls in hell, but they are nothing compared to this.

And:

… they call them chickens, but their bodies look more like a misshapen duck’s – huge bloated bodies on top of stunted little legs, so that they seem to be staggering grotesquely under their own weight.

‘Yeah, they breed ‘em like that to get fat, like, quicker.’ … ‘It’s the supermarkets, see? They go for big breasts. Like fellers, eh?’

… ‘They keep the lights on low, so they never stop for a kip – just keep on feeding all night. … They mix the feed with that anti-bio stuff, like, to stop ‘em getting sick.’

Later, the description of catching the chickens is quite appalling.

Then we get to bit about how they are slaughtered:

When the chickens arrived at the slaughterhouse, Tomasz’s job was to hang them up by their feet in shackles suspended from a moving overhead conveyor, where they dangled, squarking hopelessly, especially those with broken legs… as the conveyor despatched them, head first, through a bath of electrified water, which was supposed to stun them, before their throats were cut with an automatic blade. But just in case the water didn’t work or the blade missed, which was often enough, there were a couple of slaughtermen standing by to slit their throats before they were sent through to the steam room, where they were plunged into the scalding tank to loosen the feathers. Then they were mechanically de-feathered and de-footed before being eviscerated by another team of slaughtermen.

Somewhere along the way we learn that the chicken is injected with water, salt, pork meat and “other stuff” to make them look plump.

I’m pretty sure the latter (injecting…) does not happen in Australia where food standards seem to be marginally better, but this all tallies with British Bacon.

Years ago we were travelling around the UK, and found that the bacon wouldn’t crisp, if you put in a pan it would boil and all this watery crud would come out before you could eventually get it to brown a bit. We were later told that the bacon has water injected into it. Great for getting the weight higher, but tastes like crap. At least Australian bacon is not that bad, so I’m hoping the chicken gets slightly better treatment as well.

And European orange juice tastes strange as well. Turns out that here we use the orange juice. The British stuff (god knows where it comes from) is crushed whole oranges – including all the bitter oils that come from the skins.

ANYHOW – if you get a chance, read it. You’ll never look at intensively farmed meat, fruit, or vegetables the same way again.

Entertaining, good fun, and appalling – all at the same time.

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.

Spoiler

I have not yet got hold of the final Harry Potter story.

Wilma the Walrus has finished it, as has son #1.

I’m last in the queue after son #2.

In the meantime, here are my THEORIES (spoilers for what REALLY happens):

- It turns out that Malfoy the younger is actually Harry’s twin brother, he’s not evil, just misunderstood;

- Dumbledore was married to Bellatrix whatsername who done in Sirius Black;

- Snape is not really evil, he’s just doing a Jessica Rabbit* (he’s not bad, he’s just drawn that way);

- Ron finally gets to have a decent snog with Hermione (after all, we’ve been waiting for this for about 4 books now, let’s finally get it over with, or get it on, whatever);

- Crabbe and Goyle are not really evil either, they are just misguided and stupid;

- Dobby The House Elf on the other hand is as evil as they come and he’s a right nasty little toad;

- Voldemort is just a figment of Harry’s imagination, and if only Harry would stop imagining all this bad stuff then it would stop (such being the power of Harry’s mind and all that);

- Cornelius Fudge The Minister of Magic is both a total incompetent but (shock) he is also Harry’s secret father;

- When Harry wakes up he finds that he is not a wizard, he’s just had a really bad 7 book dream and he can go to plain ole school like anybody else, and tell everybody “Gee, I had a great dream last night”…

———

*Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

How do these businesses make a buck?

So about 2 weeks ago the water heater packed up.

Quick phone call the following (Friday) morning, 8am, saw a new one being installed by 11am.

WELL DONE! to the plumbing company that came out and did it.

They took payment by credit card. After all, who has an idle $1300 lying around for that kind of expenditure? James Packer maybe, sure as heck not me.

So anyhow, they STILL have not charged that to my card!!

Are they a charity or something!?!?!?

The cost to a plumber of having that money outstanding must be huge.

The pain for m is that I only have a $2K limit on the card, and I have some other things I want to charge to it as well. I’ve set aside the money to pay it off the moment it hits the card a/c, I just wish they’d get on with it and I can stop checking the bank EVERY day!

Todays contradictions

Reading in the newspaper this morning, two articles.

Article #1: Promoter Glenn Wheatley has admitted tax evasion through use of offshore trusts and tax havens. The prosection want him sent to prison. In 1994/95 he apparently failed to declare $256410. So far the tax office have spent $305 million in this investigation and this is the only prosecution to get anywhere – so far. The advisor was a Philip Egglishaw – a Channel Islands accountant.

Article #2: Pengana Absolute Return Real Estate Fund made use of Philip Egglishaw’s brother David, a Cayman Islands based provider of tax services. The Pengana Absolute Return Real Estate Fund is a managed fund available for the use of Australian Investors. It is apparently based in the Cayman Islands (a tax haven), and Pengana was set up by Malcolm Turnbull and others. No impropriety is associated with Mr David Egglishaw, or Pengana.

(References: Weekend Financial Review – Page 3, and Page 11).

But this begs the question: Why is it not OK for an individual to siphon money offshore without paying tax, but it is OK for an investment banker to set up an offshore fund in a tax haven for use by the public – and then go on to become a cabinet minister? And then try to teach the treasurer a few tricks about raising tax!!!! Have I missed something?

A beautiful mind

After one one those weeks-from-hell, working back late most nights – including Friday, the traditional POETS day – I wanted to have a veg-out.

So, channel surfing saw me find, by accident, “A beautiful mind”. A little research today has shown that it’s a very romanticised / fictional account of the life of John Nash. Nevertheless, a few points leapt out:

  • Why do Channel 9 insist on showing a movie like this in 10 minute grabs, with a 3-5 minute ad break in between? Stretched it out by about 45 minutes. Sods!
  • Russel Crowe might be an egocentric and rather obnoxious character, but by crikey he’s a good actor.
  • I don’t know if the depiction of schizophrenia is accurate or not, if it’s even close to reality then this an eye-opening film about a truly terrible and debilitating disease.
  • The use of insulin shock therapy! How utterly barbaric, thankfully this is a practice now abandoned.

A little digging today shows that Nash’s life was not quite as rosy as the film shows – whilst his wife did stick with him for a long time, they were divorced eventually, but later re-met and eventually re-married! He was also unemployed for a long period – mental illness being a contributor, and it was not until he received the Nobel prize in 1994 that he was really accepted again as employable.

The real Nash was interviewed in 2004 – you can find it here, and his autobiography for the Nobel prize is here, and there is a good Wikipedia entry here.

** Update: In the interview he makes the point that the film shows someone who sees characters, it does not adequately show the delusional thinking associated with schizophrenia.

Cooking with kids

SWMBO brought home a book the other day with the unfortunate title “Cooking with kids”.

The mind boggles!

Kid roast?

Kid sausages?

Kids on toast?

Need I go on?

Bill – Part 2

I wrote the other day about my parents neighbour, Bill, who made life in our street so interesting as I was growing up.

I went to the Funeral last Thursday.

Amongst the anecdotes told by the two sons (many of which raised a smile), one of them passed on this, from his (late) father:

Everybody has a disability. What’s yours?

Think about it for a while.

Rain by crikey

The rain started last Thursday, and it has not stopped since.

Thursday – light slow showers all day.

Friday – light showers, occasional stopping, and then heavy showers.

Saturday – much like Friday.

Some parts of Adelaide have had over 25 mm (an inch) in the last 24 hours, and I’m pretty sure that out here in the deep north of Bogansville, we’ve had about 40 to 50 mm since the rains began.

At this rate, talk of the drought will soon turn to talk of floods. Oh, oops, there have been reports of local flooding already!

Oh, oh, we’ll all be rooned!

** EDIT (later that day) ** Thanks Duncan for the reference to the poem, Said Hanrahan. Always makes a chuckle and gets things in perspective.

Since writing the first part of the post it’s STILL been raining, more heavy showers (and this is in the catchment, in Adelaide, but run-off is probably still weeks away). But there must have been another 10 to 15 mm since lunch time today. FINALLY.

Trouble is, after so many months of wandering in and out all day on weekends, we are confined to barracks. Stir-crazy already! I’ve been painting the outdoor furniture (in the workshop), and we’ve made another batch of Anzac biscuits. Something wrong with them though. They keep disappearing.

A spot of charity anybody?

Interesting… from somebody who has to remain anonymous:

Timely story on the danger of trying to stifle a profitable department…

A well known charity in Adelaide raising runs a huge loss every year – they spend more trying to raise money than they actually make – but they have to continue this core activity to be eligible for govt support, tax breaks, charity status etc.

They have a separate employment arm that left alone, makes them $1m+ profit a year – so they’ve started “taking” that to prop up their core charity… and then making demands on how it should be run. As you can imagine the systems, staff and morale in that profit making subsidiary are slowly falling to pieces.

This leads me to the some obvious questions:

1. What bright spark is being let loose to screw up something that works?

2. Why is a charity running an employment arm anyhow? Ah yes, I forgot, the Commonwealth Government outsourced it all ages ago. So the $1m the charity is making is actually Government money anyhow.

3. Why or how can a charity spend more in raising money than they actually make? That sounds like dreadful mismanagement.

This, folks, is some of what happens when you donate your charity dollars. The complete lack of transparency in charities means that most of the time we have no idea what it does or where the money goes.

Time for change?

Sad day

This evening I found that Bill, my parents neighbour of 40 years, died this morning aged 76.

Now that I think back, I owe a huge debt to Bill.

Bill had Polio when he was about 5 and could only walk with the aid of two sticks – one for each hand. This did not stop him from doing anything he wanted. He had a family – a wife and two boys, he ran his own business, he drove everywhere he wanted to go.

Bill spent his early years in a country town before moving to Adelaide, he had wonderful stories to tell of his misdeeds and pranks during the 2nd World War – these often seemed to involve searchlights, or other things that placed the town electricity supply in jeopardy.

Bill and his family were (along with my own family to a lesser degree), tinkerers. Go there, you could make things, or watch somebody else making things, or just do stuff.

When I was growing up, there was always something going on at Bill’s house. If his sons weren’t making something, he was.

He made his own electric buggy to get around, because two sticks to help walk makes for pretty slow going. He could roar up and down the slope at the back of the house, and up and down the road searching for kids that had roamed off. It was normal, when the batteries were getting down a bit, for whichever kids were around to give him a push.

When the house was re-roofed, he was up on top doing things with everybody else. So were all us neighbourhood kids. In those days there were no worries about falling off, or Occupational Health and Safety.

When I was growing up, is was normal to have a disabled neighbour, who did anything and everything, who had his own factory, where they made neat stuff. Who built things, and welded things. Who never complained about his disability, who was full of ideas, and who got on with things. And who never expected special treatment.

In fact, it was not until I was much older that I even realised Bill had what we call a disability. When I was a child, he just was what he was, we accepted it, we didn’t care.

But Bill did not just have a factory in the sense of working there, he owned it. He employed a lot of people. They made electric arc welders, and transformer cores. Highly specialised stuff in a competitive business. Going there was a treat, something that would probably be banned today. Kids wandering around amongst metal stamping machines, and racks, and presses, and furnaces and things! But then, it was special treat.

For me, this was all just a normal part of growing up.

Didn’t everybody have a neighbour who made buggies, or go-carts, and who had a factory where you could go any watch stuff being made?

Or where somebody was taking Vespa engines apart, or putting on a Guy Fawkes night firework show, or where we could all make damper over an open fire in the backyard?

I’m sure now, that as well as the influence of my father and grandfather, Bill and his family were one of the big influences that led to me being a geek and a technologist.

We had a neighbourhood where at various houses, kids were making things, pulling things apart, finding out how stuff worked. It was all part of growing up, and exceptionally well-tolerated by everybody. Bill’s house was the exception – there was more going on there than anywhere else.

I have much to be grateful to him for.

He led an exceptional life, one which should serve as an inspiration to others.

—-

The factory goes on, one of the sons runs it now. 45 years, still a family concern, still in a competitive business, still going.

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.

Singin’ in the rain…

Popped outside just a moment ago to find that it has been raining – again!

The second time it’s rained in the last week.

What a nice change, I’m really looking forward to the change of the season, the end of the need to water plants. Hopefully the end of silly water restrictions.

Maybe, even, the drought has finally broken.

Powered by WordPress 2.8    Rendered in 23 queries and 1.172 seconds.    CleanBreeze Theme