The Time Has Come (the Walrus said) Archives

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.

More rain

Just because I can… and because the clouds looked pretty cool:

The rain in outer-Bogansville falls mainly on the hills (as seen out the kitchen window):

dscn1679-1.JPG

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?

Buffettisms, 2007

From this years letter to shareholders by Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway…

Regarding directors of companies:

… many directors who are now deemed independent by various authorities and observers are far from that, relying heavily as they do on directors’ fees to maintain their standard of living. These payments, which come in many forms, often range between $150,000 and $250,000 annually, compensation that may approach or even exceed all other income of the “independent” director. And – surprise, surprise – director compensation has soared in recent years, pushed up by recommendations from corporate America’s favorite consultant, Ratchet, Ratchet and Bingo. (The name may be phony, but the action it conveys is not.)

Regarding the size of the corporate office (this from a company with revenue of over US$80 billion!):

Our federal return last year, we should add, ran to 9,386 pages. To handle this filing, state and foreign tax returns, a myriad of SEC requirements, and all of the other matters involved in running Berkshire, we have gone all the way up to 19 employees at World Headquarters.

This crew occupies 9,708 square feet of space, and Charlie – at World Headquarters West in Los Angeles – uses another 655 square feet. Our home-office payroll, including benefits and counting both locations, totaled $3,531,978 last year. We’re careful when spending your money.

(By the way, 655 square feet is 60 square metres, or roughly an office 7 x 8 metres. And 9708 square feet is 900 square metres, or roughly 30 x 30 metres, which is NOT MUCH to fit 19 staff into.)

Further on executive pay at companies:

CEO perks at one company are quickly copied elsewhere. “All the other kids have one” may seem a thought too juvenile to use as a rationale in the boardroom. But consultants employ precisely this argument, phrased more elegantly of course, when they make recommendations to comp committees.

You can find the full 36 page letter to shareholders here. Every year it makes good reading, and should be mandatory for boards and CEOs everywhere, for it candour, honesty and simplicity of presentation.

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.

Wot’s the Future Fund all ’bout then, dudes? – Take 4

After the previous 3 posts, some final thoughts:

Who is promising to be more responsible, Howard/Costello, or Rudd?

For this answer, I need to turn to Terry McCrann, grumpy financial matters writer from The Australian.

McCrann wrote a very interesting article titled “Stolen, squandered – costly Costelllo shortchanges the future Fund $9bn”, in The Weekend Oz on March 24/25.

In this article, Terry writes:

Peter Costello’s accusation that Labor plans to “steal” $2.7 billion from the Future Fund might have a little more credibility had he not already stolen more than three times that amount from the fund.

He goes on to show a calculated loss to the Future Fund of $9 billion!

This is made up of:

  • Putting less in the fund than promised;
  • Being late putting the money in; and
  • Leaving the money in the (Reserve) bank rather than invested.

On the first point, Terry shows that Costello and Howard put $2 billion LESS into the fund than promised.

On the second point, being late putting the money in the fund meant that the government took the interest rather than the fund getting it, another $1 billion!

And on the third point, the money, had it been invested would have grown by $3 billion instead of nothing (it was in the bank, remember, with Costello creaming off the interest instead of it being added to the fund).

That adds up to $6 billion. The remaining $3 billion is due to various timing differences and more forgone investment opportunities and interest lost.

Again, to quote Terry McCrann:

All up on my calculations the Treasurer has cost the Future Fund at least $9 billion. The initial $2 billion underfunding and at least another $7 billion from paying the money late and then leaving it in the bank. Now Treasurer, who exactly is stealing the savings of our children?

And then he goes on to show how much has been lost by the fund getting set up late in the investment cycle, so the opportunity to make capital gains has been eroded.

On, and on.

He concludes:

And let’s not forget this Government which has not brought you high-speed broadband is the same one that did “bring you” digital television.

Having Labor spend $2.7 billion of the Future Fund money is pretty responsible and small beer when compared to the amount lost forever by the patronizing, lazy incompetence of Costello and Howard.

Wot’s the Future Fund all ’bout then, dudes? – Take 3

Ok, the much promised part 3…

Is it bad that Labor wants to use the Future Fund to build a broadband network?

Answer: Yes and No.

THE NO CASE (No… it’s not bad to use the FF money).

Labor proposes using about $4.7 billion, to be funded with $2 billion from existing programs and $2.7 billion from the Future Fund – by selling Telstra shares, as I remember it.

The money would be used to build a fibre-based, high speed, broadband network.

Now there are two important thing to remember here:

1. GOVERNMENTS SHOULD PAY FOR SOCIAL POLICY.

If Governments decide something is for the social good, it is reasonable to expect it to be paid for by private capital, provided private capital is allowed to earn a reasonable rate of return.

Like it or not, private capital has to earn a rate of return of 12% to 15% for an investment to be worthwhile.

If private money can’t earn that rate of return, Government cannot demand that they perform a charity service, which means Government has only two options: either provide it themselves, or subsidise it.

So, if the broadband network can’t, on the face of it, provide a decent rate of return for a private investor, then it is reasonable to expect government to be chipping in some of the money as a freebie.

This is what’s being proposed, with the Government contribution being about 40%. The rest would come from the future fund.

That part coming from the Future Fund would come about from a sell-down of their Telstra shareholding and then acquiring an investment in a new company that would provide the broadband infrastructure. This company, naturally, would be expected to pay dividends and earn a return for the FF.

2. LONG TERM FUNDS UNDER MANAGEMENT NEED TO REDUCE RISK

Seeing as the Future Fund has a huge number of Telstra shares, they are (to use fund damager manager terms) overweight, so a few less Telstra and a few more broadband infrastructure fund shares would be a good thing.

Any prudent fund manager would welcome such a move because it diversifies the holdings of the fund and thus reduces risk.

SUMMARY OF THE NO CASE (no, it’s not bad, so it must be good):

- it is NOT bad to raid the Future Fund to build a broadband network, because if such a network is part of social policy it should be subsidised by Government – as proposed; and

- diversifying the shareholdings of the Future Fund is prudent financial management.

THE YES CASE (Yes it is bad to raid the Future Fund)

The Future Fund managers should be left to invest the funds wherever they see fit, rather than being the victim of Government meddling.

Now in general this is true – if a government fund, or any other fund for that matter, is set up for a purpose it should be allowed to pursue that purpose to the exclusion of the politics and politicians of the day.

A counter-argument here is that the money was government money in the first place, and the fund is not really required anyway.

SUMMARY OF THE YES CASE (yes, it is bad to raid the FF):

The YES case is about autonomy, but it’s pretty weak compared to the NO case.

CONCLUSION:

So far, the no case looks pretty good – using the money of the Future Fund, along with government money, achieves two goals: it fulfills a policy promise to deliver a certain result, and it gives the fund diversity. The downside is it takes a small amount of autonomy away from the fund managers.

SO, IT IS NOT A BAD THING TO USE THE FF MONEY AS PROPOSED BY LABOR.

Wot’s the Future Fund all ’bout then, dudes? – Take 2

I could not have written this better.

Go here.

Part 3 coming when I have the energy.

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.

Single handedly destroying the ozone layer

Over at Dumpsville (also known as the house of the Dump Family) we are having the time of our life over Easter.

Yes folks, it’s that time again, when we paint the timber deck with decking stain / oil to protect it from the winter rains. This wee job needs to be done every year, which explains why we haven’t done it for 5 years. Or is it 8 years?

Either way, it’s the job from hell. Two coats on the top, and a coat from underneath.

See, this aint some poxy bit of decking from Backyard Blitz where they decide to build something cutesy-pie in 1/2 an hour, a foot off the ground, instead of getting in a bobcat and then laying perfectly respectable concrete.

No, this deck is a bloody huge great thing, 2.5 metres off the ground, held up with timbers salvaged from the Titanic. It’s about 400 square metres. OK I exaggerated a bit there, but it is jolly big so a single coat on the top takes two of us a whole day, and uses 8 litres of evil smelling good-stuff.

Doing the underside involves standing on a ladder with a paint tray, using one of those nifty painting pads, and reaching up and over and leaning back and stretching. Good training for doing the limbo, but not much fun doing it for about 6 hours straight. Nor is dodging the bits that run down or drip. By the time I finished that yesterday I was covered in decking stain – and still am, that’s why it’s called stain, after all. The shirt was a complete write off, and I still pong like a chemical factory.

Today we are doing coat number 2 on the top, and then that’s it for another year or two… or three.

Oh yes, and Bunnings, where cheapest prices are just the beginning!

Well, Mr Bunning must be living in fantasy land because the decking stain we bought there for $67 a tin is available elsewhere for $62. Now a $5 difference in a 4 litre tin might not seem like much, but when you need to buy enough to paint the entire third world the difference quickly adds up.

OK, I exaggerated again, but in our case, 5 tins makes a saving of $25 which buys a trip to Maccas to stoke up on grease, just the thing after a day scrubbing ones sinuses with hydrocarbons. Fortunately Mr Bunning only made a windfall gain on the first three tins.

IN THE MEANTIME, more entertainment from my father to keep y’all amused:

washing-instructions.jpg

I assume it has not been photoshopped :)

Where are all the Conservative bloggers?

Most of the places I poke around on-line, there are Howard haters.

Amongst the weblog writers, there seem to be an overwhelming majority of the under-30’s who detest Howard and the conservative Liberal Federal government. Most, if not all, in the age group have never voted under any other flavour of government.

It has often been said of the young that they will vote for who they know because that is who they grew up with. Perhaps this is the sort of rubbish trotted out by the occasional political journo, because from what I can gather in my limited sampling of the blog-o-sphere, the young by and large can’t wait to be rid of the “who they know”.

I need to qualify this opinion though, I have found many left wing and centrist blogs in my meanderings and these are all articulate, carefully written and argued. I don’t always agree with their arguments, but they are at least readable.

Out of desperation for an alternative point of view, I’ve gone searching for some right-wing / Conservative Liberal bloggers to see what their opinions are.

I can’t find any – except for Andrew Bolt! (Who incidentally is sometimes rather awful, but sometimes cuts through the bullshit of political correctness and makes a very fine point indeed.)

Note that in my searchings I EXCLUDE politicians, and most journos – I want real people’s opinions.

The only Conservative Liberal writers I have been able to find are full of nasty, spiteful invective and attack on people rather than a robust writing and discussion of ideas.

How sad…

But perhaps this just bears out my observation of political parties:

It seems that left wing (ie Labor) governments tend to eventually implode – dominated by scandal and argument amongst their own. This comes about because they have many shades of lefty, each passionately believing in their own spin-of-the-week, writing policy documents, and having intellectual arguments. They get good at fighting these issues amongst themselves and forget their opposition.

By comparison, the right wing (ie Liberal) governments tend to explode – because they piss off the populace, but when they are on-message they are united, and very focussed on staying in power at all costs. They do an excellent job of dumping on the left-wing side – usually not by intellectual argument, but rather by character assassination, scare campaigns, and simple messages that don’t require a great deal of thought or rational argument. Their unanimity and focus on staying in power is to be admired. Their methods of doing so leave a lot to be desired.
How sad…

Mindless, evil, petty

Today a new college was opened in Adelaide.

It was one of John Howards new technical colleges.

About 120 people were on the original invitation list to the grand opening by the Prime Minister, that is, until the list went to Canberra for approval by Andrew Robb’s office and the Prime Ministers office.

At that time, every Labor person and every trade unionist was removed from the list.

That includes State Government Minister John Hill who aided the project by acquiring the land and buildings, and wearing the heat for keeping the buildings available when there were calls for them to be demolished. Everybody from the State (Labor) Government (who supported the project) was excluded.
Also excluded, by way of being unionists, were two of the BOARD MEMBERS who run the college!

State Liberal party members were invited, though.

When interviewed on radio, Andrew Robb said the exclusions were because nationally, Labor opposed the idea, and they thought that Labor people would be uncomfortable being at the opening.

How lame.

If they were uncomfortable, they could always politely decline the invitation.

The actions of the Feberal Liberals stink of pettiness and spite.

How absolutely pathetic.

Vote Liberal last. The bastards deserve it.

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.

Fuel economy

From my father, who has just driven to Melbourne and back.

The car is a Honda Accord, or Prelude, or something like that.

Several years ago, I was sitting alongside a couple of retired mechanical engineers from XXXX (former employer) both of whom were espousing the use of high octane ULP and saying that they made up the extra cost by getting extra fuel economy and performance. One of them drove a Volvo which should have made me wary.

Last April [2006], I drove the Honda back from Melbourne on one tank of petrol. It was standard ULP and we covered 733km on 54 litres or 7.37 litres per 100 km or 38.28 miles per gallon while cruising at the speed limit with the air conditioning on and with automatic transmission etc.

So yesterday at Hamilton [Victoria], I thought that I would test the theory and see what improved fuel economy would be achieved with Super grade ULP.

Accordingly, I filled right up with 49 litres of the very best Shell high octane ULP and off we went to Horsham, then on to Warracknabeal and up to Brim. A look around various cemeteries finding graves of ancestors and lunch at Warracknabeal and then a steady drive home.

Now all of this was on good roads, almost flat country with no stop/start traffic, just the occasional stops for lunch and necessary toilet and coffee activities. No hill climbing and not really any heavy road traffic and at the end of the day we had covered 691 km and at the same Shell service station as last year, I put in 53 litres of standard ULP.

The super-high grade ULP gave a fuel economy of 7.67 litres / 100 km or 37.6 mpg.

That is, the higher grade fuel gave a very slightly worse economy than the standard fuel.

Ah well, bang goes another engineering urban myth.

Moi Bogan is better than YOUR Bogan

In Australia we have Bogans.

Not sure what they are called in USA. In the UK they are known as Chavs.

The term first came to national attention in Australia on “The Comedy Company”, back in the late 1980’s. I think it was a Melbourne or Sydney thing before then.

ANYHOW, in Adelaide we can lay a fairly good claim on BOGAN.

We have BOGAN ROAD. Who else has that, eh?

AND, it’s near Elizabeth – a region well known for its large population of Bogans. Hows that for a coincidence then?

(Want proof? Go to www.whereis.com.au, and enter a search for Bogan Rd, Hillbank, South Australia.)

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