The Time Has Come (the Walrus said) Archives


As part of the family photo-preserving effort, we’ve been gradually scanning the negatives of all the photo’s we have ever taken. As you can imagine, this is a fairly large undertaking… It goes in fits and starts depending on energy and enthusiasm.

One of the interesting things, though, was the comparison of some of the sights in Lucerne between our visit in 1989, and last year.

These two illustrate the point rather dramatically.

1989: This building just by the river and the wooden bridge, is looking rather grotty, tired, dirty. The tacked-on extension has seen better days.


2008: Different angle, same building. Clean, and rather tarted up. A trendy eatery where there was previously some stonework in serious need of a cleanup. It seems impossible at first that these are the same place. Check the details carefully… they are.


Looking back through the older photos of Lucerne, one other thing really struck me: In 1989, all of the beautiful squares and the narrow roads of the old town were filled with a jumble of cars and trucks, making it chaotic and rather untidy.

In 2008, the cars and trucks are gone, the buildings are painted and much cleaner (see above), and only pedestrians have access.

Looking back now, on the basis of the older photos alone I never would have gone back. It was prettier then than the photos showed, but now… quite outstanding.

Leaking ship of state

So a Treasury official has been leaking to the Opposition.

Surely he should know that his work and knowledge is the property of his employer. The Opposition cultivating public servants and using them to get the low-down on government policy, plans, and actions is not OK, in spite of what they might say. A public servant serves their employer – the GOVERNMENT, not the public (in spite of the title), and not the Opposition.

If he has been found to actually have passed the information on, he is most likely in breach of his employment contract as well as various bits of the law, and he should be sacked. This is what would happen in private industry.

Public servants might vote, but they must never bring their own politics into their job. Not a good move!!


Another from the “What were they thinking?” files.

Today we bring you:


Yes, that’s right: “Extra Juicy” juice.

One is naturally forced to wonder:

- Is this the premium brand, big brother of “Not So Juicy” juice? Which is perhaps dried, or watered down.

- Or perhaps instead, Extra Juicy is because the juice contains something extra. What could it be? Sugar? Illicit drugs? Artificial muck from a chemical factory?

This reminds me of those things, brands and places that put “Plus” on the end of their names, connoting some grand additional thingy or experience. “Supermarket Plus”. Hmmm, right. “Gardens Plus”. Perhaps your plants come pre-supplied with diseases and grubs. And my favourite, seen on pubs around Adelaide a few years ago: “Schnitzels Plus”. Does that mean it comes with mushroom sauce? Or just the $4 ambience of a pub and short-order cook, with sticky carpet underfoot that squelches when you walk?

I suppose it does get hard for the marketeers when you are flogging fruit juice. After all, the truly awful artificial muck is only allowed to be called a “Fruit Drink”, meaning it has less than 25% of the real thing in. Once you cross that line, you are a Fruit Juice, and in theory this gets you the premium price, and in a crowed market this is probably a Good Thing. How do you compete? Freshness? Nah. Boring, everyone has that. Packaging? Once some bright spark put handles on a bottle, that one was pretty much pushed to the limits. What’s left? Name.

However, “Extra Juicy”, I’m sorry, gets a fail grade. The teachers are disappointed and suggest trying again in the supplementary exam.

Damn this insomnia!

Yes, it really is 3:46 am while I’m writing this.

I’ve found over the years that when unable to sleep, sometimes it is better to get up and do something else for a while.

So the family snore away, and I”ll surf for 1/2 and hour. Quietly.

Education Apologists

The other day when driving to work, I was listening to Matt-n-Dave the shit-stirrers on ABC 891. These guys seem to take it as their duty to give a hard time to everyone they interview, but especially politicians.

The other day, they made a passing comment about “Elite private schools” getting a slice of the cash being splashed at schools by the Rudd Federal Government.

The switchboard must have lit like a christmas tree. Of the callers who phoned in to complain, every single one had their hand out for private schools. One chap in particular was quite plain about his feelings and intentions:

“I send my children to a private school so they can get a better class of education…. and I pay my taxes so I should get some of this money being thrown around as well. And I find it objectionable that you refer to private schools as ‘Elite’.”

Fellow clearly didn’t understand the English language, and had an even smaller understanding of Moral Hazard.

It should be pretty clear that if he expects a “better standard of education” then that carries an implicit elitism. So why is he so sensitive?

Curious also that all callers seemed very defensive of “their right” to stick their hands into the taxpayer till. There was not a single defender of public education. All of those who called to whine were not doing so about the preceding interview with the various pollies and public servants, which was about how the money is being used. All hijacked the agenda.

But consider now, something a little more complex. Bear with me here.

Proposition 1: Education of children is compulsory. Our governments have deemed that children are to be educated, and in return that education is provided at no (or, in practice, extremely low) cost.

Proposition 2: Parents have choice and can choose to opt out of the government provided education system. By so doing, they elect a different provider and paywhatever the fees are, consistent with their choice.

When schooling decisions are made whereby a free choice is made to use a different provider, the use of government funds in addition to the private provider’s fee leads to a funding asymmetry. Or, to put it another way, if the private provider were to be funded on a per-head basis by the government in addition to fees, the result is more money per student than in the public system. We won’t even take into account the mandatory contributions to private school building funds. Although the government funding of private education is not at the same dollar-per-head rate as the public schools, the fees + government top-up still leads to the problem: funding asymmetry.

This is a form of Moral Hazard, and we can draw some analogies:

- Should people of private means also be allowed to take the age pension? (They [aid their taxes…)

- Should people who wish to use alternatives to mainstream medicine (pick your favourite example… Iridology, Homeopathy, etc) have those services provided at government expense as part of Medicare? (They paid their taxes…)

One can take these things further, into the realms of silly extremes, but the basis is simlar:

- Should people who work be permitted to collect unemployment benefits? Consider all the whining in recent years about the “cost of moving off welfare” and “welfare to work reforms”, which all involve exactly this issue.  (And remember… they paid their taxes…)

The answers to most of these questions are usually clear – until you find the devil lurking in the detail.

Returning to schooling though, the funding asymmetry becomes blindingly apparent when the private schools are compared to their poor cousins, the state schools. In a country where education is compulsory, the private apologists are obscene in putting their hands in the public trough. Public funding should go to areas of greatest need.

I challenge anyone to pay a visit to Salisbury East, or Elizabeth, or Davoren Park – and then explain why those schools should receive less money because some of it must go to private schools. I likewise challenge anyone to show me a private school that has not had some form of building improvement work done in the last 5 years. The funding asymmetry is in front of all our eyes. Open them.

Friday Photo (on a Sunday)

Todays Friday Photo comes from Lucerne (Luzern), Switzerland.

We spent a day in Lucerne about 20 years ago, and liked it so much that we had to go back. That, and it was an easy jumping-off place to head up Mount Titlis.

Switzerland is expensive.  Food is expensive.  Hotels are expensive.  And the old town part of Lucerne is simply stunning.  Each Saturday, two markets appear – a food market on one side of the river, and the bric-a-brac (aka junk) market on the other.

We were staying right on the waterfront – alongside the river, so the food market appeared overnight, right outside our window.  Everything appears very quietly – it wasn’t until the Saturday morning that I opened up the window and found bustling market outside!

It was fascinating walking along the side of the river,  looking at what is on sale, and looking at the people.

So today’s Friday Photo is the horse dog at the riverside cafe. Flick back and forward through some of the other photos so see more of Lucerne.  I’m still adding these, one per day, so all of Lucerne will be there in about another week.


Click to embiggerate.

Recession, what recession?

Twice in the last seven days, we’ve visited the electrical goods store of a certain monster-national-housewares-retail-chain, let’s call it Hardly Normal.

The fandangled new “Gepps Cross Homemaker Centre” (and for you out-o-towners, it’s pronounced “Jeps” – as in Jets and replace the t with a p). Anyhoooooooo… This place opened with some fanfare a couple of weeks ago.  Fun it aint. The car parks are a maze, and you get the twin excitments of playing “dodge” as well as “spot the brain cell” when making your way from the car to any of the buildings. This, because the car park design is such that pedestrians were never considered – to get where you need to go you either walk on the roadways or leap over the newly planted garden beds.  And its a concrete jungle.  Certainly on the outside, it’s big, bold, and boring.

The Hardly’s store in this place is just a relocation of the store that was a little down the road. It’s not new in the area.

Our first visit to the Gepps Cross Hardly’s was earlier in the week, when I had a day off from work.  The place was packed, on a Tuesday at 11am. Tuesday was the start. The lead-in.  The teaser.  The visit to look at LCD TV’s,  figure out how big they are,  and how much they cost.

So after looking and doing a bit of research during the rest of the week,  today we made the journey back from Outer Bogansville to Gepps Cross Boringsville.

Now knock me down with a feather.  I thought we were supposed to be in recession.  Somebody forget to tell Mr Hardly.  The place was as packed as an Ikea store on a long weekend, but thankfully without the evil floorplan.  We had to stand around for 20 minutes just to catch a salesman,  so we could spend 4 minutes haggling the price down.

During the entire hour and half we were there,  the queue for the cahiers never shrunk below 100 metres long,  and at times ran the full depth of the store.  Having struck our deal,  we spent 45 minutes in the cashier queue waiting to pay our money.

Who says the economy is crook?  Clearly, it’s doing very nicely here in the The Deep North.

There needs to be a new measure of economic health:  Monitor the heart rate of a Hardly Normal cashier on a Saturday afternoon.  If heart rate approaches medical norms,  then the economy is sick.  Based on today’s carefully collected evidence, we’re a long,  long way from that case.

Pollie wants a bikkie

Really, this needs no introduction or elaboration. The bit about pollies as bikkies, I mean.

Super, just super

The other day a couple of large letters arrived from my friendly not-so-local Superannuation Industry Fund. It’s not-so-local cos they are based in Queensland.

One contained yet another of those damn credit-card size friendly happy here-are-our-contect-details cards. Why? I can look the phone number up on the web site, or in the phone book.

So many organisations seem to think that their contact or other details are of such vital importance that I must carry them at all times: membership cards, credit cards, health insurance cards, drivers licences, the list goes on. Some are important. But the phone number to ring my super fund?  If we all carried every card we were ever sent, we’d have wallets and purses 4 cm thick, and walk Quasimodo-style with a limping gait becuase of being unbalanced. Sack the PR flacks and cut your expenses!

So, I’ve ceremonially filed the card. I should just throw it out but the bower-bird in me struggles.

Then came the even bigger envelope, the one I’ve been putting off opening. Putting off because of expecting it to be yet another announcement of their terrible results: telling me how much money they’ve lost.

But no – it was not to be. Instead, it announces that one of the myriad of fund options is closing, and I need to either accept their default change or nominate a new allocation.

Now, folks, I consider myself to be moderately financially literate. But when I get a 40 page book from a super fund telling me the methods to allocate risk, select a set of up to 10 fund options, evaluate past performance, yada yada yada,  well – my brain turns to mush, I lose the will to live, and seriously consider poking an eye out with a fork because it’s more fun.

Most people don’t understand share markets, risk/return trade-offs, or finance in pretty much any form.  I struggle wading through the waffle. It is completely beyond me how others who know less can make a sensible decision about allocating their super contributions into different fund options.

Friday Photo

Today’s Friday Photo is again brought to you on a Saturday thanks to the miracle of wordpress scheduled posts being broken.

But it does have the advantage that I can take my time in choosing something I want to show, whilst sipping on a nice coffee, with the heater roaring away.

Our current Adelaide winter is finally here, cold, and wet. The most rain we have had for several years. Today will be raining – and it is forecast to be much the same for the next week. Right now, the rain has stopped and the sun streaming in the window is rather nice.

All of this puts me in mind of this:

Sunset at McLaren Vale

(click to go full size)

Which looks terrible in a tiny little shrink-pic, but bigger…

The winemakers of the McLaren Vale region, south of Adelaide, produce some of the outstanding wines of Australia. Region is small, and fairly easily overlooked. Spending some time there gives a different perspective. The photo shows the (rather small, and incongrously named) Mount Lofty Ranges in the background, and the tops of the posts and vines, lit by the setting sun during Autumn. I like the subtle range of colours.

Zis iz not good enuf

Ello again, mah friendz, it iz zat tahm again when we muzt zelebrate ze naughty bitz zat are all around in ze Europe.

Ziz week we af ze palace of ze Versailles in France. Ze king ere was vey vey powerful and alzo vey vey rich. And ze oppulents iz vey fine to zee.

Ere we af ze zings in one of ze royal apartmennntz.


Az you can ze, she az no cloze on ze top bitz. In France, iz no big zing. In Australie, in ze Adelaide, in ze Tea Tree Gully council, zis is not ze caze. Zadlie.

Royal nude statues. Good enough for France. Good enough for royalty. Good enugh for 25 million visiting tourists a year. Not good enough for Tea Tree Gully. How sad.

Green what?

Here’s a curious thing. There is some new charity house being erected in Blackwood (SA). It supposedly has an 8 green star rating.

All well and good, but 2 of those stars come from the use of special green star concrete.

“Green Star Concrete have supplied a number of housing projects through out Adelaide, using specialized concrete mixes containing over 55% recycled aggregates … The Green Star Building Council recognises the use of recycled aggregates in the production of concrete – plus the use of fly ash – to obtain a 2-Star Green Star rating.”

Now the use of recycled materials in the manufacture of cement, the use of fly ash (otherwise a waste product) – these are all good and noble things.

But doesn’t it seem a little odd that I can buy an existing house on a block of land, bulldoze the perfectly good but “old fashioned” house and build a “modern” house, where 55% of the concrete for the new house is recycled from the old house.

The only way to get recycled (using energy) materials is to destroy (using energy) something that already exists (has embodied energy) so we can build something new (using energy).

How is this so-called progress worthy of a star rating?

Does anybody else see a tiny contradiction in values here?

(with thanks to DB for pointing this out)

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