30 June 2007

our house (In the middle of our street)

Here's a couple of links to UK opinion columns which have both attracted substantial comment.

Marina Prior in the Guardian pens one of the most arch, snarky columns I've ever read, about former PM Blair's appointment as a special envoy to the Middle east. The commentary mainly lines up behind her but amongst the dissenters, there's a couple of quite moderate, thoughtful suggestions. Columns written in such a style can be immensely rewarding to read, especially if you happen to agree with the particular proposition. Whether they advance the cause of human understanding is probably another thing altogether. It's more about entertainment - and, by extension, the inevitable decline of western civilisation, I imagine. Not the news, the whole news, and nothing but, etc etc.

second column is about house prices in the UK and resultant greater inability of people to enter the housing market. As is the case in Australia there seems to be a number of market-distorting factors at play. Without doing the research, it seems that a mechanism to reduce tax for those who "buy-to-let" is acting similarly to the CGT reduction available in Australia which makes owning a house for investment purposes more attractive, given that the actual ROI is pretty low - about 3% on average, I think I've read. This column attracted an enormous number of commenters, again across a wide range of views and the argument is, by and large, very civilised (there's a few digs at socialists, not surprising given it is the Guardian again, and a tinge of racism rears its head).

The issue that I think is hardest to get around is the desirability of owning your own home. As housing affordability for first home buyers has fallen in Australia, the received wisdom seems to have been that because shares have shown greater returns over the last 20 or so years - ie since more deregulation of the finance industry combined with continued economic growth - so owning your home is not a sensible economic decision, and so you should rent and buy shares with the savings.

Seems to me that returns from shares will, over time, trend back and also generally, people don't understand the share market as well as they do housing (note this is not a claim that people understand the housing market as well as they think they do). You also have to have the self-control to actually invest in shares, which I think would be harder to achieve than making the mortgage payments.

Of course this argument also ignores the non-economic, but cultural, desire to own your castle. Which means a lot to people, even in the face of conflicting evidence. And all of a sudden, we find ourselves debating whether people are rational actors in relation to their saving and spending decisions.

Well, they may not be rational in their own dealings but they can certainly recognise
other people being a little bit too rational.

Tonight's picture is again from our time in Pakistan. It being so long ago I'm not completely certain of details, but I think this would have been taken up around the Swat Valley where we went a couple of times, rising life and limb by piloting the Mini up the Grand Trunk road to Peshawar and then turning right to go up into the hills. We never made the trip to Gilgit by plane that many did - the plane would often leave from Islamabad in the hope that Gilgit was clear - it frequently wasn't and so they often returned disappointed.

28 June 2007

the longest time

It's been a year tonight since the old man died. It's gone so fast, I kind of still expect him to loom around the corner or something. Even though he was hardly here, both physically and spiritually, for the last 6 months of his life. Anyway, it's one of those reflective times that you get - will need to make a couple of calls this weekend to check on some of his circle.

Crikey today has a response by Guy Rundle to an article about "when did the Right lose it." In the piece, Rundle talks about a shift:

What happened? You could talk about all sorts of
surface effects, but deep down the right lost its connection with a whole middle
section of people because it lost its connection with the capacity to reason,
and the idea that you step back dispassionately from the world and analyse what
the consequences of your actions might be. In effect you reverse the
relationship between reality and thought, and come to believe that the latter
can change the former if you simply believe in it enough.

The "Right" doesn't have a mortgage on this type of process. Maliciously wounded by the language and intent of managerialism and corporate-speak, in which the medium is indeed the message but the message becomes increasingly minimal and irrelevant, political discourse has zoomed (drifted? phantamagorised?) into the ether, wherein words exist in defiance of reality. Mrs VVB went on - at length - about this last night as Mal Brough, very amateurishly, tried to respond to a revitalised, re-backboned Red Kez O'Brien. For fear of causing discomfort to gentler readers I won't go into exactly what she said, just let's say it's the language I get excoriated for when a certain alleged small PM appears on the TV.

It's got to the stage when any public figure, politician, business person or whatever, can say anything and it doesn't have to be bear any resemblance to reality. Let's not get into discussion about the meaning of the word "truth." All that matters is that pronouncements have been made.

Speaking of said small PM, some friends of mine today had the opportunity to participate in an MVA with him as the item coming off second-best. I can only assume they swerved because they want to see him flogged in the polls. Because if otherwise, I am dreadfully disappointed.

Well, back on a familiar theme and the old man wouldn't have had it any other way. He got radicalised in the sixties when he was in his fifties - going to uni and hanging about in Canberra hostels gave him the theoretical basis for what he had long believed and experienced - the rich get richer and I'm all right Jack. And who he could point the finger at for fostering such a society. "The last of the red hot socialists" I used to call him - even my economics was too dry for him - and if he were able, he'd still be railing today.

27 June 2007

apple scruffs

The batch of apple cider that we brewed up a few weeks ago turned out to be a dud. All the signs were OK as it went through, including taking longer to ferment than a standard beer recipe. But it is flat and somewhere between tasteless and bad tasting. The problem is that there are so many variables in the home brewing process that I can't immediately identify a cause.

Mrs vvb was quite upset as she had been looking forward to it. The question now is whether to try again or just make another batch of beer, seeing as we have reasonable quantity of ginger beer on hand but my ordinary ole quaffin' beer, she is almost finished. Plus the brewing area is bloody cold, making it hard to keep the batch within the temperature range for a successful brew. Toil and trouble, etc.

Speaking of Mrs vvb being upset, her reaction to the loss of potential cider was nothing compared to her reaction to Mal Brough on 7.30 Report tonight. Mrs vvb works in the area of delivering services to the disadvantaged and knows only too well the difficulty in getting it right where the recipient isn't just a bod from the 'burbs. What got Mrs vvb's blood boiling was the obvious disconnection between the words and the reality. All pollies - you get these words, and they mean nothing. All English, all connected, usually grammatical - but they exist in a parallel dimension, as Mrs vvb accurately put it.

Anyway, it was extremely heartening to see Red Kez discover his long-forgotten backbone and actually hold a Minister to account by trying to make him answer the question. Brough's attempt to turn the question around was so amateurish that in truth there should have been no question that a proper journalist would say, "Now hold on a minute (with greatest respect, of course)...", but Kerry's been somewhat emasculated of late. It'll be interesting to see whether he's allowed off the leash again or whether the new ABC bias blocker gets deployed.

But enough of that. Tonight's picture is the next phase in the pool cleaning in Pakistan series. It's important to ensure that the pool floor in very shiny and this is how you do it. I reflect back on these days and essentially come to the conclusion that most of us must had been out in the sun too long.

26 June 2007

doctor my eyes

Pryor gets it right again in today's Canberra Times.
In other news specially for bwca, our mutual friend has left a message for you on the thread a couple of posts back ("low road").
Which enables me to state my view here: I have no problem at all with people of faith, provided they don't try to make mileage out of it. I've got a couple of regular church goers in my current team and they're fine. One in fact is very active in his church and he understands very well that it's his business and others might not share his view. In the past I've had people of faith who never lost an opportunity to tell people about it and it all got pretty tense - in a work environment you've got to be very careful about saying anything or you'll be up on a discrimination charge pdq. And you can't always rely on the group ethic to restore/maintain balance.
Others can put my view much better than me. For example this piece in the Times (why can't we have newspapers like this?).
I guess what I really have a problem with is all organised religion, which to my mind are simply power structures that enable some to maintain dominion over others. In particular, I've always found it pretty amazing how many religions enforce the domination of men over women. If I was sceptical, I'd be thinking that the church structure was put in place purely for that purpose.

25 June 2007

monday monday

Well in an up and down day the arrival of this was probably a highlight. It's just a magnificent little piece of work, extremely detailed for a 1/43 scale model.

I bet that like many other blokes of my vintage, I wish I hadn't given away my toy cars from boyhood. I can remember most of them: a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith, a Bentley S2 drophead coupe, a Fiat 2300, a Jag Mk2, a Chevy Bel-Air, a Morris Mini that I implored my uncle to buy to put on his desk (as he was at that time a purveyor of Minis). He acquiesced to the purchase (one shilling from me, six and sixpence from him) but I couldn't budge him from the view that I wanted it for myself. As he was older and a far better arguer than a 10-year-old, I lost the argument and got the model.

In today's Crikey, front-line IP lawyer and blogger Kim Weatherall had this piece:

4. Warning to Aussie software pirates: Be afraid, be very afraid
By Kimberlee Weatherall, intellectual property expert, blogger and Senior Lecturer at the University of Queensland

In February, an Australian resident, Hew Griffiths, was extradited to face a US criminal court on charges of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringements, and criminal copyright infringement. He pleaded guilty, and last Friday he was sentenced to more than four years in prison. Because he has already spent three years in an Australian jail, he will have to serve 15 months in the US.
Griffiths was extradited and has been convicted for his involvement in ‘warez trading’: he was a leader of the DrinkOrDie software piracy group, who deliberately and consciously set up an international computer network which operated, in an
organised way, to crack technical protections on software and distribute the
uncracked version.

It’s important to get a few misconceptions out of the way. Griffiths is not copyright’s version of David Hicks. Hicks was held without charge for years in the US; Griffiths was held only after a US grand jury indicted him. Hicks was charged under laws which applied criminal penalties retrospectively to acts done before the law was passed. Griffiths was convicted for acts which were crimes under Australian law at the time he did them.

It is unlikely Hicks was thinking about possible conviction by a US court when he acted in Afghanistan; Griffiths flouted Australian and US copyright law, and boasted he would not be caught. If the US were going to choose a case for a copyright-based extradition, they certainly chose someone who is not a particularly sympathetic character.

But we should be shocked, and worried, by what has happened to Griffiths. Why? Because before he was extradited, Griffiths had never set foot in the United States. It is a worry that we have, without any apparent demur on the part of Australian authorities, the exercise of US jurisdiction. It means that Australian authorities will, it seems, happily allow US law to be applied to acts done in Australia. Why?

There is no reason why Griffiths could not have been charged, and tried, in an Australian court. There were many other co-conspirators, but none have been extradited to the US. Several were charged, and convicted, under UK law by UK courts. Why is Griffiths being treated differently? Because Griffiths was the
leader? All the more reason to try him here.

The Australian Government might respond that in the case of ‘transnational’ crimes, drastic action like extradition is necessary. But this is copyright, not international
terrorism or child p-rn-graphy we are talking about. It is an economic crime.
Extradition does not seem appropriate or proportionate. We should be worried that such extraditions might become more common. If they do, Australians will have to consider, in their online activities, extradition to the US as a possible risk. So much for Australian sovereignty.

Indeed. And even more so if the US is successful in getting this bloke back under US military sovereignty. Then we'll really know that we're the 52nd - or whatever it is - state.

BTW, I keep forgetting to give readers an update on the various extra-curricular endeavours we've started at Chateau VVB. First, the personal journey: the consultants have now confirmed what I told them when I started. But to be fair, we've been through a fair bit of introspection and analysis to get to this point and have learnt a few useful things for the future. (Geez I love being Delphic).

Second, we haven't scooped up any poo and put it in the post.

23 June 2007

say my name

Look, this is a cheap shot and it's nothing new, but the first article I went to on Arts and Letters Daily was this cracker about baby names.

Now, nothing about bogan names or whatever, but how about:

  • parents who have to consult a commercial baby name provider for advice? For all those who moan about the nanny state and the propensity of governments to interfere everywhere, doesn't this rather highlight a lack of confidence in one's own ability?
  • someone who wants a name for their child that will "look good on a marquee or political banner". Suppose thr kid grows up to be an exotic dancer? Will a strong political name help? Suppose they become an axe murderer (because crime reports are the only time you'll ever see the person's middle name);
  • 'And the growing brand consciousness among consumers has made parents more aware of how names can shape perceptions. The result: a child's name has become an emblem of individual taste more than a reflection of family traditions or cultural values. "We live in a marketing-oriented society," says Bruce Lansky, a former advertising executive and author of eight books on baby names, including "100,000 + Baby Names." "People who understand branding know that when you pick the right name, you're giving your child a head start."'

So, parents need to understand branding to ensure their kids get the right name. I suppose this dill believes his own bullshit, I'd be keen to check back in 20 or 30 years to see whether he's woken up that branding is not the sine qua non of human existence. On the other hand, if society is truly going down the commercial path to this extent, we are truly fucked. The success or failure of the Doha or any future rounds of trade liberalisation are a fleabite on the backside of economic progress compared to this type of insidious usurpation of human existence by the power of the dollar.

I'd say that words fail me, but clearly they haven't.

Now, back to Arts and Letters Daily, the question is whether to leave this post open to see what else pops up that requires a VVB-esque commentary.

Yes, let's.

What were we saying in the previous post about the abuse of English? Try this. Bits I especially love:

  • "I'm often, like, hello?"
  • "Eat's now"
  • the many instances of "basically."

This is just too much fun on a Saturday night. I should get back to my work - or I could indulge in some of this.

Finally, bastard acts to emasculate workers' ability to look out for their own interests are everywhere.

saturday night and I ain't got nobody

Well that's not quite right, I do have Mrs VVB. Who, sensible lass, is in the lounge room with the fire. Yes, good folks, it's wicked cold here in the leafy western suburbs (if you want to know our temperature, look to Amberley, not Brisbane).

And I do have this little blog. Seeing as what it's been wicked cold and somewhat damp today, I've been mainly at the computer. We're putting in for an award so I've been drafting massive amounts of bureaucratese all day. The back of the task is broken, the next step is just to get the rest of the details down and then the interesting bit: turning it into a style of English so seductive it will reel the judges right in. Nothing like this style, then.

It's quite dispiriting in a way, this misuse of English. The bureaucratic or corporatespeak styles drain so much of the meaning right out of whatever it is being discussed. There's no sense of the imperative of taking some action, of the fulfillment of achieving objectives (and, of course, goals), or (in some of the examples I'll be citing) the excitement and passion that sits meekly below the bureaucratic surface. I could probably go back to it but it's sucked the actual joy of the project plumb outta me.

I've got a photocopied extract from Don Watson's Recollections of a Bleeding Heart at work, in which he talks about his experience of dealing with the public service during the Keating years. Of course Watson is also a fervent advocate for plain writing.

The letters to the Ed in today's Curious Snail, by a good proportion, support the general thrust of Howard's intervention on Aboriginal child abuse but nail him on the timing. The Snail is no red rag, no pusillanimous Fairfax scandal sheet, it's a good solid Murdoch contribution to the forces of good and right, so the general tone of the letters should be seen as telling. Greater numbers of Aussies are waking up to the subterfuge that's been perpetrated for the last 11 years. Relaxed and comfortable was a ruse. While you've been relaxed and comfortable, I've stealing your rights, your heritage, your country. And look: when I went to grab a URL link for the Snail, I find
this. QE fucking D, as they say.

Would a Rudd government be much better? It's not a strong front bench (think back to 1983 - when Hawke came to power, my old man said "this is the best Liberal government we've ever had." Mind you, dad was a bit of a fellow traveller, if you follow me.

It'd be easy to see Rudd mesmerised by the seductiveness of power, if not the trappings (surely he'd return Kirribilli to its previous purpose). The reality of government and the grubby accommodations you have to make would come pretty quickly. If he could keep himself from lying to the country for a couple of years, though, we'd be away ahead. It's not too much to ask, surely?

I had the Business Review Weekly lying around somewhere and was going to comment on some inane story in there about how the insurance companies were able to pay out on all the claims from the recent storms down south. Good - that must mean their actuaries have been on the money, so to speak. Isn't that how it's supposed to work?

Ahh bugger it. Time we weren't here. It's raining softly outside, the water tank people have absconded with our deposit, damn damn damn. There's surely something dead under the house from the increasingly obvious smell...may have to actually crawl under there tomorrow to see what it is.

In the meantime, have a pciture of the paternal grandfather. Not sure when this one dates from. Confectioner, jeweller, a few other things as well. Made and lost a couple of fortunes. I only met him once, I was about 4 or 5, we have a picture of that day and I can still remember it, a tiny flat on the edge of Kings Cross.

Pretty natty dresser, eh?

22 June 2007

through a glass darkly

It's been a frantically busy week which has meant not much interest in blogging when I get home. I always bring some work home and I usually do about half of it. A couple of times I've come home and fallen asleep on the couch.

OK so that's me, what's been happening outside the immediate circle? Well I read Crikey - a little less of it each day, I reckon - and check out
Ozpolitics. The blog headings are a real turn-off: predetermined positions signalled, often with the aid of inflammatory language and neither 'side' has a mortgage on that. Of course seeing things through a particular world-view, the language and positions of one 'side' usually appear far less wholesome than the other, but some reality really should intrude. Why do we make life so miserable for ourselves (yer 'umble correspondent included).

So I check out my faves where I'll find something to inform or amuse:
JT, Phillip Challinor (this just gets better and better), Harry Hutton (the comments are always hilarious), Gorilla Bananas, Sinfest (even though I don't understand it), Penny Arcade (which I understand even less), Riot Act for some news about the old home town, is the bear awake yet (no), Stereogum for new music, Capitol Hill Blue (though I'm going off that), Washington Monthly, and so on. If I'm feeling resilient, Political Daily Review has a new name but will still yield a week's reading.

Recently, a couple of newies (to me):
bwca and a fellow Latin and car fan in Toowoomba (bet it's cold there tonight). And usually LP, Club Troppo and a few others.

Which brings us to where we are: a bit tired of the permanent political campaign, quite over the things that divide us and ready for another holiday (as Mrs VVB continually reminds me). The water tank people have absconded with our deposit it would seem, the house has white ants, the pool has gone green.

On the other side of the ledger, I saw (on film) a story today about how some government facilitation had brought about a rebuilding of social capital in some western Queensland regions: stories of ordinary people being supported to support each other. Very good for the spirit and rekindles a little bit of hope.

Yes, bloody lefty tax-eating heavy-handed statist intervention. Everything that's supposedly wrong with the world according to the dominant discourse. Except, just occasionally, it works.

Have a lovely weekend and to help with that, have a picture of how you clean swimming pools in Pakistan. When I came out of the office and found this unusual, not to say somewhat dangerous, activity going on, the other staff assured me that the fellow in question was "shockproof".

20 June 2007

over the rainbow

I challenge you to watch this and not get a little bit damp around the eyes.

Connie sings.

And a heartfelt thanks to el grand goos, from whom I got this.

Faith in humanity restored, even if only for a little while.

17 June 2007

you take the low road

Much easier than actually having to think, devise and polish a post is to just point to someone else's. So sit back, loosen the seat belt a tad and enjoy - sort of - the ride as My Favourite Tory, Jeremy Clarkson, gives you chapter and verse on road design, the state of Britain and what's wrong with most other people.

You will note by the time you've reached the end of his piece that, although it is ostensibly a road test of the Mitsubishi Outlander, there's only one sentence which says "don't bother."

Quite so. We had an Outlander for the recent holiday in Tassie and it was ideal. Because Tassie is so breathtakingly beautiful, it helps to have a car in which there is nothing inside of any interest. Also, despite sewing-machine-like quietness it was as a gutless as a bucket of amoebae, giving you plenty of time to look out the window.

Even while driving.

And appropos of Lamborghini Gallardos, there was one parked at the rear of the local noshery than Mrs VVB, a mate and I visited on Friday night. And a bunch of young blokes having a smoke and a yarn outside the kitchen. On questioning, one claimed it was his.

Either the restaurant is doing exceptionally well or someone's in a slightly different game. I looked at the young blokes and my money's on the latter.

14 June 2007

takin' care of business

The business of business is business, I thought someone once said (I thought it was a previous CEO of General Electric, but I could only find Calvin Coolidge and the quote is not as I thought I recalled, so that must have been what I was thinking of. Sensible in one sense, very restrictive in another, as it could be construed to mean that boards are only interested in the most efficient use of assets, in the belief that everything will flow from that. And there's plenty of theory to support that particular view of world, not to mention laws about fiduciary duty.

Here, in the Times, Graham Searjeant laments a restrictive view in the light of the rise of private equity, its short time horizons and the complex web of investment and financing vehicles that have been developed to facilitate the business of business since banking was generally deregulated over the last 20 years. He argues that the increasing complexity of the financial arranegments has the effect of distancing the owners of capital from the actual goods and services being financed, with deleterious effect.

The article summarises another dilemma that chateau vvb wrestles with - a cursory understanding that business produces the goods and services that are desirable outcomes to fuel our lifestyles, and to prosper it should be allowed to get on with, yes you guessed it, business...but that the recent evolution of the capitalist model is not sustainable over any reasonable period as one of the 'assets' being worked so hard, the human input, should not be treated the same as land, capital or other raw material inputs.

Wrestle wrestle.

Oh and btw, see Paris Hilton in the right hand panel? A digitally enhanced image? What do they mean, do you think?

much, much later...so much later it's in fact a different day...

Had a little splurge in JB HiFI and we came away with:

the Drive By Truckers...recommended to me by anonymous Chris. Good driving music which reminds me, the car needs a service...

This recent release. As I never had the original on vinyl as some of my compadres still do, I'd been hanging for a CD issue. Have just watched the DVD...really good. Some of the clips plus the making of the making of the making of. All five - Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Geoff Lynne, Roy Orbison - seem to get along just fine. Orbison has a bit of a whinge that he was the best but couldn't get his ideas incorporated, someone else in voiceover makes the comment that Orbison's voice was so strong that it was hard to mix him back in with the others, Geoff Lynne seems smug (it's the fucking sunglasses, I've always thought he was smug, we'll have to ask anonymous Chris what the real story was...), Tom Petty of whom I am, strangely, a big fan, seems a bit humbled, and Harrison is sublime and human.

Which is why I also bought this.

Lots of good times coming up so who cares about the finely tuned Formula One economy? This one, I mean.

12 June 2007

insane clown posse

The world is speeding up. Things are not as they used to be. These days are most confusing. People are under greater stress, to meet the mortgage repayments, keep up with the trends that their kids are following, do better at work, build sustainable communities and so on. How do we keep going?

I'll tell you. You have to keep laughing. So, as a special VVB present to all of you who are feeling the strain, need to relax and realise that even your tenuous grasp on reality is greater than others around you...we give you:

exhibit A: teh Howard Government is teh
greatest environmental government evah!


exhibit B: Prof David (I'm not an elite but by goodly gosh I know one when I see one) Flint speaks up on behalf of that other person who has been appallingly treated by his employers and is therefore generally powerless and needs help,
Alan Jones.

"Insane" doesn't adequately capture the surreally twisted logic so exquisitely on display here. On the other hand, "clown" does.

For those who don't know who Insane Clown Posse are, try

That's what I'm talkin' 'bout.

don't know why

PHILIP RUDDOCK, ATTORNEY GENERAL: My understanding is that having been born in Egypt that there may well be a proper basis upon which Egyptian authorities would have some interest in him and his wellbeing.

SALLY NEIGHBOUR: Who sent him to Egypt? The Pakistanis or the Americans?


SALLY NEIGHBOUR: You don’t know?


SALLY NEIGHBOUR: Who do you believe sent him?


SALLY NEIGHBOUR: Have you not sought to find out?

PHILIP RUDDOCK, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well I haven’t been advised, and I don’t know that I’m in a position to find out, but I’ve not been advised.

(Courtesy of comments at Blogocracy).


I would be interested in readers' comments about what should be done about/to this alleged Attorney-General once he is no longer the occupant of that previously distinguished position.

09 June 2007

fixing a hole

A post about digging, taxation, generational inheritances, reality TV, managerial responsibilities, model car collecting and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

When the Beatles were fixing a hole, it was because the rain was getting in and stopping their mind from wandering. I fixed a hole today, but it was to let the rain in.

See, Chateau VVB is going to get a rainwater tank one of these months and, because we can't tap the overflow into a stormwater drain, I have to dig a gravel pit. Well, I don't actually have to, but if I want the rebate I do. We want the rebate, so digging it was.

Frankly, I would rather have put some street clothes on and Mrs VVB and I could have popped over to Paddington. We could have had a nice coffee and looked for an additional display cabinet for the model car collection. Because I now have all 1/43 scale models of cars that I have owned in real life that are currently available, I've started broadening the criteria for the collection. The new theme is "Australian cars that I personally think are significant." Plenty of latitude there. So I already have the Trax Opal series EH and FC. This week I got a Bathurst Torana A9X and a Valiant Hemi Pacer. But I've run out of room to display them, the cabinet is full of my mother's old china collection and Mrs VVB's cats.

I'd been wondering what the next model in the Opal series would be (the Opal series, a new release by Trax, is exceptionally detailed for a die-cast model in 1/43 scale). I'd been betting on the HR, almost as iconic as the FC and EH. Lo, they have released it this week but no, they've gone for the HQ Premier.

See, for all the occasional whingeing, Chateau VVB actually does alright income-wise. There are two incomes, one of which is significantly above the median and so at household level we are also doing OK. I must say, the tax cuts over the last few years have been noticeable when it comes to spending and saving. So as long as we don't care about investment in infrastructure, social services and the longer term and anything to do with others, we're OK.

This talk is getting heretical, must get back to the story.

Because it's not quite that simple. Being of baby boomer vintage and having been brought up by a relentless Depression-era do-it-yourselfer, there was no way I could (a) forgo the rebate or (b) pay someone else to dig the hole. So, it's off to Kennards. I'd figured a post hole auger to loosen the soil would make things a bit easier. The council wants a hole measuring 1m in all directions. As offspring no2 would say, that is one big fuck-off hole, especially to dig by oneself at home. The tank bloke told Mrs VVB that we just needed a decent size one.

I always worry about hiring power tools. As someone who spends 30% of his working life at a computer keyboard and the other 70% talking, and doesn't do any exercise, it's a big ask to bring home anything petrol-powered and do the job the way it is supposed to without killing yourself.

I have to do a lot of talking because my business card labels me as a manager. So I have to manage. No I don't, I have to lead. I have to coach, align, empower, support, strategically position, reflect, intepret and encourage. I do all this by talking. It's not appropriate training or preparation for wrestling with monstrous machinery.

However the little one-person post hole digger was fine. A couple of times it started to dig in and threaten to spin me around, but I caught it in time. So we have a hole about the size that the tank bloke reckons will work. After a dodgy start, it even looks more or less like a professionally dug hole. I always used to wonder about these TV shows like Burke's Backyard and Backyard Blitz, especially the latter. They'd descend on some poor wretch's suburban disaster zone and start digging. The nerdy personality-free one would paint lines all over the ground, Scott Cam would start nailing things together, the sheila with the voice like a chainsaw would harangue you about nasturtiums or something while Jamie Durie would flex his pecs at the nearest female apart from the one with the voice like a chainsaw and order everybody about. And their holes were always neat and symmetrical and quite postmodernishly marvellous.

I'd never dug a hole like that in my life. There's always tree roots and bits of old brick and animal droppings and what-all. But I must say that today's hole is one to be quite proud of. As I have to take a photo of it to show the council, I may even post a piccie here.

For those of you counting, we only have obsessive-compulsive disorder to go. Mind you, anyone actually counting will be intimately familiar with OCD, I suspect.

So, Mrs VVB approves the hole and says she's going to have a nap, and I say I'm taking the hole-digger back to Kennards. Except I look at the hole and mentally compare it to the council-approved target and think, "hmm, better dig a bit more."

And I did. Fortunately I don't have to give any piano concert recitals tonight because my hands have gone all claw-like from gripping the machine. But I can still type.

08 June 2007

all along the watchtower

...there must be some way outta here

said the joker to the thief...

Still ploughing my way through
The Natural Advantage of Nations. It all makes perfect sense provided you accept that it will require government and corporations, in particular, to give up on the growth project as measured by both population and GDP. Once growth isn't the sole objective, then you can start to draw up the alternative rules. Anything in the meantime is just nibbling at the edges.

Dunno why it takes about 400 very small type pages to say that, it's about 3/4 of the way through. The rest is seemingly pointless propagandising and force-fed optimism. How to remain optimistic when, essentially, the message is "come the revolution?"

So that's not really worth a whole post, eh? We could divert onto a post about optimism but it'll be an uphill climb from this start. That would require me to rewrite it and we're too far gone now...

In lieu, how about
this? The story of alleged bribery of the House of Saud by British Aerospace, aided and abetted by the British Government, has been hanging around the UK press for a while but I don't recall seeing too much locally. Maybe now that evidence of Ministerial corruption is seeping into the light, we'll see a bit more. Here's George Monbiot's analysis.

Of course, everyone does it (Iran-Contra, AWB, anyone?). But it certainly throws into stark relief the hypocrisy of western lecturing and posturing on corruption in those countries where we usually expect it to happen. And believe me it does, and it's far more evident. All that seems to separate us is that we are usually more successful at hiding it. The benefits of a more sophisticated legal and financial industry, I suppose.

So the task of reform is vast, vaster than we'd like to think. In fact it's so vast that we actually have to start with reforming the word 'reform' itself which, over the last 18 years, has come to mean deregulation, privatisation, user-pays, the supremacy of private property rights and capital over damn near everything else, and budget surpluses. Whenever I hear the word reform I think of
Brendan Behan and his autobiography of his time in Borstal, a reform school. So it means you have to believe that reform means fixing bad things.

That meaning has been bastardised. In its current narrow application to the domination of economics over our everyday lives, it in fact only means "a different model." However, the forces in support of deregulation etc etc etc, have won the argument for the last several decades and so now we get indoctrinated that everything that came before was bad. Which is very demoralising for lots of people, particularly those who don't recall it as being so bad at all. No wonder people get confused.

Anyway, enough of that. The market economy is a very beneficial thing and it is in fact so insidious that it has permeated even the robust walls of Chateau VVB. How so, I hear you ask?
Like this: I have two guitars for sale.

Maton EM425/12, (12 string electric acoustic), 3 years old, minimal use, including Ashton hard case, $1050.
Ovation Applause, built-in pickup, fair to good condition, hard case, $295.

Come one, come all.
No not, yet, here's tonight's photo . It comes to you courtesy of the RAN, I've forgotten which ship but it was the one that carried the fleet band, the jazz ensemble component of which you see here. As these are strapping young men without their shirts on, I am hoping that JahTeh will approve.

06 June 2007

bits and pieces

(I'm in) bits and pieces, as the Dave Clark Five used to sing. Jeez, has it been a week since I last put finger to keyboard? Sure looks like it. And a start like this can only mean a "what I've been doing for the last week" post, undoubtedly the most missable of all.

The political process hasn't got me down but, as Ms Fits has on her blog, I just hope that Kevin doesn't fuck up. Actually I think that's unlikely, but whether the same can be said for the bruvvers of the union movement, I can't be so sure. You would think that they'd have the sense to put a sock in it for a couple of months, wouldn't you? Nah, that's actually too much to expect. And Sharan Burrow, for fuck's sake.
What a stupid stunt. Nice piece of framing by the Oz, though.

As I scan the lead paragraphs on the OzPolitics feed, I see many expressions of outrage at something that apparently Tony Abbott has said, along the lines that he can't understand whey everybody is swooning over his most immaculate government. The leftosphere goes into predictable sniggerations. Me, I think: "What's he up to?" He may be a god-bothering bully but he's not entirely stupid so, what's his game? Just doesn't add up.

I actually got an invitation today to some function in Sydney that he'll be officiating at. Unfortunately it coincides with toenail trimming day but I will send a spy to see what's up. In fact, I doubt I could trust my own self-restraint if he uses an ostensibly routine opening-of-a-thing function to bag Labor. He should just save that for the SMH, after all it must be news if it's in the newspaper.

So, politics. Breathe in, breathe out, trust that a flood of common sense will wash over Australia just as this rain, hallelujah, is washing over SE Qld. Of course our tank hasn't been installed yet so all the water is going down the drain. I heard a story yesterday of some people whose tank was installed the day it started raining. Timing is everything, as they are wont to say.

Speaking of which, I see it's nearly 9.30 which means it's time for
Grunt Files on Briz31. If there's anything that stirs my blood, it's the sight and sound of beefy blokes destroying massive quantities of tyres just because they can. See you soon...

a little while later...

Aaah, much better. I love the interviews. Some people are unable to combine undoubted technical and manual ability with the capacity to put three words together, but others are very quick on the uptake too. One bloke was asked when he was going to grow up, to which he retorted "I'm never going to grow up."

I can relate to that.

The sound of massive V8s trying to tear their insides out is a bit of a change from this arvo, when the team and I were talking to room full of researchers at a local university. These folks are heavily into gene therapy and similar techniques aimed at improving the quality of life for people with bone diseases, accident damage and the like. Such as one might sustain in a car accident, I suppose. We're aiming to try and link companies with research projects that they may be unaware of. It's really rewarding when you can bring people together and watch the interest and intensity build. Doesn't happen all the time but it's great when it does.

Which rather all adds up to a what I've been doing this week post. Bugger, missed it by that much.

01 June 2007

I can't get started

I can't get started, an old jazz classic, applies in a number of ways tonight. Most obviously, the increasing intervals between posts indicate an inability to hit the keyboard and commit the half-formed thoughts to the ether. This has partly been influenced by being busy and work and bringing some of that home, hence preoccupation and lack of time. Also a very sore neck from too much time at the keyboard.

And tonight, it also results from some internetty problem, I can't get all my e-mails and everything else is slooow.

Most unfortunately, what it means is that the various things I've run across or thought about during the week that deserved a VVB-like comment have mostly disappeared from the increasingly dodgy memory.

The increasingly dodgy memory, or in fact the increasingly dodgy brain function full stop, was in full flight last night. Was talking to a couple of folk at a drinks function, one went to leave and although I'd been talking to him for a few minutes, knew who he was and had been calling him by name, when it came to "see you later" the brain said "Peter" and the mouth said "Jim", who was another person in the group. And I sort of watched myself doing this. Weird.

They had a magical jazz guitarist playing - shame I could barely hear him, but as I left he was playing a version of "Paint it, Black." So I go outside and there's some different, mega function on and the music playing is the Stones original version. Ultra weird.

So that's last night dealt with, but bugger me if much remains from earlier in the week.

..the next day...

It turns out that why the internetty thing is slow slow is that we are over our monthly limit, no doubt brought on by massive downloading of the files that are essential to Offspring No 2's university assignments, being landscape and built environment-related as they are and hence chock-a-block full of pixels.

The BRW Rich 200 edition landed with a solid 2kg thump in the letterbox yesterday. Somewhere in it I read about the net wealth of the 200 increasing by some 26% over the last year. I wonder what the net wealth of the average Aussie increased by? And what it increased by if you deduct the top 200 from the total before doing the per capita thing? Chateau VVB doesn't feel 26% wealthier although we have been able to sustain more discretionary spending in this period than previously.

Not to mention the world's best treasurer as being the catalyst for all this wealth, of course. Here at chateau VVB we're inclined to look to China first, and then to the wonderful world of credit in all its forms. Do we have sufficient asset backing for all these new financial instruments that are powering the mergers and acquisitions, trade, housing and straight consumer spending?
Looking at the task facing offspring no 1 who wants to buy a house, Peter Martin reported during the week that Canberra house prices rose 30% in the last year. Offspring no 1's salary certainly didn't rise by that much even though he got a promotion during the period. Do we really want to be a nation of landlords and tenants. Does offspring no 1's Gen x cohort unanimously believe that they should do the economically rational thing, that is, be renters and put the excess into shares?

The single comment on Peter Martin's price talked about people buying bigger houses than they need. When I look at the weekend real estate section and the c olour weekly mag that lands with a well-upholstered thump in the driveway, there seems to be a leats some truth to this. I'm just utterly gobsmacked by some the places for sale. Chandeliers, double dressing rooms, tennis courts, 5 car garages, it's unbelievable. And these houses are not a tiny minority. The real estate agents here in Brizvegas talk about $1 million houses as the base level at which you get something 'decent'.

Finally, didn't the Do Not Call Register come into effect yesterday? Did not Chateau VVB register on the first day? Did we get a call from some overseas gentleman this afternoon seeking to convert our home ownership into a debt instrument?

Do you see a link between all this stuff?

Is it John Howard's fault?

If not, should it be?

Finally, have a picture of a corner store. It's the corner store you have when you live on Dal Lake in Sri Nagar.

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