31 December 2008

modest mouse

Courtesy of the ever-readable Peter Martin at the Canberra Times, here is Ross Gittins' take on the first year of Kevin Rudd as PM, as well as some analysis and outlook for monetary policy and the economy more generally.

In all modesty, and believe me it's extremely modest, I will point out that VVBSea made the
same comments about Rudd's adoption of the Tony Blair Handbook to Governing only a couple of posts ago.

What I left out -
well, amongst the three, no, four, or, wait a minute, amongst the many things I left out - was the obsession with 'announceables', a governance characteristic with which I, and many many others, have become very familiar this last decade or so.

'Announceables' need to be taken out the back of the bike shed and beaten severely with a piece of 4x2 until they resume their rightful place - after things have been made to happen.

Fat chance, though, I fear, with a 'modern' government of any stripe.

We have friends from Brisvegas arriving today for tonight's revelries, along with offspring no 1 and his girlfriend who have been here over the holiday period.

Unlikely I'll be writing anything more today, so happy new year everybodies everywheres!

30 December 2008

back in the ussr

I knew I posted too early this evening.

Cop this lot on Neatorama (which is, incidentally, always a good place to visit).

Just love the comments. How some people remember to breathe while doing all their heavy thinking (hey! no-one takes our guns!) is a wonder of modern science and civilisation.

Goodnight.

dreadlock holiday

The terminally addicted/distracted/something else again among you will recognise the name of 10cc's hit, which contains the line "I don't like cricket, ah hah, I love it."

So you may be forgiven for thinking that a post about the Australian team's thrashing at the hands of South Africa is coming. You'd be wrong, but only more or less but for the cricketophobes amongst you, please bear with me.

The only sensible comment I've heard on the Test outcome was from Ian Chappell on the teev tonight where he took the long view and posited a period in the doldrums after which, all other things being more or less equal, we will bounce back. That sounds about right to me.

But what I really wanted to talk about, just a little, was the longer term effect of the Cronulla riots. You remember the photos of the good young Anglo-Saxon stock of Sutherland Shire, draped in the flag and paying into the Mussies.

More than unfortunately, I now cannot see young Australians draped similarly in the flag without ascribing a similar outlook to them. I'm sure it can't be the case, because people have been taking Australian flags to cricket matches for a long time. It's a fairly natural thing to so, I guess, for an international tournament.

But young men in Jackie Howes and a flag tied across the shoulders now just send a shiver up my spine.

Then the national anthem is played and, sure as eggs, a couple of them will put their hands on their hearts.

And that just makes me sick.

When I was growing up, you stood to attention for the anthem. If these coves had half the respect for Australia that they claim to have, they wouldn't be aping the bloody Yanks yet again.

Somehow, I'm not surprised.

Have a bloody joyous new year, youse folk.

Update: hmmm.

24 December 2008

have yourself a merry little Chistmas etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc tec etc etc etc etc etc

Via Bookforum, Christmas presents you'd not only rather not have, but not even wish to think about.

Not surprisingly, the Maggie Thatcher nutcracker - oh, how accurate! - tops the list.

And while we're here, all the usual and best compliments of the season to my devoted - um, yes well - little band of readers and here's hoping for a somewhat better 2009 than 2008 turned out to be in many ways.

My world is slightly emptier since I lost John Howard to whinge/complain/rant about, but on t'other hand my blood pressure is far better and the TV is no longer in danger of getting something solid thrown through it every 7 pm news.

Kevin 07 is predictably falling somewhat short of general expectations. It'd wouldn't be so bad if he wasn't recycling every proven-to-be-useless idea that Tony Blair ever came up with. As part of the machine and well experienced in the damage wrought by the law of unintended consequences, I could have told him how badly stupid targets and ill thought through plans and reporting frameworks usually end up.

The proposed internet filter is stupidity on wheels.

When I come home I usually go to
Oz Politics first and I increasingly come to understand that stupid leftists are the cause of all the world's ills. There seems to be more of these sites and posts which I imagine is a result of the other 'side' having lost in Australia and the US. So I'll guess we'll just have to get used to that by doing the usual thing - ignoring it.

The pope is a
candidate for taking out the back of the bike sheds.

And on that cheery note - ciao for niao. I am about to take the longest holiday I've ever taken since I started work on 8 December 1969...hmmm, better let one one rest.
But I shall return.

20 December 2008

it's getting better

I do believe it's getting better
Better all the time
(It can't get no worse)


They don't write lyrics like that anymore.

Not least because two of them are dead, more just a comment on how life in western civilisation is gradually descending to some base point where discussing Paris Hilton is seen as somehow...er...satisfactory.

But it is getting better, in a very specific way.

After a lot of hit and misses I've again turned out a passable home brew. It's a
Cooper's Canadian Blonde (additional home brewers' commentary here), and discerning readers will immediately realise that we have missed discussing Paris Hilton by only one international border. It was that close.

Anyway I rather suspect that it'd be hard to replicate my current fave beer, Hahn Super Dry, in the microbrewery which at all other times is quite indistinguishable from the laundry at VVBSea.

The home brew, which has only had 10 days secondary fermentation leaving lots of room for improvement, has a distinctly wet lingering palate.

On another topic entirely, we had a beaut storm this arvo and here are some pictures of it building. It's still windy and there's more on the way.

16 December 2008

highway to hell (and back)

Youse gets yer laffs where youse finds 'em.

I
like.

Also, semi-ironically, this is post no 665.

It should have been 667, yes?

Also, like, loads the pressure on for post no 666, you know?

12 December 2008

racey

What turns teenagers into racists?

Exhibit A.

Exhibit B.

I'm not blaming Facebook either.

However, thin veneer seems to be getting bit stretched in recent years.

night of fear

Post title was originally going to be "when you wish upon a star." Inspired by an event tonight where Mrs VVB and I were sitting on the verandah gazing out to sea when there was a flash of light that then descended relatively slowly into the ocean.

Not a shooting star - which we get a few of - but rather a piece of space debris burning up on re-entry.

We wondered to ourselves, is it OK to wish upon a piece of space debris? Does it still work the same as if it were a star?

Let me know your thoughts.

In the meantime, here's that classic band
The Move with Night of Fear. Loved it then, still do.

09 December 2008

every picture tells a story

Some pictures from recent road trips (click on photos to enlarge, especially if you want to read the print).











Where the poor people live.

The other side of the tracks, seen from this side.











We know who lives here.








In Jericho, where Jericho Jim shops.











In Jericho, where the walls are coming down.









Main street of Gladstone, Sunday afternoon...











Don't fence me in.

08 December 2008

i'm a man


Evidently, if thought processes have anything to do with it.
Although while we're on the subject of beer, I have a brew of Candian Blond by Coopers just about finished bubbling away downstairs. Should be bottling soon just in time for testing/tasting/sinking a few at Christmas.


05 December 2008

boom bang a bang

"can't wait to get to Moscow. With a combination of cheap vodka and a language barrier what could possibly go wrong?"
Terry Wogan steps down from his traditional snide commentary on the
Eurovision Song Balkan Co-prosperity mutual backslapping championships Contest.

I for one shall miss him. However, as always, I look forward to a cornucopia of colour-by-numbers jiggy 80s electro-pop, one incomprehensibly obscure act in dress-up costume, one colour-by-numbers Scowegian death thrash metal band and more breast and leg than you get at the Woolies poultry counter.

*"Bang a gong, we are on," I say.

(Slightly obscure
Iron Chef reference).

03 December 2008

a day in the life

It's more like a day in the week to be fair, but I haven't brought a briefcase full of stuff home to do so it must be time for another placeholder.

I'm extremely concerned that the countercultural revolution of the 1960s is wreaking its vengeance and that all those 'righty' blogs (and
John Anderson) might be right.

Kids who eat mcDonalds while the old man they hit, while they were racing an unregistered car, dies in front of them.

Parents who can't bring up their kids.

Violence in schools, teachers resigning in protest and/or disgust.

Gen Ys who demand it all now then forget what they wanted because they're onto the next latest thing.

Young people who expect their first home to have 4 bedrooms, 2 garages and a media room.

The 'glassing' epidemic in pubs, alcohol fuelled violence.


Falling abilities in maths and science.

Lack of respect for older people.

And the flag.

All right, that'll do, this is getting silly.

But has the anything goes - hey, this is a place for broad generalisations - attitude of us baby boomers - oh all right, some of us - manifested itself two generations on?

Can't see it in my kids, can't see it in many others of that generation that I know.

But the papers are full of it.

So I'm right to be concerned, I'm not so right that I'm right.

I'm afraid that all work and no play has made Phil a duller boy than he was previously.

However we have filled a gap in the time-space continuum that calls itself VVBSea, and we will return when there's something sensible to say, in the hope that someone will have said it.

27 November 2008

we gotta get out of this place

I've been travelling a lot and busy in between times so no time for even the teensiest blog, until someone sent me today's picture and I just had to post it.

The travelling and work thing show no signs of slackening off so it'll be a weekly post for a while I think.

Tomorrow, insh'Allah, Chateau VVB will be gone from our ownership. Like I said earlier, it was great and we loved it - mostly - but there are certainly aspects we won't miss.

Like the bloody electricity bills. On the basis of the first one received for VVBSea, we'll be about one to two grand better off annually.

I won't mention the leaves in the pool. There, see, I didn't.

There will be a teeny bit of money left over so while the super sinks into the sunset, we figured we may as well start living. All suggestions, apart from distributing it among the readership, gratefully accepted. The list has started, I see some difficulty in reconciling priorities:

  • furniture
  • kitchen remodelling
  • trousers
  • socks
  • new speakers and audio/video receiver
  • guitar (or several, you can never have too many)
  • holiday for Mrs VVB
  • pest treatment to house
  • vet treatment for cat
  • boat
  • plumber for smell in downstairs bathroom
  • probably more furniture (you can never have too much)
  • maybe some more paintings
  • anything else Mrs VVB might want besides furniture or, in the absence of any such desire, more furniture
  • home brewing lessons
  • sailing lessons
  • guitar lessons
  • Audi S4
  • Triumph TR6
  • new garage under house
  • girl stuff for Mrs VVB
Roll on settlement!

22 November 2008

hanging on the telephone

So I have a couple of the hierarchy in town and I have to drive them down the road down the road down the road apiece: about 104 km to be precise.

We're driving along and I'm on the phone through the Bluetooth (tm) connection and they're each on their Blackberries (R) (tm) (etc etc). Back seat says to front seat, "did ytou approve that whatever-it-was?". Front seat replies "I think so but send it to me again and I will."

Back seat does so.

Front seat receives it and says, "OK, done, on its way back to you."

"Got it, thanks."

At least they had the decency to recognise how absurd it was and laugh.

Meanwhile, outside the world was going past.

Technology, you have to love how it enhances our lives.

15 November 2008

good news week

Over here at Gary Sauer-Thompson's place amid the discussion about the financial crisis and the end of capitalism and why Michael Costa is a dill, is a comment about how the language of economics has become the language of ordinary discourse.

Quite so. Ever since the term "reform" entered the lingo in the early nineties (someone will now tell me it happened in 1972 or 1917 or 1838 or something, or maybe it's always been with us) the remorseless commercialisation or our lives has taken speed. We never used to have basis points, now everybody knows that the Reserve Bank either doles them our or repossesses them every month, and last year for the first time they repossessed in the middle of an election campaign. We know that privatisation is king. Oh, and so is cash, especially recently.

So you could make a confident argument about how out lives are slowly drained of blood, exsanguinated indeed, we are frogs in a pot, the tide of economics drags us further out to sea from whence we will never return.

And then you run across a restaurant review, ffs, in which USP appears. Unique selling proposition, natch. Everybody's got one.

AA Gill's USP is that he is a very funny, evocative writer or restaurant reviews and so you should go and read him right
now.

It's far funnier than the standard funny/odd/local gossip page of today's local rag, which informs us that during the week, someone farted in the lift at the local hospital.


Slow news day, I guess.

13 November 2008

big red car


More of the thingies at Ilfracombe. That used to be the name of a brand of film, no? In fact I'd forgotten about the mchinery museum and while I'd wanted to take more pictures I only had two shots left, and didn;t get another roll until I got to Barcaldine on the return journey. Second memo to self - take the digital camera too.


12 November 2008

night of fear

"I don't really believe it is fear. It is more there is just uncertainty,"
Well, if you're uncertain but not afraid, the best thing to do is buy a
huge f**k-off assault rifle just in case.

Presumably so you can shoot the next person who tries to take away your personal freedoms.

"Personal freedom infringed? Call Slater-Nazi on City 8649 or, if closed, the Department of Trade and Industry."

08 November 2008

it's a long way there

It's a long way to Longreach all right. It's also the same return distance although having the sun at your back as you do so is preferable to it beating through an untinted windscreen on your tummy.

There were plenty of dead roos by and on the road but on only one occasion did I have to take violent evasive action to avoid clobbering a couple of live road-crossing roos, a tactic which fortunately was successful. The rest of the time is mainly spent on cruise control to avoid collecting any (more) points.

A couple of kind of off-beat road signs caught my eye but they're on the next roll of film so you'll need to wait. Memo to self: next time take the digital camera as well.

Some highlights: listening to
Redgum's Red Raggin' on the way in to Barcaldine.

Raggin' raggin' red red raggin'
Commos to a man.

You couldn't have timed it better if it had been a set-up, but this was pure serendipity. The Tree of Knowledge she is no more in original guise, but several truckloads of taxpayer moolah is going towards its reincarnation.

On the other hand, listening to one of my 1970s favourites, Hawkwind's In Search of Space on a 40 degree plus day as I cruised through the outback was a bit too surreal, although some of the lines could be transposed to our modern day:

we took the wrong step years ago

Probably the real highlight of the trip out was catching ABC local news every hour to get the latest on the US election. Far too much has been written elsewhere for to me add to, but without getting too mawkish or some similar emotion, suffice to say that the sliver of hope that President-elect Obama represents is enough of itself. Time will tell if he's just another pollie, or he gets caught in the military-industrial complex despite his best intentions. The papers are hailing his arrival, even those commentators who normally inhabit the right bank. A quick skim through Oz Politics feeds shows that those who opposed his election are going keep on being...well, what they usually are. I bought the Opposition Organ for James Halliday's annual 100 best Aussie wines, but a flick through their opinion pages didn't reveal too much of interest apart from a puff piece on Malcolm Turnbull as a counterpoint, or at least a different slant, to their usual Rudd-baiting.

Anyway, this Obama. If people respond to a vague sliver of hope, more accurately perhaps a promise of hope, surely that tells us something?

Anyway, here are some photos of the trip.










All roads out of Longreach look similar.








But sundown and the sunset on the Thomson is spectacular.









There's a quite comprehensive little antique machinery museum open to the passing public in Ilfracombe.
Finally, a couple of other snippets. There was one interview on the radio as I drove, can't remember who it was but he used 'subset' as a verb. We need to bring back the public stocks for people like that, I reckon.
And the TV news tonight showed, sadly but inevitably, some Christmas parades. It's only the 8th of November for crying out loud. But that usual whinge aside, I found it pretty weird that in Brisbane, Santa Claus was in the Batmobile with Batman beside him. There's going to be a whole heap of explaining that Mum and Dad will have to do, I'd love to be a fly on the wall.

07 November 2008

won't get fooled again


Got to get some piccies developed before we write about the Longreach trip, but in the meantime this is not a Peanuts cartoon, it's actually by one of my faves, Tatusya Ishida at Sinfest. It's brilliant on so many levels, yes?
In any case, Charles Schulz is dead, no?

04 November 2008

make me whole

Just time for a couple of thoughts before the road trip.

Blogging brings a number of joys. One is the ability to make the cheap shot, the endless snark, or similar and more or less get away with it, unless someone really takes offence. VVB has been guilty of this on innumerable occasions, although the long-awaited departure of you-know-who has reduced the opportunities.

I was sorely tempted today by a letter to the Editor of the local rag, warning against the plague of locusts that will surely befall if Obama gets elected. Three kinds of locusts, actually: millions of abortions; thousands of homosexuals getting married; and (wait for it), the lie of evolution being propogated by Obama because he is a pagan worshipper.

You see, I got tempted. That's me, a homosexual aborted pagan all over. The lie of evolution: I had to say it again. The devil made me do it.

That said, there is an enervating barrenness about this style of writing. It's like a Chinese meal, I guess: feels really good when you're doing it, but not long after you feel the need to find another target and do it again. And if you do it too often, the MSG gets you.

The other joy is bringing to your regular audience - er, ah, um, yes, well the several of you, but you know what I mean - some soupcon of goodness from another place. I imagine we all have a our regular bloghaunts and, to some extent, they are ourselves.

However, we each of us also have those places we go individually. Maybe not so regularly but just when the mood takes.

Well the mood just took and here is where I went. Anil Dash is on my blogroll but I'm only an occasional visitor. I should go more regularly - this bloke works more than full time and still has the ability to put together unbelievably well-crafted and thoughtful pieces.

He's not a political type by any means, but his two most recent posts, on his marriage and Sarah Palin, both contain some plain statements of his beliefs without bashing you over the head or becoming offensive (as it is so easy to do, see the first point again).

I thoroughly recommend you go for a look-see, I think you will come away feeling just a little bit more whole.
Now, the road trip. Time to pack. It's going to be 40 degrees in Longreach tomorrow, so we won't be needing the thermal underwear, that's for sure. Could be worse, I could be back in Karachi (left).

02 November 2008

sunday bloody sunday

Actually it wasn't a bloody Sunday, it was perfectly fine, the only bloody thing is, now I come to think of it, the weekend's over.

Anyway I don't know what the fuss is about Sarah Palin, she's just another Pauline Hanson except she's had a few years to perfect the graft bit of it.

What do you think would happen if a candidate popped up from the Dems or the Labor here who was waaaaay left? Would the media savage him/her the way it's done to Palin? One thing for sure, rightofblogosphere would go nuts: you've only got to look at the post headings in Oz Politics feeds to see how even the relatively benign Obama phenomenon has sent them off. Oh sorry, he is a socialist isn't he?

It just doesn't happen does it, all the 'irregulars' are way out on the right. I don't know what the Socialist Alliance marchers and standard bearers do when they go home from a protest march. Watch Eddie McGuire or something?

It's just one of life's little mysteries. We're drifting.

Anyway this is simply all a precursor to say I'll be away from the blog for a few days while I go
here. It's a long drive there but you can tell when you're close because the water tower is the tallest thing for miles around (apart from the 747 at the airport). It's also a long drive back. This time I hope to do it without attracting the government's uniformed revenue collectors. You know the ones I mean.

In the meantime talk amongst yourselves, smoke if you wish. To help you, here's a picture of a tree, somewhere in the rainforest at Mt Tamborine (I think). Enjoy.

30 October 2008

i've looked at clouds from both sides now

...and I still don't understand cloud computing.

Surely you need a box or something somewhere to connect..
only connect, baby...

Meanwhile, Les Macdonald of Balmain gets it right in the SMH today.

Learning from our failures

It is a testament to the durability of ideology in the face of reality that we still have American consulting groups recommending the failed ideology of privatisation ("Push to privatise apprentice training", October 29).


These are the same US consulting groups that for 30 years have recommended to US companies that they send the jobs of US workers offshore, to the point where the US now lacks a viable manufacturing base. These same consultants said the US
would create post-industrial jobs in sophisticated service industries such as finance, IT and science.

But the IT and science-based industries also moved to China and India, leaving only finance and the low-skilled, low-paid service jobs. Again, with the active encouragement of the same consulting firms, the US government deregulated its finance industry. Reality intervened to turn that industry toxic. Why anyone with a functioning brain would continue to listen to the recommendations of such failures is beyond me.

Les MacDonald Balmain

Only I don't think it's just Amercan consultants still pushing that particular tired old barrow. Ideology is not only durable, it's kind of...expandable. Give it half a chance, it'll populate all the
nooks and crannies it can find.

Meanwhile, here's a
young man with an incipient problem. The video is a ripper, but apart from the young man's rant I was mostly taken with the Chrissy Amphlett clone standing behind him (maybe the next act?) and when the kid doing the videoing said "Holy God" at the end. As it was Corpus Christi College, could you expect no less I suppose.


Through most of the rant I was thinking, "hmmm, young Liberal stockbroker type in the making", except I rather suspect he might harbour Che Guevara-ish tendencies. Look out Mr Headmaster when you get back from India.

Unsettling, no? So let me lead you back to quiet contemplation: here's a picture of a blue garden setting in a green garden, which I am sure will give you lots to think about.

29 October 2008

down the road apiece

So they're interviewing Republican supporters on the ABC news and they're all like, "that Obama is a terrrist, he's a Muslim, he swore his oath on the Koran so he's not American (wha?), he wants to take away our guns and if that happens we'll be at the mercy of terrrrist furriners."

On the other hand,
your children might be safer.

Not being a gun owner/fancier/whatever, I just can't comprehend how you get something like a gun fair with full-on military assault weapons for sale, let alone why 8 year olds get allowed to hold and fire them, let alone what 8 year old are doing there.

Anyway the sheer ignorance of those interviewed was positively scary. But it was the ABC so once you have the context/subtext/a different whatever, it all makes perfect sense. More insidious nanny stating by manipulating our news. Of course, it's that ABC den of socialist iniquity.

For the record, I oppose any censorship of the internet beyond what people might wish to pay for and utilise themselves and, on this basis, I think Steven Conroy is a fool who needs a swift corrective kick up the quoit.

Notice how snidely I have reestablished VVB's centrist pretensions?

Snide..snide....it's a very
John Lennon word. I had that poem, I had John Lennon's book ("In His Own Write"). It's somewhere in a box along with a stack of other collectibles from my single days plus many wedding presents. Never came back from storage when we returned from our first postings overseas, we didn't miss them until much later once we were home for good. Actually it's almost certainly not in a box, that box would have been opened and its contents distributed many years ago. I hope the people who got the steak plates and knives enjoyed them. Very 1970s, along with the liqueur glasses. And my big bronze peace medallion and a small silvery cannabis leaf one. (Mother admired that one, I didn't have the guts to tell her what it was.)

Bugger.
Anyway, when I came to sit down at the computer this picture was on the screen, Mrs VVB must have been looking for something. I took it on our last holidays, it's close to a place we stayed at in the Barrington Tops, NSW. Join me while we reflect a while. Very tranquil.

28 October 2008

right, right, you're bloody well right

I could have sworn I've written about this at some time. Maybe I just imagined I did. From Richard Farmer in today's Crikey.com.au:

Charles Babbage at work. I am grateful to the vice chancellor of La Trobe University, Professor Paul Johnson, for introducing me this morning to the wisdom of the 19th century writer Charles Babbage who argued that the payment of commissions (he called them "bribes") to financial agents would inevitably lead to the mis-spelling of investments. No sooner had I read the Professor's piece in the Melbourne Herald Sun than I stumbled across all those stories of executive pay rises which far outstrip those of ordinary workers. With the Babbage these in my mind it became clear that the principal reason for the outrageous salary increases of the past decade is the influence of those head hunters and executive pay consultants whose fee depends on the amount of remuneration that is eventually paid.

You can apply the same logic to the ratings agencies.

27 October 2008

when i was a child i had a fleeting glimpse


Sometime on Saturday morning I had an idea for a post. I think it was something about those minuscule (minuscule for me, anyway) opportunities that suddenly appear and you think to yourself, "I could make something of this." These thoughts have been popping up more frequently in recent days...or months, or years.

But the original opportunity fled, leaving me with only the excerpt from Pink Floyd's
Comfortably Numb that appears as the post heading, and that song has been rattling around in my head ever since. I did get the guitar out to give it a burl yesterday. I need to look up all the verses again...

Over the weekend various other ways of interpreting the idea or carrying on this post occurred to me but without any means of recording them - I really need one of those little digital MP3 recorders at the ready - they also have been lost.

Much of how I view lost opportunities is, regrettably, bound up in things that I wish I could do but can't, for whatever reason. An example: later on Saturday I played a DVD of
Jim Croce in concert. Oh for one scintilleenth of his ability to play, to write, to wring an emotional response from the listener.

But comparing yourself to others - even blogfriends whose writing ability far surpasses one's own - is a fruitlessly destructive exercise. Far better to appreciate others for what they can contribute, and look to one's own contribution.

Even if it's hard to identify.

Now, those readers who know me in real life, for example from work, will be rolling around the floor by this stage. Such soul-bearing, what amount of rubbish will I have to endure when I'm next in Brizvegas?

a short interval occurred at this point while we had dinner, watched the appallingly over-contrived
Australian Top Gear and did some worky work

so...sometime later

Well I guess this is a post about frustration. The glimpses I, and presumably others, encounter when we see what might be possible if only we were cleverer/more articulate/ wealthier/had more business contacts/were considerably more energetic/diligent/focused.

Ah yes, we have looked into the mirror and weren't particularly enamoured with what looked back out at us.

The other thing - there's always another thing, isn't there - is that this post is turning out nowhere near like I had envisaged it at various times. This is presumably related to the aforementioned lack of focus, or possibly lack of the digital micro-recorder, for the recording of micro-thoughts. Lack of focus is bad.

Um. I don't think it does one good to do too much yearning. A little yearning seems necessary to keep mentally active: call it aspirational if you insist. But as long as tempus fugits, we must grasp our opportunities while we may.

I think you know what I mean.

23 October 2008

this old house


Subject to finance, building and pest inspection, act of dog, fire and flood, further economic meltdown, anyone in the Federal Liberal Party able to rise above petty schoolground sniping and bullying (three yays for Ken Henry, I'm surprised he didn't actually get up and bite Abetz and Coonan), Chateau VVB has been sold.

We can confirm that the national/global/intergalactic crisis, be it financial, economic, political or some other species, had its effect on the offers received. In other words, folks, the real economy has been hit. There will be no new Maserati, nor even a Kia. I bought myself a new pair of shoes when last in Brisbane, they will have to do.

Look at the picture. Some of the feedback we got from inspections was that people hated the exposed brick, it was so dated, and they would need to cover it with either cement render or gyprock.

Hey, if you don't like exposed brick, look elsewhere.

Mrs VVB and I, and offspring no two, all loved it. Even the old man, the last of the red hot socialists, loved it even if it was a stinking pile of bourgeois pretension and not near the ocean (holy cow that man was a bundle of contradictions).

Anyway, subject to etc etc etc it will shortly become a part of our past.

Yes, it is kind of sad.

20 October 2008

can the can

From here via Ampersand Duck, I give you a steaming great non-fermented vat of vvb idiocy.



house of cards

It's moments like these I wish I had more than two very small molecules of grey matter to rub together. One of my drinking mates from the weekend sent me a link to two pieces by one John Lanchester, whom I feel I should had heard of, but haven't. The pieces are to do with the collapse of the international financial house of cards and, tellingly, were written in January and October.

The October piece, not surprisingly, tracks the fall and fall of markets, mechanisms, and money over the intervening period. Not much of a fall in people is reported, though, apart from the thousands of unfortunates who were sold mortgages they could never afford. The bonuses were paid from taxpayer funds and were still humungous. The unfortunate borrowers? Caveat emptor, I hear you cry. Maybe so, except I suspect many of these people would not have been capable of understanding their situation: one minute they couldn't get a loan, now they could. Interest rate capped for two years. What could possibly go wrong?

The first article spends some time examining the lives of City of London bankers and as such contains quite a few bons mots:

"In an ideal world, one populated by vegetarians and Esperanto speakers..."

But mainly the articles serve to illustrate the immense sums of money - well, actually not money - sloshing around. It explains how the paper empires of derivatives are formed, packaged, on-sold and so on. The regulations that not so much allow as boost this vaporous creation. And, of course, the stupendous sums earned by bankers.

The second article, analysing as it does the more recent events in the financial world, edges towards looking into the future for what kind of policy and regulatory environment might eventuate, once all the proclamations of the death of capitalism/libertarianism/Friedmanism and so on die away.


Other than that, it’s too early to draw general conclusions from this amazing crisis. What will, what must, die is the mystical belief in the power of the markets that has dominated political and economic discourse in most of the Western world for the last several decades. The markets have so manifestly, so flagrantly malfunctioned that we can’t go back to the idea of unfettered liberal capitalism as a talisman, template or magic wand.


The unquestioned Cityphilia I wrote about earlier this year is gone, I hope for ever. Unfortunately, we have no current model of where to go from here, apart from a more heavily regulated form of growth-based liberal capitalism. There will be more intrusive regulation, more proactive interference. There may even be (there should be) a new Bretton Woods to control the global flow of capital. That doesn’t seem enough, but in the absence of another set of ideas about how the world should work, it may turn out to be what we have to settle for.


In the meantime, it’s seatbelt sign on, sickbag to hand, and that deep, bitter, prayerful longing for smooth air.



That seems a rather pessimistic approach, but that house of cards is so far removed from our ability to influence events it's kind of obvious that we should want to pull the pillow over our head until the noise stops.

The House of VVB has observed the power that was wielded by morally vacant but highly numerate 23 year old cocaine sniffing traders. That was before we discovered automatic trades, but the point remains that the world of financial finagling had grown cancerously unlike what was needed to get things built. For all the arguments raised about the value of hedging and leveraging and who knows what else ing, the thousands of arbitrageurs contributed nothing to the real economy.


As much as it kind of grates (don't forget this is a centrist blog, heh yeah well...), we do need the tools that facilitate the real world projects. As always, the issue is where we draw the line: this is useful, that is not.


Like I said, two small molecules.

19 October 2008

i wish i was still drinking

Being a short account of the boys' weekend away. Every year at Sydney Motor Show time the three of us catch up and try to act like we're still 21.

We're not, but it's fun to try.

Anyway hanging out at the Sir George Young on George St with Kev, the bloke who balances a guitar on his forehead while strumming another one. We were a few beers into it by this stage, in fact it was our second visit there of the trip. I'd like to say that there's no limit to the quantity of grog one can put away but regrettably, as we age, there is. Don't know what time it was when we folded the tent but all three of us left half full schooners. There was just this moment when we looked at each other, all thinking the same thought at the same time: "can't do this any more."

Damn, and damn again.

The show itself is just an excuse but this year, even though there were far fewer exhibitors and all the brands you'd want to see, ie all the Europeans, weren't there we still spend a fair of time looking (and of course making sarcastic comments where warranted).
The best bits were probably the oldies on show for the next Shannons auction. A black Triumph TR3A with paintwork far in advance of any original even when new. One of us used to own one, so we know what they were like then.
A gorgeous E-type roadster: look at it, who wouldn't want to own one?

I got the opportunity to give the
McIntosh stereo which is fitted to the premium versions of the Subaru Liberty a good work-out and can confirm that it is indeed excellent. Thank you Subaru people for leaving me alone while I tested the limits. Kick arse, I would venture, just the right amount of sound pressure levels from the sub-woofers, ie not ultra doof doof but just thumping enough. If we ever get rid of Chateau VVB and there's enough money in the kick we might even be able to stretch to one, maybe 2-3 years old.

The weekend started...well for me it actually started on Thursday night at an awards dinner I attended, then a few beer o'clock coldies with friends on Friday evening which morphed into sharing a bottle of red and some pizza with offspring no 2, a necessary prerequisite to enable me to sleep on a mattress on the floor at her place. Also to dull the after-effects of over an hour and half of dental work that had been done earlier.

Early-ish flight from Brisbane to Sydney but offspring no 2 kindly took me to the airport. So when I hit the hotel room about midday on Saturday, one of the fellers had thoughtfully brought a six-pack (well actually a five pack) of Reschs Pilsener stubbies, got his 12-string Aria out and awaaaay we went. Thence to the Sir George Young for the first of our visits and that brings us back to where we started.

Tell you what: I don't miss big cities. I had one night in a hotel in Brisbane, it had a small balcony which I went out onto in the early morning and there was that city drumbeat: construction noise, traffic noise, just building noise, that incessant hum well it's more than a hum, dunno what you'd call it. But it's always there, no wonder people in big cities go a little rat-in-a-maze crazy.

Anyway that's the story. Now time to catch up on a little sleep before the working week. Ciao for niao.

12 October 2008

bathe in entrails

As Kocccchie and mates unload a series of contradictory stories meant to reassure, inform, or terrify us, I decided to retreat to the study to ponder the entrails. I quickly - well, relatively quickly - realised that Koccccccccchie's show couldn't do all three simultaneously. OK, so it was just entertainment, doled up in spades by some weird Pom in classic 1980s banker attire of braces and media-friendly tie. I wish I had some of the drugs he was evidently on and for the first time I regretted that VVB-by-the-sea had at last scaled beyond the 51cm television: this bloke (and his fantastic teeth) seemed likely to explode through the screen and eat the sofa on which I was sitting.

Fortunately, the calm, reassuringly wonkish persona of the PM appeared. However, rather than the usual backdrop of a Parliament House study with sombre, leather-tooled law books and a dozen Australian flags, he was back cast (technical term should be ?) against Parliament House itself. But the camera was pointing slightly up at him which, combined with close-up and his unnaturally large head, made him look like some scary sky-daddy looking down on his subjects and lecturing them about very bad things.

Well maybe he was, but it looked extremely bizarre and made me very glad I hadn't got into the pharmaceutical cabinet in advance. Not that I do that any more, of course...

Anyway, back to the entrails. The first entrails were of one George W Bush, but they include other interesting entrails - the Washington Consensus, known to its close supporters as TINA.

But it looks like there was an alternative after all:


We should have invested more in infrastructure, tightened regulation of the securities markets, and taken additional steps to promote energy conservation. We fell short because of politics and lack of money—and also, frankly, because special interests sometimes shaped the agenda more than they should have.
And the sentence that comes before those:


The global-trade agreements we pushed through were often unfair to developing
countries.

No shit, Sherlock, as they say. The argument in favour: governments get elected to pursue the national interest. The response: even when it's wrong.


As many as 1.7 million Americans are expected to lose their homes in the months
ahead. For many, this will mean the beginning of a downward spiral into poverty.
and...



Globalization means that America’s economy and the rest of the world have become increasingly interwoven. Consider those bad American mortgages. As families default, the owners of the mortgages find themselves holding worthless pieces of paper. The originators of these problem mortgages had already sold them to others, who packaged them, in a non-transparent way, with other assets, and passed them on once again to unidentified others.

When the problems became apparent, global financial markets faced real tremors: it was discovered that billions in bad mortgages were hidden in portfolios in Europe, China, and Australia, and even in star American investment banks such as Goldman Sachs and Bear Stearns. Indonesia and other developing countries—innocent bystanders, really—suffered as global risk premiums soared, and investors pulled money out of these emerging markets, looking for safer havens. It will take years to sort out this mess.

The article is (sort of predictably) by former IMF Director Joseph Stiglitz, but it's a nice way to reinforce your beliefs if Joseph's are the sort of beliefs you believe in.


Oh, dinner.

Entrails, I imagine.

(sometime later...)

Well I should be working - I did bring work home - but then I got back to the entrails and the next ones that popped up, if that's indeed what entrails do, were these. Yes, we read that the next generation will the first to suffer a reduced standard of living. This article seems to argue, from a very small sample, that it won't be such a bad thing and anyway no-one will care too much.

That's a rather brave generalisation I think. If America has stopped investing in R&D, as per the earlier linked article, then where will the next i-Pod come from because all the youngies seem to want their i-Pod and similar toys. More to the point, what will be the next invention to have pod in its name (have you noticed how pods are everywhere now)?

Brought up to expect a higher standard of living - actually, I'm not sure what my parents brought me up to expect, now I come to think of it - and then caught up in the consumerist craze of the 80s and since, VVB has been busily acquiring things for a while now. But we still don't have nearly as many things as many other ostensibly similar households and we certainly don't take the overseas and expensive domestic holidays that other people do.

I wish we had some money in the bank so that the PM could come around and personally reassure us that it's safe, but shit, all we have is debt and superannuation.

Like a lot of others.

Call it a low-grade drug habit.

11 October 2008

every picture tells a story

I don't know why I bother trying to write my semi-uninformed drivel when other people can do so much better with a couple of pencil strokes. A picture is worth, and so on and so on.

As always, Tatsuya Ishida wraps it up at Sinfest, this time the rush to 'socialism' as governments buy up banks, guarantee savings, the whole until-very-recently entirely discredited kit and kaboodle:


the music goes round and round (*)


Around the newspapers today.

The SMH carries
this article about political polarisation in the US. When you have participants in rallies apparently calling out for the other candidate to be assassinated, and it doesn't seem like a joke or heat-of-the-moment stuff, that's pretty scary. And not only is the real, suburban, world increasingly partitioned, but the media both mainstream and alternate. Admission: I don't visit blogs I find to be extreme, although I'll trawl some those whose views I don't share. But my living in a self-imposed cocoon isn't good.

Update: It's worse than I thought. Nothing like a mix of ignorance and arrogance to bring forth the worst in human nature. Whay aren't these people at work, one might ask (listen to first clip). Courtesy of Club Troppo.


Irwin Stelzer in today's Courier Mail more than hints that we are moving into a protectionist era. He's sad about this, naturally, but he employs the same glib dismissal of real impacts that I used to read from (Australian) Treasury in the early 1990s, about the same time as Michael Pusey identified the cult of eco-rationalism.

"Defenders of free trade...have failed to develop a defence of the way free trade's benefits have been distributed."

Plasma TVs and cheap t-shirts, is my glib interpretation of Stelzer's answer.

Which he then follows by "Meanwhile, globalisation has increased the opportunities for members of the managerial class: they can spread their talents over larger enterprises. Result: Rising inequality, with trade the apparent villain."

I wonder who the real villain is? When the ratio of American CEO salaries to average weekly incomes has gone up by some phenomenal extent (read it last night, can't find it now, google not helping, must have wrong search terms), I assume the real villains are in hiding.

And, btw, doesn't Pusey still
cop it?

Let's be slightly serious for a tick: we have been hearing non-stop for some decades that markets are the answer and anybody who now is seeking to qualify, in any way, what they have been saying over that period is really indulging in a little revisionism. And yes, markets were the answer to a period where structural rigidities in various areas including trade and labour relations indeed stifled growth. So we got real growth, far larger than during the 'long boom' after WW2.



Then, inevitably, some of the unintended (yes, I'm being charitable) consequences started to rear their heads including a widening gap of income. The answer, equally inevitably, has been: reform. Code for: more of the same.


You know that definition of stupidity? The one about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome?

Hmmm.

Finally, the Courier Mail's Paul Syvret relates a letter to the editor from an unrelated paper which in essence blames the prolonged drought - which we didn't use to have when t'writer were a lad - on less moisture in the atmosphere because of one more hour of daylight due to - you guessed it - daylight saving. As Syvret says, "How can you argue with logic like that?"

Enjoy your weekend. I have to go and give the TV a work-out, it's Bathurst weekend. Haven't been there since 1974 but I read about a bloke who's been there annually for 40 years. That's dedication.

(*) In this case, it's the music of the V8!

10 October 2008

songs from the south

I ran across an excellent blog - here it is, this is truly brilliant storytelling - and wanted to add it to the blogroll. Except in this new format, when I went to the html template I couldn't find the list of blogs I had laboriously typed in for the previous template.

Apparently they are now contained in a widget. I went to blogger help, I'm not a real man because I actually looked in the manual! I found this:


Widget content is contained in "includable" sections, which have this format: [insert whatever content you want here]
The attributes are as follows:
id: (Required) A unique identifier made up of letters and numbers.
var: (Optional) An identifier made up of letters and numbers, for
referencing data within this section. (See the data section below.)
Each widget must have one includable with id='main'. This will usually contain most or all of the content that will display for this widget, and in many cases it will be all you need.If you make more includables with different IDs, they will not be displayed automatically. However, if you make an includable with id='new', then you can reference it in your main includable with and it will display that way.

and


The 'identifier' part can be any name you choose, and will be used to stand in for each new item in the list, each time through the loop. A common convention is to simply call this "i". The set of data you specify for the values can be any piece of data described in the data tags article as being a list of items. For instance, in the blog posts widget, posts is a list. Code like the following will loop through each post, printing out the title for each one, with header tags around it.


Notice how "i" takes on the value of each post in turn, so you can get the title from
each one.
I hadn't noticed, but then again the entire global financial system is crashing down just outside my window, so arguably I could be excused.

And that's why Laurie is not in the sidebar blogroll. Nor will anyone else ever be, nor will the current list ever be amended.

Oh, and I found Laurie via here (Sit down man, you're a bloody tragedy), another one of those islands of amazing complexity you find in the 'sphere.

Update: Yes he is. Now. I figured it out. Blogger had made it simpler. I was looking for love in all the wrong places.

Comme d'habitude.

something stupid

In a world turned crazy, there's little that can raise eyebrows. Except mine got raised a couple of centimetres today - twice in fact.

The world's leading economic commentator told us on the world's most authoritative TV program that computers, rather than 23-year old cocaine-addicted screen jockeys, manipulate these enormous flows of international capital. Seriously, no wonder we are in such an (emerging) pickle. Pre-set algorithms, sell, buy, fuck 'em right off. How bloody insane is that? Oh sorry, cost of labour, 23 year old screen jockeys cost maximillions more than computers and only do the same job.

We don't need a Rubin tax, we need legislated common sense and capital punishment for deviation.

Second, Scottish schools go into public-private partnerships with consortia that borrow from Icelandic banks. If ever you needed a single example of why simple State-funded debt is not a better and undoubtedly cheaper (by the time everyone takes their cut and shifts the risk on) of raising finance for public infrastructure, then this is it. Ever since 1989 the world has gone into an intellectual void, no one even remarks that the "peace dividend" hasn't passed anyone's lips since 1991, everyone's been too busy "leveraging" everybody else while simultaneously "going forward." Now they're "rolling out" programmes, with two ems and and a superfluous e, everywhere you look.

Shit, that's enough, it's Friday for fuck's sake.

09 October 2008

sweet blindness*

I came home from work just thinking that I needed to write something, anything, and then Kevin-oh-seven and ten months pops up on 7.30 Report. I listened for about 30 seconds and then went off to do the dishes. I am so over politicians dodging the questions or responding with "Now Kerry, what I need to tell you.." and so on. According to today's Crikey (subscription only and -disclosure - I'm currently on a freebie) it's called conversational blindness:

Rating political performance. I have a new way of putting interest into those
essentially dull and boring presidential television debates since reading the work of two American academics called Conversational Blindness: Answering the Wrong Question the Right Way. What Todd Rogers and Michael I. Norton from Harvard set out to discover is how politicians get away with not answering questions when appearing on television. What happens, they wondered, when people try to "dodge" a question they would rather not answer by answering a different question? They conducted two experiments demonstrated this conversational
blindness - listeners' surprising failure to notice such dodges – and explored the interpersonal consequences of this phenomenon.

They found that listeners viewed successful question-dodgers as positively as speakers who actually answered the question they are asked, but were not blind to all efforts to dodge: They both noticed – and punished – particularly egregious attempts. More troublingly, listeners preferred speakers who answered the wrong question well over those who answered the right question poorly.

I think it is one of those research papers that everyone interested in politics
should read for it helps those of us who hate politicians dodging the hard
questions from getting angry. Instead you can marvel, like I did yesterday, at
the skill with which Barack Obama employs to take advantage of conversational
blindness. That man has to be one of the best ever at sounding great while
saying absolutely nothing.


Well it may pass other people by but it gets right up my throat. On the other hand I had by this time already remarked to Mrs VVB that Red Kez was giving Kevin a much harder time than John (spit) Howard ever got until the dying months of his reign, and maybe it was time for the ABC Board to be purged of its ultra-conservative stackees.

Then I came back from the kitchen sink to hear Kerry asking about housing affordability and whether house prices will come down and the PM got visibly hot under the collar. Now we never saw this in Howard until close to the end so I have to say it wasn't a good look, but on the other hand it accompanied some straighter responses, in more everyday language, than the PM usually seems capable of managing. Even had a "you betcha" in there, he's obviously been into the reporting about Sarah Palin.

He really needs to dumb down the language just a smidgin though, even on the ABC.

So does

Miz Pants's observation hold? Well, it came before Christmas - in fact it's been coming for a while - but I'm not scorned, just a bit disappointed. But not all out of hope.

And of course, you just have to keep remembering the alternative.

And while I'm here, I guess, a couple of observations on the global financial crisis, about to become a global real economy crisis.

First, and I don't think I ever mentioned it here, America's debt overhang with China has been possibly the major structural imbalance that could not be sustained, regardless of any other factors that have contributed to us beingf where we are ("us" being the world, in this case, ie a very broad us).

And second, regardless of coordinated or individual action taken by governments or up-until-very-recently 'independent' central/reserve banks, the actual action is still in the hands of 23 year old screen jockeys with a very narrow mandate for action and absolutely no understanding, or more importantly duty of care, about the wider societal implications of their actions. That is very wrong and that is why we need regulation.

And an end to neoclassical economic responses to absolutely any and every situation, btw :-)

But it's also why jokes like this are so good at this time:

"What's the difference between a Wall Street banker and a pigeon?"

"A pigeon can still leave a deposit on a BMW."

Boom boom. And no BMWs at this year's Sydney Motor Show, where I'll be next week for the annual three amigos reunion.

On a more domestic note, it's raining, Whacko!

(*) Someone called Laura Nyro, it seems.

05 October 2008

natural born woman party

As VVB has more or less disintegrated into a weekly, I was scratching around for something of interest. Something I thought I had noticed over recent weeks and months was that some blogs which I had previously thought either apolitical or only mildly 'conservative' in outlook had seemingly gone ferally rightwards. Australian blogs that barely seemed to mention politics have gone stratospherically supportive of Sarah Palin. Maybe because the liberal/left blogs have gone for her throat?

Then today
this comment appeared this arvo at Larvatus Prodeo, about an apparent lowering of the volume at the 'leftist' blogs, because the 'enemy' (John Howard, doncha know) has gone.

There's something to it I think but I always struggle with perception vs reality. The easy way would be to leave a comment and check, but as a lifelong wuss who had regrettably had more aggro in recent months than he cares to think about (not here, another part of my life), I just honestly don't feel up to it. Even though I would hope that an evenly-worded, non-judgemental inquiry should elicit a fair and honest answer.


If it's true, what has brought it on? With the predictable result in WA, the short 'halcyon' period of coast-to-coast Labor governments has come to an undistinguished end. Do the supporters of the 'natural party of government' theory feel so wronged during those periods when the 'natural party' is not in power?

And other questions, such as do they not realise that have any party in power for a long time is a Bad Thing?

At times like this I'm glad that VVB has no academic pretensions beyond its proprietor's meagre intelligence and is simply free to ask the stupid questions.

28 September 2008

on the road again

Have just done the Capricorn Coast to Brisbane and return road trip thing. Chateau VVB was up for auction on Saturday, someone needed to be there (so it seemed, anyway). Left after work on Friday, a bit of a bugger really as I'd been in Gladstone anyway, but had to bring a work colleague back and then swap the office car for the yellow Saabmarine, as offspring no 2 calls it. So an extra 280 km or so just for fun.

It being a late departure after a full day, and a few full days before that, I didn't feel up to going all the way (I'd be in Adelaide if I did that, ha ha) so stopped in Maryborough. Still arrived late, after reception had been closed a while, they left the key under the doormat. Cute. I had a small bottle of vino collapso from the well stocked bar and hit the sack.

Awoke early, before reception was operational so I left the cash for the vino on the table, put the key back under the mat and hit the frog and toad.

It was just on 6, the sun was up and it was brilliantly clear. I came out of the 60 km town limit but saw a car coming up over my right shoulder on the Bruce Highway at the 100km mark. Thought briefly, not so good as I wasn't utterly awake but then floored it and pulled out in front of him. Turned up the radio, it was Bob Seger with
Hollywood Nights which is a great driving song, so I cranked it up further and awaaaay we went. Life is just extra grouse sometimes, you can't foresee it. The early morning sun on the canefields, the green hills in the background, the open road...ah yup, I was extremely alert and it was all good.

The auction was a damp squib, no registered bidders although the agents (cough spit) had led me to believe we had at least one. So Chateau VVB is still for sale. Amazingly, the original architect turned up to have a look and may in fact be interested in putting in a bid. Had a yarn to him about what we had liked or not about the place. He hadn't seen it since about 1976.

Took it much easier coming home as I knew there would be police everywhere. There were. Just as well I wasn't driving one of
these. You'll enjoy Jeremy's take on modern Britain, there are lots of things he doesn't like about modern life, eh?

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