22 December 2006

(they) took the words right out of my mouth

Here's a series of letters to the editor in today's Sydney Morning Herald, all questioning how AWB can claim that the kickbacks it paid to Saddam Hussein's regime government can be tax deductible. This issue is - along with examples such as the Queensland DPP's exoneration of Sgt Christopher Hurley in the death of Mulrunji Doomadgee - seemingly incomprehensible to the layperson. So: what value do we put on the opinion of the man in street (or as our former colonial overlordss would have it, the man on the Clapham omnibus) (*).

These are the letters:

Subsidising kickbacks to the enemy - your tax dollars at work

I was appalled to read that the kickbacks paid by AWB to Saddam Hussein's regime could be claimed as tax deductions and that the deduction equates to about $90 million in saved taxes ("Kickbacks tax-deductible", December 21). If AWB had any moral fibre, it would withdraw its request for tax deductibility for the payments. Why should taxpayers have to subsidise AWB's shady activities in Iraq? It is absurd that these payments are allowed to be tax-deductible when child-care payments made by Australian families are not.
Gary McGrath Artarmon

My taxes, with those of other taxpayers, went to help fight the war against the Iraqi government. AWB is getting a tax deduction for assisting the Iraqi government and therefore its war effort against us. Is this what our Government calls a win-win situation?
Brian Carpenter Algester (Qld)

So bribes paid to Saddam Hussein's regime by AWB, which quite possibly ended up funding an insurgency that plants bombs which maim and kill Iraqi children and 19-year-old American soldiers, are ruled tax-deductible by the Tax Office. Your tax dollars at work. Doesn't it make you feel warm inside? Merry Christmas to the Tax Office and the Federal Government which, whenever you think it can sink no lower, always manages to surprise.
Ian Newman Willoughby

If I were to work too long or make too much money or not declare earnings above my disability pension, I would be stripped of income. AWB steals $300 million from starving Iraqi children, gives it to Saddam to buy bombs and bullets and build his wretched palaces and gets to claim it as a tax deduction while the Government reduces pensions and payments for the unemployed.
Bloody outrageous.
Marilyn Shepherd Kensington

In any other country, a company such as AWB, which paid $300 million to
the enemy, would be charged with high treason. Here it gets a tax break. Why should taxpayers have to pay for AWB corruption and a negligent Government?
Peter Rutherford Barwon Heads (Vic)

First we have an inquiry set up by the Government to clear itself of wrongdoing over the AWB scandal, with predictable results. Now the Tax Office calls the kickbacks to Saddam legitimate, so AWB can use the corrupt payments as a tax dodge. Poor old Graham Richardson must be feeling a little miffed as the Tax Office pursues him over his tax affairs ("Richardson faces new tax demand", December 21).
G. Unwin
Gold Coast (Qld)

With AWB getting such a wonderful Christmas present from the Government, does that mean burglars can claim deductibility for their "tools of trade"?
Michael Arrighi Unanderra

So I guess my point is that as people not versed in tax law - how many pages is the Tax Act now? - it's just not possible to understand how such an outcome can happen. But on the surface it just seems nothing short of insane - leaving aside any notion of fairness, justice, equity or right and wrong.

There's a few regular commenters in the above list, so the list can't be fairly said to represent Howard's "mob". And I suppose you have to take into account that it is the SMH (cue boos and hisses) and so represnts a certain demographic. But everyone's entitled to a view and something that seems as outrageous as this surely can't go unnoticed by government. Can it? Anyone taking bets? (No commos allowed!).

Anyway, here's to a merry Christmas and a happy new year to all of our reader. Stay safe, have fun, don't forget to spread the lovin' and keep chasing those dreams.

VVB will return on 2 January, which happens to be its first anniversary. At which time we will decide what to do with VVB in 2007. Kill it? Let it mutate? Let it grow?

Ah, choices. The single, economically pure and rational answer to all that ails you. Brought to you by

(*) I like the notion of a "test for obviousness". Because obviously this is just insane.

19 December 2006

yours is no disgrace (oh yes it is)

In his first speech as Foreign Minister in 1996, I seem to remember that the now Lord Downer of Baghdad talked about the value of Australia's consular service (have tried searching Hansard, looks like my memory is faulty, I did find this reference). At the time I thought this a pretty good touch: I was a former consul and if there was one thing that you couldn't get Gareth Evans interested in, it was consular matters. Not sufficiently intellectual, I suppose, but try telling that to a fellow Aussie in trouble in some foreign backwater.

So how does that square with the latest piece of bastardry apparently dished out to David Hicks:
only his gaolers can determine his mental state.

Whenever you think it can't get more disgraceful, it does.

17 December 2006

time after time after time after time

Before all you folk out there with your blogs and your YouTube and your FaceBook and MySpace and who knows what else start to get all uppity about being this year's Time Person of the Year, have a look at some of the past winners.

Interesting company you - by which I guess I mean we - are in, no?

So: which previous Person of the Year are you most like?

the rolling stones once had a song with this title

Still doing the Sunday morning rounds, I came across this story about yet another web phenonemon, by which I refer to both the product andthe person behind it. It's FaceBook, apparently something similar to MySpace (*).

What really got my attention was the bit about how Mark Zuckerberg, the inventor of FaceBook, used to have business cards that said "I'm CEO...bitch." If it says "used to", obviously he's learnt something. Perhaps that it portrays him in a very poor light: it's hardly the way to introduce yourself to someone you want to do business with, I would have thought. And as for this use of growing use of "bitch" as a derogatory term for everyone...

Anyway Mr Zuckerberg has just knocked back $1bn for his company so maybe it does work and I just don't understand. On the other hand, I visited the CEO of a very successful local company a couple of weeks ago. His card says "worker". Draw your own conclusions about how he relates to his staff and others.

(*) When Offspring No 1 moved from Blogger to MySpace, I commented to him that I didn't understand MySpace. He, at age 27, said he didn't either as it was designed for 14 year olds. Which still doesn't explain why he moved.

money money money

As increasing amounts of private equity money start to flow into Australia and raise questions about how effective or productive an investment tool it is, as the salaries of CEOs grow at multiples of average wage earners, are we seeing a new dawn of the capitalist model - a miracle - or are seeds being sown for some future revolution? This short article in the Times of London is quite instructive.

What's happening in the City - the financial hub that drives the UK economy and is still the global centre for finance - is Australia writ very large. The sums paid to City analysts have always been a talking point - in fact, bonuses and what gets done with them is pretty much the sole running gag in
Alex. However, it seems that this year the sums are so great that a few questions are being asked. Is the money trickling down to help improve the lives of 'the rest', or is it now getting diverted elsewhere? And is that money simply crowding out the aspirations of 'the mob' by raising prices beyond their reach?

Also, how is the money being made. When even the new Governor of the Reserve Bank is
raising a few questions about the stability of the international finance system (the influence of hedge funds in particular), and the risks posed to Australia's economy, what is being done about the increasing level of risk being built into the system as very clever finance people - who don't make things with their hands but look for ways to squeeze more leverage out of each dollar - do just that? Surely this isn't sustainable over the longer term?

The sums involved are just so vast that it's hard to comprehend how it all works. Just another dimension to thinking that I guess most of us can't get to grips with. Being functionally innumerate, I don't have a specific problem with very numerate people who use those skills and get well rewarded. But I am very uneasy about the growth in complex financial mechanisms that increasingly isolate where the real money is made - ie in the financial world - from the underlying transaction (someone making something!).

16 December 2006

take a long line

It is indeed a long line between this fabulous article (via the Daily Briefing) and recent Kevin Rudd pronouncements (kite flying?) on a possible future Labor industry policy. And while the Crawford article ranges over far more territory than an examination of what is meant by industry policy (let alone a simplistic VVB "look" at it), it seemed to echo some of the arguments often made in defence of maintaining a manufacturing sector, without addressing how this might be done.

So Rudd comes out and says he's going to have an industry policy and you get the predictable instant attacks about back to the future and tariffs and comparative advantage and so on, all of which add up to say that (a) he's stupid and (b) Labor is stupid and regressive and driven by nostalgia for what were in fact bad old days and (c) the future lies in higher value stuff, whatever it may be.

Mind you, he hasn't said exactly what the policy might be - remembering that Howard kept his detail hidden in the lead-up to the 1996 election too. But my guess would be that it will be more of what we have now, inasmuch as it will be attention to skills deficits and not much more, in other words investment not protection. However, as long as the cost differential between Australia and cheap labour places continues to widen, we'll be swimming against the tide and more of our manufacturing capacity will go offshore while India and China and elsewhere will slowly gain capacity.

There are arguments that we should keep manufacturing capability for so-called 'strategic' reasons - defence is often mentioned. Given recent history in buying the instruments of war (I heard on radio yesterday about the need for a stopgap between the F111 and the Joint Strike Fighter), locking ourselves into other countries' priorities for reasons of interoperability and so on, the ability to rapidly produce some weapons domestically might seem like a better idea than it has been.

To my untrained mind, the value in retaining a foot in sectors such as manufacturing is that you are precisely going against the theory of comparative advantage using the theory of relative numbers of eggs and baskets. There are links all the way through to what, and how, kids are taught in school (part of Crawford's argument) and how that represents some kind of gross or total national capability. In other words, you don't want a nation of all doctors or all bankers and financiers (certainly not!) or all 'knowledge workers', whatever they might be. Mostly I think they're bankers and financiers, but that's just a little typical VVB prejudice slipping through.

Back to the article, I was particularly struck by this article that Crawford highlight, by one Alexandre Kojeve:

The man who works recognizes his own product in the World that has actually been transformed by his work: he recognizes himself in it, he sees in it his own human reality, in it he discovers and reveals to others the objective reality of his humanity, of
the originally abstract and purely subjective idea he has of himself.

That, to me, sums up so eloquently not only the intrinsic value of manual production (probably more of the artisan than mass-produced kind, however..) but also the deep human experience of feeling valuable. Having worked as a 'knowledge worker' (several of you may laugh, but in Robert Reich's view I am...) for some time, the lack of connection between personal output and what eventually emerges (output plus blue pen marginalia???) is a distinct and real disincentive to do more, or do better. More generally, the dynamics of cube farms seem faintly unsettling: feedlots for word factories? Back to Kojeve, there is little transformation going on in a cube farm that can be discerned and owned by the individual; there appears to be certainly a dessication of the spirit.

All of this has got kind of off track, partly because everything's connected to everything else, but also because of the fascinating detours each part of Crawford's article offers. I think we do need to put more effort, more resources, into retaining a viable and broad manufacturing sector, recognising that manufacturing is indeed a very broad sector, from the small scale trailer maker to high end, complex, computer-driven tools and machinery.

In an policy environment where old fashioned, blunt instruments such as tariffs have been proven not to work, and government winner-picking has not picked any (or do we retain some hope there - is this what nano and all those words beginning with bio- mean?), what means to we have left? Much of the US's capability rides on its military production (the 'industrial-military complex), but even it is losing capability to overseas.

At the more personal or individual level, the joy to be had from making something will no doubt continue in many ways - art, old motorcycles, joinery (what a great word that is!). Unfortunately it's something I can only relate to in a conceptual way: I was one of those whose year 9 toast rack had to be held together with rubber bands. And it only took thirty years of pain, frustration and the added expense of getting someone else in to fix stuff that went wrong, to me to eventually reach the conclusion that I had inherited precisely none of the old man's mechanical ability.

But it's precisely there that Crawford's article hits home, about how we value different things. he says there was more thinking going on in the bike shop than the 'think tank'. Because repair shops, particularly for old gear where you need to improvise, replicate and fabricate, present real world problems that have to be fixed in real time. Not have pre-ordained 'policy frameworks' applied so you get the result the ideology demands. Nor the pre-ordained company templates of the management consultancy profession, that give the customer what they wanted in the first place, what they had the capacity to do but needed the 'independent' letterhead to justify.

But that's a whole other detour, isn't it?

14 December 2006

what is life

It's work, is what it is. So tonight's ramble through the spaciously vacant back recesses of my brain has been inspired by a few conversations over the last couple of days as well as the fact that work is just flat out at the moment. But it didn't always used to be like this. Time was, the lead-up to Christmas used to mean lunches at the pub rather than wall-to-wall meetings. And similar stuff.

This week I've caught up with both the current mentoree and the one from 3 years ago. The current one and I are booked to do some promotional work for the 2007 round, which will be fun. Her conclusion is that I've been able to deliver some genuine value, for example by providing some context for specific situations she finds herself in. I suppose one of the benefits of having been around since manual typewriters were new-fangled, is that you can draw on many quite diverse experiences to help explain whey large organisations are the way they are. That said, one of the traps is to simply say "well that's the way it is - like it or lump it." On the other hand, it also seems wrong to suggest to new young person in the workplace that if they feel strongly enough about something, they can change it. As always, it seems to me that the answer is in the middle.

So I hope the advice I've been giving has been along the lines, "well here is how and why situation x might have come about." "And here are some things you might want to think about when you come to decide how you're going to respond or act."

This is pretty much the standard operating procedure in the articles and other references I've seen on mentoring including, fortuitously, one I ran across in last weekend's Australian, that we were able to discuss this week. Much more useful than most stuff you find in the Oz I must say (the old man used to call it the Troglodyte Times).

And while there's countless forests being cut down to pontificate about the work/life balance, work is a microcosm of life. Particularly in that what you get out depends on what you put in; and it all centres around human relationships. Mrs VVB and I were fortunate to live in some quite exotic places overseas for a few years. How much we enjoyed some of those places depended immediately on the state of relationships between the people in my office. In a couple of places, one poisonous relationship informed every other work and private relationship in the community - who you socialised with, who you talked to, whether you could get anything done. Utterly toxic and because of the remote nature of the place where we were all thrown together, it affected partners and was on 24/7.

In a big office the effects may not be quite so devastating, but they can certainly take the gloss off an otherwise attractive job.

Then today I caught up with mentoree from 3 years ago, who has just chucked in her job and is off to do some very different things. The situations that this mentoree and I dealt with during that year were a bit different: she got a couple of job offers from companies so we had a lot of fun thinking about the implications of accepting one or another or of her staying put. That's eventually what happened but she left the organisation shortly afterwards and has been through a couple of jobs since. So I always like listening to her and discussing what issue or factor has driven the latest decision. I can't relate - expect intellectually - to having that flexibility in terms of (relative lack of) commitment to a particular job, but I certainly admire those who do.

Back in the mid '70s - 1975 to be exact - I moved to a new organisation and I clearly remember the leadup to Christmas. I made friends with a bloke with whom I had a lot in common and we'd be off to the pub for lunch nearly every day during that December. Couldn't happen now and in fact my little fiefdom is busier now than we've been all year. How did all this come about?

I'd speculate, but this bench is not set up for typing and my neck is tingling or throbbing or something, I've enough typing (was doing some work before this) so I'll leave it up to anybody who wants to comment.

I suspect this little story doesn't hang together all that well, but I'm sure one the many thousands of people who lurk at rancho VVB can fill in the gaps. Such, f'rinstance, the two unnamed people in the story????

13 December 2006

you're my mate (*)

Pryor at the Canberra Times skewers multiple birds with a single pen. This is right up there with Nabokov at the Luv at us rodeo as far as sending up the sanctimonious hypocrisy at play in the all new all singing all dancing (#) Aussie values test.
Pryor really is a class act when it comes to political cartoons. I still recall the several years of Keating represented as Louis XIV.
* Well I can't say I'd ever heard of the song but this is it.
# With the stars (and Daryl Somers) (and that sheila with the teeth).

12 December 2006

your gold teeth

Amazing the things you think about in the dentist's chair: co-delivery of services? So in the time-honoured V V B tradition of making very little out of what was there in the first place, what about it?

It's because of the use of ultrasonic cleaning apparati, rather than the old manual curly metal stick. MInd you, they still have to use the curly metal stick, and some elbow-grease, to get the really hard bits of plaque. Now, the nice lady who currently cleans the unwholesome V V B teeth always asks me to hold the vacuum hose while she does the bit at the rear of the lower teeth. I always find this difficult because you can't actually see where the nozzle is, I also try to keep it away from where I think she has the ultrasonic thingo. The end result is that the vacuum doesn't pick up the water spray and I start to drown.

The thing is, I can't ever remember the previous quite nice lady asking me to assist in this procedure. So I started wondering about the niceties of a trained professional who evidently hasn't got all the skills (provided of course my memory is accurate, never a sure thing) getting the subject to lend a hand, and a nozzle in this case. As an aside, the apparent necessity for me to assist is exacerbated because bloody Medibank flamin' Private now only bears about 35% of the cost, down from about 50% some 5 years ago.

In a course I did a few years ago, we looked at (* let's come back to that phrase later shall we?) co-delivery of services. To the best of my recollection - the papers being at work - the examples were volunteers and prisoners. The theory with prisoners is that if they are well-behaved, they make the delivery of the 'service' - keeping 'em locked up - easier. You can see what they're getting at, but it still seems a little contrived, all the social aspects aside of course.

In the case of volunteers, it's almost outsourcing rather than co-delivery. I imagine much would depend on how closely any volunteer adhered to the norms/objectives etc of the organisation that is providing the service. This is probably only an issue where a voluntary organisation is providing services on bahlf of another entity, usually government.

* "We're looking at it." This seems to be the new bureaucratic phrase where you're not doing a proper, systematic examination of some subject or issue. It's what happens when imprecise instructions are given to someone who is fundamentally inadequate, unskilled or trained for the job. A quick and dirty, but with a figleaf of cover.

And because V V B rarely lets a post go by without some mention of the occupant of Kirribilli, while the cleaning of the lower teeth was being undertaken I was most disturbed to see, from the corner of my eye, my bottom lip sticking out. It instantly got me to forget about co-delivery of services and to get all preoccupied about the damage being done to the country, etc etc etc etc. Very disturbed.

11 December 2006

system of a down

Tonight: the nature of large organisations, bureaucracy, human interactions in meetings. A soft target, well I suppose so. But when I'm in meetings I can't help drifting into reflections about all these things. There must be a better way of doing...stuff. And this might help set the scene for Wednesday's mentoring.

First, how resources are devoted to issues. At today's meeting we got a report on what various governments are doing about innovation. Principally, they are (a) trying to define it and (b) measure it. You'd reckon defining it would be at least fairly simple, but not so. The NZers have been at it for two years. So what would be the process for someone to say "enough! this (produces napkin with words scrawled in between the crumbs and red wine stains) will be our definition!" And everyone else would go "eureka", or words to that effect, and off we'd go to (b) start measuring it.

However, for some reason everyone's been buggerising around for years on (a). Now, it appears, there will be a coordinated effort to define innovation. I suspect this will mean even more resources being thrown at the task.

Now, a bit of competition might bring some, er, urgency to the job, eh? Give everyone six months, then you get together, the best definition wins? Is that too simple? It seems there's some confusion between competition and duplication, and duplication is winning, hands down. Let's check back in five years and see how we're doing, that's not too optimistic, eh?

Now, meetings. As usual, you'll get the noisy ones and those who just sit back and fall asleeplap it in. At today's effort, I was quite struck by the passion which some people displayed for some issues. That's great, but we all come from individual perspectives and the really hard thing is to understand a perspective that's not your own. That doesn't mean you have to agree with it, change your position or whatever, but there's rarely only one simple answer.

I think these situations often play out with the noisy/passionate ones ruling at the time, and the others come in later and restore some balance/destabilise or wreck the process.

Today's meeting is a relatively new one for me as my little unit has been moved sideways in the larger organisation. So I should be all senses on alert to pick up the currents, the things unsaid, the culture. That took all of one meeting, now I'm wondering 'why are all meetings like this'? You come in full of anticipation, but as soon as the meeting starts, a kind of mental curtain comes down. Except for the really passionate ones, they seem to keep going.

I'm sure there 's plenty of academic analysis of the forces at work in meetings - certainly I've read the literature on how to make meetings go well, so a little practising what I preach would go over well.

And coffee and muffins, of course.

10 December 2006

more than words

Letter writer in today's Sunday Mail:

"...the lying, petty, small-minded Bush suppository we have as a Prime Minister..."

Today's award for literature goes to Daryl Saal of Toowoomba. It'd be instructive to see a cartoonist pick up the imagery.

09 December 2006

peter and the wolf

This one's Peter.

This one's the wolf (apologies, I simply can't seem to post pictures from the web although blogger assures me I can).

Rally for David Hicks, Brisbane

Today's rally was attended by about 250, maybe 300 people. A series of good, short (good idea, given pretty warm conditions and a fair few children tagging along) speeches and a quick rip around the city to conclude.

It was hard to know how many people to expect and I have to admit I was a disappointed, but Hicks is a far from simple issue for many people. Well almost: this letter in today's SMH sums up why it's hard to get people to analyse what David Hicks' continued incarceration means because they see it far too simply:

Why is everyone bleating for the return of David Hicks to Australia? Could someone remind me when he was captured, where he was captured, who was he with when captured and what he was doing there?
Scott Dempster Lane Cove

The speeches rightly focused on the broader implications arising from Hicks' five years in captivity, namely the suspension of basic obligations to its citizens by a (supposedly) democratic government and what that means for all of us. Most speakers received polite but enthusiastic applause but hisses and boos were reserved for mention of Philip Ruddock (and rightly so, might I add - let's all hope for a ton of retirbution to fall on his head one day) and cheers for the possibility of a Labor Government in a year's time.

I was very taken by one sign that read "Bring Hicks home" on one side and "Is Rudd a dud on Hicks" on the other. No pressure, Kevin. It certainly stood out from all the signs which heaped calumny on the PM. The march was pretty short and sharp which contributed to some lack of coordination in the chants: Mrs V V B and I were pretty much in the middle and the chants from in front and behind us were different for a good proportion of the march. Towards the end, I'm sure I heard a small voice sing "Lock up Howard, bring Dad home". Not sure what Dad's been up to...

While perhaps a tad sad about the turnout it was, quite obviously, an extremely varied mixture of radical left, young protestors, the perpetually outraged (and good on 'em, I guess) and lots of what seemed ordinary people from the 'burbs, such as Chateau VVB, who only get outraged about some things. I don't know any other Brisbane bloggers personally - apart from
Mei Ultra Vires who was there with the brood - so I can't say whether any other reports will surface apart from this pretty skimpy one.

Update: the Courier Mail today puts participation at 400.

07 December 2006

we interrupt your comfortable thoughts...

...to remind you about the situation of David Hicks.

Rallies for David Hicks will be
held around the country on Saturday, 9 December. Get along, 'cos it's about:

  • justice for David Hicks
  • support to Terry Hicks
  • fighting the loss of democratic freedoms in Australia.

It might be you next. You have no safeguards any more. If you care about how this country is run, get along.

all the small things

Tonight's small thing is the space between the PM's ears. I heard it on the radio coming home, in which the (insert gratuitously offensive description here) referred to the Iraq Study Group's Report: "For example it said the following: we believe it would be wrong for the United States to abandon the country through a precipitate withdrawal of troops and support."

My question is simple, and it is this: Where can one find the word 'Australia' in that sentence?

Ooh, and just to further exemplify the little fucker's contempt for our collective (note use of naughty communistic word) intelligence, he went to bleat: 'Mr Howard says Labor's policy of withdrawal would see a bloodbath in Iraq.'

My question is simple, and it is this: how many troops does Australia have in Iraq?

I will leave it to someone far cleverer than me to take the answer to that question and pose the follow-up: would withdrawal of Australia's x number of troops cause a bloodbath in Iraq?

06 December 2006

world without love

"Please lock me away,
And don't allow the day.
Here inside, where I hide,
With my loneliness".

Might be the song of David Hicks, eh?

But at last a noticeable number of ordinary Aussies in the street, as well as
some more prominent people, have at last realised the true extent of the gross injustice that has been perpetrated against Hicks. They have realised that what happened to Hicks could well happen to them. The very smallest protections - for example Australia's responsibilities to its citizens under the 1963 Geneva Convention on Consular Relations - can be withdrawn at any time, at the whim of the government. No, this isn't East Germany...it's Australia. Our Australia.

Yeah, I know, he has had consular visits. How long did it take for the first one? What is the responsibility of the 'holding' country under the Convention? How convenient that Hicks was taken to the legal black hole that is Guantanamo.

Anyway, tonight's news had one of the government's main apologists for its crimes against humanity, Philip Ruddock, mouthing the usual load of self-serving garbage, obsfucation and lies that constitutes its usual method of communicating with the populace.

I have to admit that I didn't hear much of what he had to say because I was screaming at the TV - yeah, still happens - but I did catch him mention "accountability". I do hope he wasn't talking about that in relation to the pack of immoral lowlifes of which he is a part. "Accountability" is a term which could never, in any sense, be applied to them.

Bring Hicks home.

Afterword: stone the bloody crows, I just
read the news report of Ruddock's effort. What a totally...gaaah, words fail me. Utter slime.

BTW, what fortitude and dignity Terry Hicks has shown over the last five years. Five years.

04 December 2006

we're not gonna take it

Well, regrettably, I imagine we'll have to. Take what? Well, it's started - the tearing down of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. You can expect it from the insufferably we are always right right of the blogosphere, and you can expect it from (insert suitable expletive here) Abbott and co, but everyone's getting in on the act and that's before the government's highly paid mouthpieces in the mainstream media get a roll on (that'll be tomorrow).

Whatever happened to the Australian fair go? Look, colour me hopelessly naive, I really don't give a rat's arse. But to me this simply illustrates the coarsening of our culture that, for want of a better scapegoat, I will attribute to Howard. Why the hell not, he's responsible for everything else that's wrong with the place.

The balance in this country has gone. Buried, combusted, exploded, taken out the back and shot, consigned to Nauru, belted up behind the bike sheds after school, in the remand cells, I dunno. The place just doesn't seem to work like it did any more.

Do the rules not apply to politicians? Maybe not. Did they ever? Dunno. Am I making sense? Regrettably no, but this is just another amateur blog amongst millions. Just had to have a rant. Now I know how offspring number one feels, at least he's honest when he's having a rant.

Now, that feels better.

BTW, Gillard for PM. One day.

03 December 2006

both sides now, or again

Glen Milne has an apology to Stephen Mayne in the paper today which, inevitably perhaps, ends up implying that it's Mayne's fault because he's a snarky independent journalist. What was that about individual responsibility again?

We got delivered the wrong paper this morning It was the right colour and shape and it was only after a couple of pages of NSW-ish 'news' that I came up against Miranda Devine. And so I have discovered a paper that's worse than the Sunday Mail, which only has Andrew Bolt. It's the Sun-Herald. Today, Ms Devine explains the propensity of some young men to hit women (and believe me, the stories she cited were appalling) by noting that Paris Hilton goes out without any underwear on. What was that about individual responsibility again?

After that I needed shriving and I went and toiled against the leaves for a while. It was a particularly unsatisfying bit of toil because the bag in the garden vacuum has got a hole in it and so now picks up whole leaves on one side and distributes chewed up leaves out the other side. So I got the broom and pan and brush. This saga of the leaf vacuum bags is a long one. The bags cost $56 each and the actual mean number of uses before they bugger up is three - ie one weekend's use. We've tried all sorts of fiddles and for this current one, Mrs V V B took out the zip (which is the bit that goes) and sewed velcro on instead. But it's now all frayed where I drag it on the ground, but at least we've had about 6 month's use out of it.

Then I came back for a dose of Sunday refreshment, in which Jeremy Clarkson again points out that
Communists can't make machinery for nuts (well actually they do make machinery for nuts, just a different kind).

Back to the more serious pursuits that the Times offers,
Andrew Sullivan ponders on what Bush will now do in Iraq. Not a bad column but some implicit assumptions still creep in that nation building in Iraq was the original goal. Never. It was always about control of vital resources. Saddam's regime may have been crumbling (not that this appeared obvious to the general public, I can't remember much in the way of news and/or commentary before all of a sudden we (ie the west) was pulling out of Afghanistan and about to invade Iraq. The key sentence that jumps out at you:

But Bush is not a responsible president of the United States. He is a reckless
gambler of other people’s money and other people’s lives.
You can imagine the reaction if a columnist or someone here expressed such views. Remember Mark Latham?

This article, also in the Times, by Michael Portillo, a former Minister in the Conservative Government, is also insightful. The last para is interesting: I read it as Portillo having two bob each way. It's a criticism of how the UK deals with the US, rather than why. I also wonder what the reaction from the Tories will be? Do they take this sort of stuff onthe chin or go the biff? For example, if Malcom Fraser penned something similar here, the 'attack dogs' of the right would go for the throat - old, out of touch, and so on.

01 December 2006

real gone kid

Chateau V V B will herewith distinguish itself by not buying into the Beazley vs Rudd thing which appears to be consuming valuable bandwidth pretty much everywhere else and doesn't need V V B's two cents' worth. Instead, let's go looking at other things that possibly grabbed our attention today, provided I can remember where I saw them.

The Daily Briefing has a couple of articles on Iraq, but the one that stood out for me was this quote from an arrticle by one Larry Kahaner:

Small Wars was written in 1896 by C.E. Callwell, a colonel in the British army,
for British officers posted to Africa and India. It draws on his own experience in the Second Afghan and Boer Wars and claims that a powerful force can easily lose, if it doesn’t fully understand the enemy, fails to describe clear objectives or, worst of all, pursues military objectives that do not contribute to the conflict's political goal."

Like I've mentioned, Mrs V V B and I marched against the war. It was pretty obvious to us, and several hundred thousand other unAustralians, that the purpose of the war was a sham. And that we had been lied to regarding the feudal overlordsgovernment's intentions. Now, several years and many thousands of deaths after
"Mission Accomplished", Bush now claims: " I'm not going to pull the troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete."

Now if I went looking, I'd probably find out that there is a difference between "accomplished" and "complete" in this particular context, but you get the point.

For a mercifully brief excursion into the rotting corpse of democracy as she is practiced in this fair country, let's now turn to one of the few journos in the country who is not in thrall to supposed infallibility of our feudal overlordsthe government, Jack Waterford of the Canberra Times.
Here, Waterford gives us an insight into how the system of Ministerial advisers set up by Whitlam over thirty years ago has gradually been nurtured into a well oiled machine that protects the government and its 'Ministers' (yeah, 'Ministers': take a look at 'em, you reckon any of 'em deserve 'The Honourable'?) from any scrutiny. People blame Whitlam for all sorts of evils, but I wonder if at the time this system was brought into being, he had any idea how it would eventually be perverted. Unintended consequences, they're everhwhere. Power in the Senate might eventually pass from Liar John Howard's hands, but the damage is being done while he's there. The changes to the Electoral Act for example.

Well it's a been a big week for various reasons with next week likely to be bigger. Things are happening, as a result of things the work team has been doing. This is an experience I haven't had for a while so it needs digestion, preferably by another stubbie of brew number 9. And accompanied by a '
new' release by one of my more favouriter bands, Deacon Blue. I love 'em.

Beazley vs Rudd? What a choice. A safe pair of failed hands vs someone who'd put bricks to sleep every time he started to lecturespeak. Well I thought Latham was a good idea so just to prove what a slow learner I am, I'll say go for change again and see what happens. What is really needed through is to dump Jenny Whatsername and put in Julia Gillard, who at least appears able to speak sensibly and on topic without talking points. That is to say, there appears to be a more functioning brain in there than any of the others.

30 November 2006

you better slow down

Or not, in this case. Sorry, just have to give you a link to my favourite Tory, Jeremy Clarkson, explaining why all murderers are slow drivers, or the other way around. Causation or corelation, one or t'other. Why don't we have any Australian muttering rotters who do social analysis?

let's see action

Today's day of action has been and gone and if the crowd at the Treasury hotel was any indication, the hospitality industry did very well after the event.

Make no mistake, the V V B union supports action to protest unjust laws and in this case, we believe the nicely euphemistic WorkChoices legislation tilts the balance too far towards employers. When the next downturn comes, those AWAs will come in very handy.

And the sinister side of the 'sphere knows that it's not about economic outcomes at all, just ideological obsession and the desire to get even. Those bad bad 60s and 70s!

But the union movement does itself no favours when dozens/hundreds/whatever of its members head straight for the pub after the march and rally.

This has been an equal opportunity, ABC bias-free snark brought to you by factory floor VVB.

Mind you, it's hard to get good coverage when the top story of the day is
this. Hi ho Silver, indeed.

And fwiw, Mike Steketee nails the truth in today's Oz.

But there was no hint this week of any Lindberg-type contrition from Foreign
Minister Alexander Downer or then trade minister Mark Vaile.

They are the ones who are supposed to be accountable to voters for failings in their
department. Missing the little matter of $290 million in bribes surely is sufficient to warrant the resignations of both. Instead, they are blustering about how the Opposition owes them apologies.

You'd hardly think it was the Australian until you read the ever-reliable Greg Sheridan's daily advertisement for the government right alongside.

Finally, seen in traffic this arvo: a late model high range BMW with the number plate Risk.

29 November 2006

where's wally?

No, actually, where's pablo? Notez bien, mes amis, c'est ici une poste tres tres personelle. Rien a voir ici. Move on, as they say.

So, pablo, where are you? And what are you doing? Your name has been mentioned in dispatches, in a T E Lawrence sort of way. Do check in. And yes, of course I tumbled to the 'destroyer of democracy' reference. I was starting to get a bit hot under the collar until I read that bit, so you can claim a legitimate scalp. I'm still annoyed that someone took the sign off my wall though. I don't have it electronically and it would be unethical not quite the same for me to just make a Newman new one.

I'm just back from dinner with an industry contact which I was hoping would be a chance to just connect on a personal level, but no such luck. But it gets better. In his mind, we've already connected so as he was paying for dinner (not evident until I returned form the dunny and tried to pay, to learn he had just already done so) it was work work work all the way. He's a technical expert, so I was struggling the whole time. It is always good to play the innocent and ask the innocent questions, but you can't do it all the time.

Pablo - more business for P e V.

As work work work heats up, I am unable to devote as much time to reading stuff that might be worthy of a comment, but tonight's Crikey contains this:

A case of mistaken identity in the era of terrorism
By Jane Nethercote
Eleven people were arrested at the recent G20 protests in Melbourne -- one of them by mistake. His name is Drasko Boljevic. Victorian Chief Police Commissioner Christine Nixon confirmed the mistake in
The Age at the time: "We have taken individuals into custody today and in one case the person was released because he wasn't the person we thought he was."

Boljevic reported the matter to Victoria Police, which is now investigating the conduct of the officers who arrested him. Last week, Crikey called the police media unit who told us it was "inappropriate to comment" due to "ongoing investigations" and indicated there could be reasons to question Boljevic's version of events. We have now learned that these reasons were unrelated to the arrest.

So what happened to Drasko Boljevic? This is the account of his
arrest by his partner, Eleonor Palacio: In between 12 midday and 12.15pm,
Sunday 19 November 2006, Drasko Boljevic, my partner, was paying for a drink at Foodworks minimart, 408 Swanston Street, in front of RMIT, while his friend Oakies was inside the store. Drasko was abducted by three
bouncer-looking men dressed in casual clothes and violently taken into an
unidentifiable white van, where another five of them helped holding Drasko
down and handcuffed him with special plastic cuffs. Oakies heard some screams and went outside to see Drasko’s feet being carried into the unidentifiable van. He asked the abductors if they were policemen and they reply "get the f-ck out of here, get the f-ck out of this city". The men did not identify themselves or inform Drasko why he was being abducted. He was told to "shut the f-ck up" and that he was a "f-cking bastard" and they would "bash [him] up and smash [his] face", while violently holding his legs crossed at his back and pushing his head against the floor of the van and sitting on it.

They drove around the city for about ten minutes continuously terrorising him with this type of comments and physical force. They pulled his pants down, searched him and cut his backpack off his back. "I thought I was going to die, I could hardly breathe and I didn’t know who these people were", Drasko said later. They stopped at an alleyway behind Flinders Street Station and made him lie on the floor, with his pants still down, and look down, still shouting at him to "shut the f-ck up". Some police detectives in casual clothes arrived and identified themselves. It was not until then, about 25 minutes after his abduction, that he was informed he was arrested, no reasons for the arrest were given. They took some photos of his face, front and profile with a mobile. Then, they took him into an unidentified car and he was taken to the 412 St Kilda Road Police Station. He started being interrogated and for the first time since the abduction he was told he was arrested for assaulting a policewoman at the G20 protest on Saturday.

Drasko was not in Melbourne on Saturday, he was on his way to Malmsbury, one hour away from Melbourne, were he played the part of an "Emu" in a cabaret show at the Town Hall. Police said later that he was arrested "on the basis of his physical similarity with a suspect". At this point, about 2.00 pm it was apparent that they got the wrong person, and the Constable interrogating him told him he was about to be released, and that "if this was Croatia [he] wouldn’t be so lucky". He was finally released at 2.35pm. After getting home in a state of shock and fear, Drasko realised he had a bruising in the right eyebrow (which is likely to become a black eye) and discomfort of the neck as immediate physical consequences of the violent way he was dealt with in the van.

Drasko contacted the Ethical Performance and Standards Office, under the supervision of Senior Constable Neil Curtis (who dealt with the case in the
last instance) to inform of his physical state. They told him that "[he] should
understand that in these circumstances they [the abductors] can’t take any
risks" and that "they need to apply considerable force when dealing with violent suspects".

If we are going to give up substantial liberties - 'liberties' that should be fundamental and unquestioned, in an open democracy - we need to be very clear about the threat that has brought about such a change. That case has not even begun to be made. The situation of David Hicks is bad enough - when the Poms brought their (possibly more dodgy/guilty, choose your level of evidence) suspects home from Guantanamo, the door was open for the current 'government' to do likewise with Hicks. When they didn't, that was the final piece of evidence that our previous 'rule of law' no longer applies, that your (ie every Australian's rights depend on whether you are a friend of the government, or not. Welcome to a nice mix of feudal society with the market economy.

You - well, presumably some of you - voted for it, I hope you are enjoying it.

And just reverting momentarily to dinner and other interactions today, I learnt a whole lot about doing business. You'd think (well, at least some of you readers who know me) that I'd figured out all this stuff years ago.

Not so. Slow learner, but the journey is still worth the effort.

26 November 2006

ring(s) of fire

This article, and subsequent comments, from The Guardian are a fascinating insight into the various issues that arise when countries bid for the Olympics. For a newspaper that's generally understood to be on the left, and has been supportive of the Blair government, this is a pretty scathing summary of all the things expected to go wrong in bringing London's bid to reality.

The general accusation that the UK government has a poor history of bringing major projects in on time and on budget should be expected. Just thinking about that, it'd be a fascinating research project to try and compare some modern large infrastructure projects with earlier ones. For example, I'm sceptical about PPPs, believing that they are highly complex accounting exercises which governments routinely use to get stuff done while protecting the sacrosanct AAA ratings and budget surpluses which are part of contemporary economic dogma. However, accounting firms are better at these paper exercises, so governments have to buy in the expertise. I don't think they ever catch up. Hence, the inevitable cost blow-outs and unintended consequences that seem to accompany major infrastructure projects. But have we got that much worse over the years? Was it all much simpler in supposedly simpler times?

The view that because only London will benefit from the Games in terms of urban renewal or new facilities, then only Londoners should pay, is also run of the mill. What is facinating is to see commenters pick up the old UK vs France rivalry: the Games may cost us an arm and a leg, but they are necessary to preserve superiority over the bloody Frogs.

The suggestion that Sydney should host the Games in perpetuity because all Aussies are sports-mad is an interesting, if deeply flawed (joke) idea.

The environmental perspective, that the greenhouse costs of flying all the competitors, officials, media and spectators around the world to be part of the Games, is a relatively new angle but one that is sure to gain support.

There's been so much scrutiny of the Olympics in recent years, you'd kind of think that any concerns had been settled. However, the extraordinary amounts of money needed to stage them ensures that the argument won't go away.

25 November 2006

i got the blues

A little while ago, a friend sent me this definitive guide to knowin' whether you can sing the blues.

1) Most Blues begin, "Woke up this morning..."

2) "I got a good woman" is a bad way to begin the Blues, 'less you stick something nasty in the next line like, "I got a good woman, with the meanest face in town."

3) The Blues is simple. After you get the first line right, repeat it. Then find something that rhymes . . . sort of: "Got a good woman with the meanest face in town. Yes, I got a good woman with the meanest face in town. Got teeth like Margaret Thatcher, and she weigh 500 pound."

4) The Blues is not about choice. You stuck in a ditch--ain't no way out.

5) Blues cars: Chevys, Fords, Cadillacs and broken-down trucks. Blues don't travel in Volvos, BMWs, or Sports Utility Vehicles. Most Blues transportation is a Greyhound bus or a southbound train. Jet aircraft an' state-sponsored motor pools ain't even in the running. Walkin' plays a
major part in the blues lifestyle. So does fixin' to die.

6) Teenagers can't sing the Blues. Adults sing the Blues. In Blues "adulthood" means being old enough to get the electric chair if you shoot a man in Memphis.

7) Blues can take place in New York City but not in Hawaii or any place in Canada. Hard times in Minneapolis or Seattle is probably just clinical depression. Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City are still the best places to have the Blues. You can have the Blues in Charnwood; you cannot have the Blues in Manuka. You cannot have the Blues in any place that don't get

8) A man with male pattern baldness ain't the Blues. A woman with male pattern baldness is. Breaking your leg cause you skiing is not the Blues. Breaking your leg 'cause a alligator be chomping on it is.

9) You can't have no Blues in a office or a shopping mall. The lighting is wrong. Go outside to the parking lot or sit by the dumpster.

10) Good places for the Blues: a) Highway; b) Jailhouse; c) Empty bed; d) Bottom of a whiskey glass. Bad places for the Blues: a) The Hyatt; b) Gallery openings; c) Ivy League institutions; d) Golf courses

11) No one will believe it's the Blues if you wear a suit, 'less you happen to be a old ethnic person, and you slept in it.

12) Do you have the right to sing the Blues? Yes, if a) You older than dirt; b) You blind; c) You shot a man in Memphis; d) You can't be satisfied. No, if a) You have all your teeth; b) You were once blind but now can see; c) The man in Memphis lived; d) You have an endowment or great super fund.

13) Blues is not a matter of color. It's a matter of bad luck. Tiger Woods cannot sing the Blues. Sonny Liston could. Ugly white people also got a leg up on the Blues.

14) If you ask for water and your darlin' give you gasoline, it's the Blues. Other acceptable Blues beverages are a) Cheap wine; b) Whiskey or bourbon; c) Muddy water; d) Nasty black coffee. The following are NOT Blues beverages: a) Perrier; b) Chardonnay; c) Ocean Spray cranberry; d) Cascade sparkling apple juice.

15) If death occurs in a cheap motel or a shotgun shack, it's a Blues death. Stabbed in the back by a jealous lover is another Blues way to die. So is the electric chair, substance abuse and dying lonely on a broken down cot. You can't have a Blues death if you die during a tennis match or getting liposuction.

16) Some Blues names for women: a) Sadie; b) Big Mama; c) Bessie; d) Fat River Dumpling

17) Some Blues names for men a) Joe; b) Willie; c) Little Willie; d) Big Willie

18) Persons with names like Michelle, Amber, Debbie, and Heather can't sing the Blues no matter how many men they shoot in Memphis.

19) Make your own Blues name Starter Kit: a) Name of physical infirmity (Blind, Cripple, Lame, etc.); b) First name (see above) plus name of fruit (Lemon, Lime, Kiwi, etc.); c) Last name of President (Jefferson, Johnson, Fillmore, etc.); d) For example, Blind Lime Jefferson, Jakeleg Lemon Johnson or Cripple Kiwi Fillmore, etc. (Well, maybe not "Kiwi.")

20) I don't care how tragic your life, if you own a computer, you cannot sing the Blues.

saturday night

And I aint' got nobody? Well, actually I do. I have Mrs VVB, I have the footy on in the (distant) background, it's distant because I also have youtube. I also have had several bottles of brew no9, which was a Vic Bitter clone.

Because it was three bottles ago I forget where I started on youtube, but I got a roll on with a lot of early Linda Ronstadt. I have been a Linda fan since back in tha day. In my humble opinion, hers must be one of the best voices in pop/rock. She probably had some competition if you narrowed it to country. She always seemed effortless, particularly in the higher registers such as when she soared above the crowd in Heart of Gold. I just adore all the early stuff such as Heart Like a Wheel, Silver Threads and Golden Needles, When Will I be Loved and so on. Simple stuff but it grabs you by the heartstrings...pedal steel does that.

So that's a kind of long introduction to saying that tonight VVB is feeling particularly mellow, a Ronstadt-induced mellowness that has only been complemented by those bottles of brew no 9.

On that basis, any attempt to start analysing everything that's wrong with the world, from a Chateau VVB persepctive, is only likely to bring on some anger and depression. Given Mrs VVB's unsolicited comment about privaisation the other night, maybe there is more of a Casa VVB perspective than I have made out. Briefly, a Hacienda VVB perspective is wishy-washy left, as the blog header originally used to proclaim.

It's not that we are 'out and proud' about it, but it does seem to reflect a house view that has been informed by upbringing, education and the impact of slightly over half a century of taking it all in and processing it. The old man's conversion to red hot socialist in the mid-60s was a rare coincidence of circumstances that brought to the fore his previously relatively unformed views. By contrast, Mrs VVB's background was a family on the land, which is about as individual as you can get, short of share trading perhaps (tongue in cheek there folks).

Our current exposures to 'stuff' in the workplace would be likely to reinforce Mrs VVB's views about society's responsibility to look after the downtrodden, preferably in a coordinated way to ensure as few people as possible fall through the cracks. This would indicate a government role funded by taxes, because if reliant on indvidual effort, it's not going to happen. Mrs VVB also notes where the private sector does get involved in her particular area, it's not all that effective and the service providers are badly paid. She has drawn a link between the two.

By comparison, VVB works in a area that is highly contestable and accordingly he often wonders what difference he is making - this is not a reflection on how good he is at his job, rather a musing on the difficulty of identifying the outcome of his efforts at anything more than an 'obvious' kind of level.

By crikey that's a good brew. Not all that conducive to deep thinking though.

{There was a hiatus here while we had dinner and I invited Mrs VVB to take over the keyboard. This kind offer was declined for reasons I cannot fathom.}

Anyway the train of thought has been shunted into a siding. If the Fat Controller was to try ot get us back onto the main line, I suppose we would be saying that Maison VVB is not utterly statist, we understand how markets work and in general we like to see them working effectively. But we also have noticed that suppliers do prefer to be monopolists if they can get away with it. We have noticed that when privatisations have simply effected a change from a public to a private monopoly, it's only a few people who have gained. Airports are a very good example. Having spent 5 hours at Mascot last week, it was like being in a Westfield. Is this a good thing?

So lots of clever but quite theorteical economists in Treasuries around the country spend years working out to protect the public interest as the wave of privatisations rolled across the country. All the good work was instantly undone, in each case, as hordes of lawyers and people with a better eye to the main chance worked out how to subvert the intent in each case.

The wave was slowed a bit in the case of the Snowy Mountains Scheme and it'll be instructive to watch how management of that situation unfolds over the next few years. The theoretical economists are forever in our ears about how the world should work, but the people are starting to get a bit wary. A damn good thing.

24 November 2006

Title: a song by the Knickerbockers

It goes:

"Lies, lies,
I can't believe a thing you say,"

and this is evidenced by today's letters to the Editor in the Sydney Morning Herald, recognising those who, unlike VVB, will put their full name to their views...

So, the Cole inquiry reveals that planning for the Iraq war, that black stain on our
generation, was known by the Howard Government from early 2002 ("AWB knew Iraq
invasion plans", November 23). Not only does this show that John Howard, Alexander Downer and the rest of the cabinet were in on this, but all efforts to avoid war using diplomacy and UN weapons inspections were a charade.

We cannot undo what has been done in our names by our elected hypocrites. But we
owe the innocent dead of Iraq one thing: to get rid of these bald-faced liars at the ballot box. Kim Beazley might have a problem with prolix. He might talk too much. He might even forget the names of minor celebrities. But now, in the harsh light of the Government's duplicity, I would trust Krusty the Clown with the keys to the Lodge before I would vote for Howard.
Richard Paulin, North Ryde

Are John Howard and Alexander Downer going to ask the public to believe that an AWB manager knew 12 months before the Government that we would be in a coalition with the US to invade Iraq? That's one porky that'll take a lot of chewing to swallow.
Seth Richardson, Chippendale

So, AWB's then chairman, Trevor Flugge, knew the Government would participate in military action with the US to overthrow Saddam Hussein a year before the invasion took place, having been given unusual access to highly sensitive information. Meanwhile, John Howard was assuring Parliament and the electorate that no such plans existed. If he was lying to Australians while keeping his mates in the picture, who else knew?
Dick Harfield, Leichhardt

At least further evidence of prime ministerial duplicity still makes the front page, albeit in a small article in the bottom right-hand corner.
Ian Sanderson, Clareville

I suppose the problem is that although our UN ambassador knew in 2002 we were going to invade Iraq, no one told John Howard, Alexander Downer and Mark Vaile. The beauty of good bureaucrats: only tell the ministers what they want to know.
Selwyn Suchet,
St Ives

More evidence Mr Howard lied about Iraq. This is outrageous. Come on, everyone, we must put a stop to this at the next election. Hang on, what's that? Interest rates are going to rise? Best leave it, then. My five-year-old McMansion needs renovating.
Ross Cariola, Leichhardt

Yes, come on everyone.

23 November 2006

little things

Christian Kerr in today's Crikey opines on the futility of economic nationalism, thus:

If the bid goes ahead, the last possible, tenuous, flimsy arguments Qantas might
mount about shielding it from competition on key routes in “the national interest”. Yesterday, Mark Vaile was referring to Qantas as “Australia’s national carrier”. What the hell does that mean? Qantas is no different from any other big company listed in Australia – other than in its shamelessness in cashing in on its old status as a state-owned industry.
Competition offers lower prices to consumers. National flag carriers only offer standing to socialists or tin-pot political figures who desperately cling to anything they think is a status symbol. Like Australian pols.

But as the possible trasnfer of ownership of some of Qantas was being discussed on t'news t'night, and Costello was very seriously emphasising that the laws governing majority Australian ownership would not be changed, Mrs VVB suddenly piped up with "this privatisation has to stop", or something along these lines. Quite taken aback I was, as this is the same person who turns off the television every time I start frothing when a certain morally-challenged serial liar appears. So I'm living with a closet commie? I'll have to start pointing her in Catallaxy's direction for a dose of edumacation.

Speaking of a certain morally-challenged serial liar Michael Pascoe, also in today's Crikey, has this:

It is incredible stuff, even in the context of the extraordinary AWB saga. The
immediate inclination is to think this is one more indication that John Howard
repeatedly lied to Australia about our involvement in Iraq – but why bother
about a man who still thinks we did the right thing in Vietnam?

The immediate inclination? Oh yes indeed. And the continuing inclination also. Why bother about a man, etc etc? Well, he's the f**cking Prime Minister, for crying out loud. He serially deceives the country and we just should say "Let it be?" Is there not a single journalist in the country who'll call this lying for what it is?

17 November 2006

stop making sense

This Henry Thornton analysis of a speech by US Senator-elect Jim Webb about the unintended (?) consequences of globalisation is an interesting take on the issue of a widening gap between the rich and the poor. Where exactly should the emphasis lie?

Henry's concern is that the recent High Court decision will allow a Labor government, at some time in the future, to start meddling in the economy in an effort to negate any widening of the wealth gap. I've no doubt that should these apparent trends continue, a future - very future, I suspect - Labor government would certainly have a red-hot go, all other things being equal. Other things might include whether possible future governments in other western countries were facing similar trends and there was eventually a subsequent widespread movement against the prescriptions of
Milton Friedman (RIP), (but more to the point, his enthusiastic camp-followers in governments). Or whether Australia, (and France, presumably), became holdouts against economic rationalism (or whatever you wanted to call it).

The view here in the VVB
poorhouse is that maybe Henry should be addressing the issues raised by Webb. Surely they are the concern. Those figures - particularly the one about the top 1% of the US population now getting 16% of the nation's income, compared to 8% in 1980 - are telling.

Should we happen to put on the tinfoil hat that we keep in the attic at suburban VVB (for emergency use only, you understand), we might be induced to start thinking that the consequences of globalisation were not unforeseen at all. Rather, it was a dark conspiracy between the corporates who secretly rule us, in league with ideologically obsessed academics, to get the rationalist project up and running. Hence the invention of the 'profession' of salary consultant, who always recommend meeting the (international) market price for CEOs. Topped off with the conniving assistance of the bean counters, who manage to dream up non-performance performance hurdles for the same CEOs so that they don't have to actually do anything to get the obscene bonuses, about which we regularly read. And so on, you get the picture (if you have the hat). Globalisation is not just about trade rules, you understand. It's the whole system.

Alternatively, maybe it was just that the ideologically obsessed academics really didn't think that there would be unintended consequences of the type we seem to be seeing.

The answer is probably in the middle, as it usually turns out to be. But the data will bear watching.

don't go changin'...

For reasons that only an imaginary friend would know, the book review of Obscenity, Blasphemy, Sedition, etc etc got picked up by Crikey. That resulted in a massive boost to VVB's readerdom, which I expect to be a once-off. There's possibly a lesson wrt writing a good intro paragraph so, on that basis: "It was a dark and stormy night."

Some what more interestingly, today's Crikey contains a piece by Charles Richardson on the most recent political activities of Catch the Fire Ministries, which reads:

Some might have thought I was being unduly alarmist a few months ago when I
said that if local councils "can ban pokie venues and brothels, why not mosques
and synagogues?"

Not so. Today comes the news that "Catch the Fire" ministries, a fundamentalist
Christian umbrella group, claims to have done a deal with the Victorian Liberal
Party to ensure its support. Actually, "fundamentalist" doesn't quite do justice
to these people. They're way out on the fringe, somewhere near the Exclusive

Catch the Fire head honcho Danny Nalliah has released a pamphlet,
according to The Australian, calling on his followers to "Spot Satan's
strongholds in the areas you are living (brothels, gambling places, bottle
shops, mosque, temples – Freemasons/Buddhist/Hindu etc ...) bring it to
your church and ask your intercessors, through the pastor, to pull these
strongholds down." In the wise words of Barnaby Joyce, "This is the lunatic
Right, this is crazy, ill-informed stuff". But it's a logical extension of the
puritanism already evident among the Liberals (and even more so the minor
parties) with their campaign against poker machines.

Once you decide that certain preferences are not worthy of
consideration, and that people can't be allowed to make their own choices, then
it's open season on anyone with unpopular tastes. Today gamblers, tomorrow
Muslims. Fear of the grassroots reaction seems to have deterred the Victorian
ALP from doing another preference deal with the Assemblies of God party, Family
First. It's a pity that the Liberal Party doesn't have any comparable fear that
its members might object to getting into bed with religious extremists.

And spare a thought for the absurdity of Victoria's racial and
religious vilification laws, which allow these hate-filled bigots to parade as
defenders of free speech.

Maybe my Pollyanna-ish conclusion about little change in society's broad approaches was off the mark? Not really. Richardson, fairly accurately in my view, characterises Catch the Fire (great name for a garage band, absolute shite for a 'church') as extreme and by their policies, ye shall know them and extreme is how they present themselves. Chateau VVB doesn't believe in having a particular imgainary friend and is quite sceptical about most organised religion, based on a quick 'n dirty analysis that showed most of them to be utterly patriarchal, which seemed to be just too much of a coincidence, and a bit too interested in temporal power.

So our guess is that there's always been the extremists and, like extremes in any field of human endeavour, they never make substantial inroads. You can fool all the people some of the time, and so on.

Immediate update: just visited Catch the Fire Ministries' website when embedding the link. They seem more interested in rendering unto Caesar than most.

15 November 2006

lawyers, guns and money

The apparent resurgence in adherence to, or interest in, religion led us here at VVB to wonder about any changes in what you might call the general public attitude to the sorts of things that religious adherents seem to get exercised about. You know: obscenity, blasphemy, lewd behaviour and perhaps what consenting individuals get up to in their own bedrooms. Have there been changes and what has changed?

On father's bookshelves, amongst an eclectic miscellany, I found
Obscenity, Blasphemy, Sedition by Peter Coleman, a former Liberal State and Federal MP. As the frontispiece notes, at one stage he "found himself Chief Secretary responsible for censorship in New South Wales." He is also evidently a small 'l' liberal sort with a keen eye for hypocrisy and the sorts of antics that governments get up to when pressured by particular groups - in the cases cited, the churches, arch-conservative groups and just plain wowsers.

The book covers it subject under a number of categories: sex; blasphemers; revolutionaries (ie political intriguers and scandal. I was particularly struck by the free-wheeling nature of society in Australia in the late 1800s. Some of the examples of scandal sheets were possibly of an ilk such as we now see in publications like Who Weekly - maybe a bit more personal, being aimed at local types rather than our contemporary, overseas celebrity targets.

The book covers government responses such as straight out banning, gaoling of perpetrators as well as bureaucratic mechanisms, such as the Postmaster General withdrawing favourable rates such as applied to newspapers, essentially using an unrelated regulation to put a 'paper' out of business.

It'd be easy to have a few cheap shots here at how ultra-conservatism really hasn't changed over the years, but that's not the purpose. I was more taken by how things haven't changed - sure, we can read (and now see on TV, film and other electronic media such as games) more 'extreme' stuff, but I didn't discern too many changes in how society in the broad has responded.

Which I found somehow comforting. Wherever we're going, it's not to the dogs.

12 November 2006

love me two times

Or love you long time.

We get a lot of pharmaceutically-related spam at Chateau VVB, along with the very hottttest tips for share investments and inducements to apply for jobs for which we haven't the slightest interest, or qualifications for that matter.

But until today, we had been spared importuning Russkie slags looking for lurrve and a regular meal, not necessarily in that order I would imagine. Oh, and shitloads of vodka.

But today one Ekaterina has seen fit to importune VVB. She says she has a strong heart but is weak inside, no doubt because of a combination of not enough borscht, or perhaps potatoes, and slightly too much vodka. Anyway, it's a nicely constructed tale with just the right number of apostophes, all them located accurately, which is more than I could say for the Toyota Aurion stand at the Sydney Motor Show, where as I recall I was invited to marvel at it's (ie the Aurion's) various wonderful features.

Except that Ekaterina's marketing pitch falls at the last hurdle. For some reason, just as we're about to dial some premium number and brush up on our Russian, we get:

Would you like to know me better and to meet me? Waiting for your reply,
Ekaterina. moist deferred

I mean, it's obvious isn't it? If you are going to throw your lot in with some Russki tart with collapsing innards, the least one could expect is that she is moist now.

Sorry Ekaterina, I won't be calling.

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