31 March 2006

the human league

You know how it is when you're trying to think of something...the right word...and then while you're concentrating on something else, it pops into your head? No? It happened today in the car park - the human condition! Very simple, we all know it, but that's what I think I have been, and want to be, on about. It can be flexible enough to allow my new focus on creative writing while still allowing occasional recidivism in relation to discussing these people. And their manifest shortcomings. Such as, for example...

There have been lots of articles this week on
Workorwe'llwhipyouChoices and how it represents more regulatory overkill (hundreds of pages of regulations etc). Predictably, the outrage comes from here and here. That doesn't surprise me so much - recall how implementation of the GST - particularly the BAS - was similarly bureaucratically stuffed up to the extent that all sorts of programs had to put in place to help small business to cope. Classic bureaucratic behaviour, creating all sorts of work for more bureaucrats. But it also indicated that relevant Ministers weren't on top of their briefs and didn't understand the issues. Colour me surprised, not. The ACCI and BCA won't be happy until the statute book is put on a bonfire.

These competing claims about what the real effect of workchoicez will muddy the public perception of the legislation, even if recent polls show great antagonism. One thing you can bet on, the next election will feature lots of 'real-world' stories of the good and the bad.

As for the absolute bollocks being bandied about in relation to tax, the less said the better. The breathless announcement that the real work is being done by Treasury bureaucrats. Can you imagine Dick Warburton and Peter Hendy crouched in front their computers googling the OECD all night? Or that Treasury would ever let any report out that hadn't been through its
internal blender?

Reverting to newer themes, a nice little vignette on the human condition was played out today by a workmate for whom I have immense regard but who is quite self-effacing (except when in his
mobile loungroom). He once admitted that a former boss had told him he had no soul and that he'd allowed this to play on his mind. Today he was quite beside himself as he regaled me with the story of being told he hadn't got a particular job he'd been interviewed for but, apart from this bit of bad news, the feedback had been about all the things he did really well. The first time any supervisor had done so. We've all had 'em, and they seem to be in the majority by quite a long way? Now, why is giving someone lots of encouragement such a hard thing to do? It doesn't take anything away from the person giving the compliments, surely?

30 March 2006

I've got a brand new pair of rollerskates

Well I don't really, but that will have to do for a working title in the inconsistent theme of song titles/lyrics as post headers. Note to self - if I'm going to have a theme of of song lyrics and titles, I will need to become very, very consistent.

Yesterday's most serendipitous confluence of events still sits lightly on my heart and I have a sample - in fact I have a population - of one response that I should become a storyteller. That fits with my notion of learning to write for others and, serendipitously again, over at Larvatus Prodeo they are about to examine this very idea as part of an
examination of why people blog and how they came to do so.

That said, I want to maintain the semi-anonymity of the blog - except for all those (3) I told about it - so I'll have to choose the stories carefully. Then, tonight I ran across
this and wonder how on earth I can compete.

Then I remember - it's
not a competition.

In some people's eyes I've lived a very interesting life and done some...unusual...things. But it's all relative and I get more affected by the stories of insight, breakthrough and generosity of spirit that I read about all over the place that, superficially, might seem more everyday. I've been fortunate to have lived in some pretty exotic places and those places have provided me with the settings and characters (one day, I'll talk about how holding hands with the motor mechanics was a prerequisite for getting the office cars fixed. Yes, they were blokes - brothers in fact) for some good yarns.

But I feel that any stories I tell will need to have a point - a moral, if you like. If I get really, really good, the moral will be there for the taking but, if not, I'll have to make it evident. So tonight's very little story is contained in the comments/responses
here. It's about how people who don't even know each other can come to a realisation that the things that separate us are less...important...than the realisation of the best traits that bind us.


29 March 2006

karma karma karma come on chameleon! oi! oi! oi!

Oh yes, the gods (plural, origin indeterminate, Sharon!), are smiling on me today. My favourite would-be-RWDB-if-he-could-be-except-he's-a-thinker-and-a-decent-bloke-and-a-genuine-storyteller, Adrian the cabbie, has seen fit to include this blogpup on his blogroll.

I have arrived! Recognition! So yesterday's - was it so long ago? - decision of a blogging hiatus is hereby rescinded. Now, what shall I write about today?

Let's make it this. I have always loved
this album, dating from when we were living in Pakistan and I was watching the Australian papers when we got them, and saw Tragedy seemingly forever at the top of the charts. But you didn't get much western music in Pakistan under General Zia (the first bootleg cassette shop opened in Islamabad just before we left in 1979) so my knowledge of Bee Gees was all early stuff. Then I did a quick trip to Bangkok in May 1979 and on arrival, got one of those beaut cheap taxis (some bloke using his own car) and there was this song on the radio and I thought, "gee, that's good, who is it?" Well the ultra high voices were a giveaway and it was Spirits Having Flown, still one of my favourite tunes. Well CD sales might be falling but not, from the people I see in JB Hi-FI, among my generation as lots of old stuff make it to CD. So today I got it and I just rocked out all the way home from work.

So - thanks Adrian! And I've done something about the font.

Update: the euphoria remains but time to get back to work. Dear reader - all 3 of you - please reflect on my view last night, my response today, perhaps even the very first post I created and give me some guidance about the future of this bloglet. Because I can't keep slagging the
moral midget off in every post - it does get boring. But are the personal stories compelling enough? Can this be a place to - publicly - develop a few creative writing skills? Sorry, skillzzz.

Feedback!! I need feedback!! Consider yourselves a focus group!!

28 March 2006

aww mama, can this really be the end?

No, not really, but I've plumb run out of inspiration. On pain of divorce, I've given up shouting at the TV too. Although this little blog is barely but a pup, I'm going to leave it for a while. All suggestions - including "good idea, piss off and don't come back" - will be seriously considered.

24 March 2006

a weak end

Allow me to give you something to think about that I just ran across. Reposted without further attribution or any cross-checking except that I did read recently that Knight-Ridder newspapers are apparently relatively independent, and therefore more likely to carry stories such as this. And are being taken over.

it's good news week

It's the end a very full week, leaving me tired and empty and, distressingly, too sober to devote the energy I kind of feel I want this post to have. Suffice to say that we've had a week of intensive interface with the aged care industry that's left us with very little confidence that we can find the sort of care sought and, as a result, we have the elderly relative back amongst us, initially grateful but now back to his standard operating procedure - demanding, rude and difficult. Most of it we can swallow and put up with as it's purely age-related and arises directly from physical infirmity. However much of it is either bastardry or excessive self-absorption so the tolerance is being tested. Not easy for anyone really, but it takes it out of you.

I was going to have an extended rant about the most recent round of bastardry - as the word readily comes to mind - of our duly elected political overlords. But as increasingly occurs, that line of thought just gets me down. No! Must not give in! Must bear witness, but we'll do it in dot point form (because PowerPoint will take too long!):
  • removal of employee representative from ABC Board: well it's certainly incompatible with contemporary corporate governance practice (except in Germany) because best current practice is to stack boards with the old boys' club (private sector) or ideological bedfellows (Howard government boards). This decision just smacks of more disassembly of governance provisions to minimise democracy and maximise the power of the Howard pack of lying thieving bastards;
  • WorkHarderYouFu**ckersYouHaveNoChoices: really deep down I hope this comes back to bite that lying little fu**cker and his criminal cronies. This idea of dobbing a staff member in to the boss and getting them sacked has the potential to derail decades of progress in workplace relations and it has nothing to do with ethnic minorities, people with disabilities or aboriginal people or others. Clever workplaces with sensible bosses figure out that you implement practices to get stuff out in the open to discuss and that getting rid of people who don't fit the mould is the last resort. Howard's approach is all about mindless competition between staff to purely to drive down costs.
  • In today's AFR, John Roskam of the Institute pf Public Affairs decries government spending on R&D and, bugger me dead, approvingly quotes a paper by the Business Council of Australia. Who've have guessed it. Like a Phillip Adams or a Kevin Donnelly column, you read the byline and then bypass the article because you know exactly what you're going to get. It's a weak article that quotes GDP rates in other OECD countries and draws all the wrong (but predetermined) solutions because there's no ceteris paribus, and in the real world ceteris is very rarely paribus. I actually don't have as much of a problem as you might think with governments getting involved in funding R&D because of the risk of picking the wrong winners. But the "government should just get out of the way" line predictably being run will condemn us to more reliance on minerals, mass tourism and domestic construction which I don't see as a good idea in the longer term.
  • The Cyclone Larry aftermath has thrown up lots of unedifying TV coverage of angry people whingeing because the government didn't press cash into their hands within 24 hours. If you want an insight into the decline of western civilisation, this is where I'd be looking. Several decades of economic good times and the ceaseless expansion of credit combine to produce the "I want it all and I want it now" generation. However, let me be fair: some of the fault lies with wishy-washy 60s parents (like me) who never learnt to say no and some blame can be attributed to the pernicious effect of the creeping involvement of government in all facets of our lives, not to mention bastardisation of education system by communists seeking to undermine the Judeo-Christian work ethic. Now, am I making a little joke or am I serious? In a discussion over a beer after work today, someone spoke about relatives who'd lived in the region all their lives, when natural disasters (or phenomena as they used to be known) didn't immediately result in fund-raising appeals, massive relief efforts or similar and people relied on their own or very local resources to get back on their feet. And didn't grumble. A B Facey was quoted with approval.
Finally, I've had a song in my head for the last few days which, building on the comment immediately above, indicates I'm getting old and conservative. Arrrgh. Gram Parsons was far more Hank Williams than he was Roger McGuinn and the song is a wonderful paean in an age when being married was the goal (Beach Boys, Wouldn't it be nice: "And we could be married/ and then we'd be happy/ ahh, wouldn't it be nice"). And a bit of self-discipline ("I've got chores to keep me busy") would go a long way in Innisfail right now.

Well, that was the sort of post I had in mind and I've done it. And still, regrettably, quite sober. Bottling day tomorrow.

23 March 2006

workin' for the man

I was pleased to see a number of letters to the Editor in today's SMH also congratulating Pat and Don Brown. It's quite lump-in-the-stomach forming to read such letters and to see the support that comes from all around. No answers in such letters - usually just more questions - but they are questions that need to be asked. In my more hopeful moments I think that just asking these questions more often and by more people will help bring about change.

We sure need it -
here's another look at everything that's wrong with You ain't got no Choices you proles. It's complex, will be costly to implement that might even offset some of the savings made through firing people for no good reason, other than you'd have to pay them the proper rate, it's outrageously weighted towards the interests of capital over labour and it's based on blind ideological hatred: no analysis at all.

Don't look at me, I didn't vote for 'em.

22 March 2006

normal service will resumed shortly

Got a bit of stuff going on at the moment so I may not be getting to v v b on a regular basis. I know all 3 of you will be devastated. For today, some more snippets only.

First, how Canadians have
gone down in my estimation (shit, most Canucks I have known could drink me under the table, eh Sharon?).

Of more substance, sort of, this letter in today's SMH:

"We are self-funded retirees in our 70s. We have raised our children and now view with pride their contributions to their community and to the cause of humanity everywhere.

Since our retirement we have worked as volunteers for the Royal Blind Society, Meals on Wheels, an AIDS respite centre, bush regeneration and a library home delivery service for the housebound. We have been privileged, despite personal tragedies, to enjoy a life of respect and friendship.

Why is it, then, that viewing the evening news fills us with rage? Is it because the picture of a starving child in Darfur tortures us because we cannot provide meaningful help? Is it because the suffering of a Palestinian mother, watching food that her child desperately needs rot on the other side of an Israeli blockade, challenges our comfortable existence? Is it because thousands of our fellow humans lack even the basic infrastructure to maintain civilised life?

Or is it because of the blind belief that weapons are more important than schools, hospitals and decent housing, (government expenditure certainly suggests so)?

It is all of these things, and yet it is none of them. Our rage derives from the fact that contemporary political leadership everywhere contradicts the truths that our lives have taught us. In the times of our darkest personal tragedies we were sustained by the love of people around us, and the hundreds of acts of human kindness this involved. We have tried over the years to pass on those kindnesses. To believe that bombs, barriers and bullets, or increasing personal wealth in limited sections of the population, will have the same restorative effect, flies in the face of history.

Is there a leader anywhere in this sad world with the capability and the willingness to pursue an alternative vision and to give hope to a couple of older Australians?

And how can we, and hundreds more like us, help?

Pat and Don Brown Narrabeen"

Now that really resonates. Good on you, Pat and Don. Many of us don't know how to help.

20 March 2006

Monday Monday mundane m'bane?

I are running out of inspiration for post headings. Who cares. Today, a snippet of snippets as I can't be bothered writing proper like.

From today's (UK) Guardian, an insight into what's important in policy setting: "There were signs yesterday that the Bush administration was losing its ability to shape perception of the conflict, even among partisan Republicans." Bugger the facts, make sure those damn perceptions are straight.

From the letters to the editor in today's (Sydney) Daily Telegraph, one of the more intelligible pieces: "Maybe people here need to start overturning cars and throwing petrol bombs, like in Paris (only kidding) regarding our own work 'reforms'. We just had a meeting today where the bosses told us that when the work'choices' bill becomes law our 4 weeks annual leave will be reduced to 1 week on terms that they decide when we have the week off, and no more penalty rates or paid sick leave either. This is from a rather large corporate company too. Thankfully for me my financial situation allowed me to resign immediately and will search for a job with better conditions, if that is possible in howards new Australia 2006." I do wonder what's on offer in lieu of the previous conditions - ie does the hourly/daily rate go up? Well, don't say you weren't warned.

The best news is that the Coopers Bitter is bubbling away merrily in the 'basement', indicating that there should be a reasonable amount of drinkable brew on hand when
tomic gets here.

19 March 2006

if I were a rich man

Kevin Andrews, Spokesrobot on IR for the Get back in your place, you proles Corporation, quotes Productivity Commission research: "The Productivity Commission said in a recent report that if we continue this sort of reform in Australia that it can lead to an increase in household income of up to $22,000 for Australians." So let's just analyse that statement.

  1. "This sort of reform": what does that mean? Just IR? Or the whole Washington Consensus bag of tricks?
  2. "Up to": obvious, really. Just like the Uruguay Round was going to deliver up to $6b (yeah, that was Keating, I know, they all do it).
  3. "$22,000": everyone? Really?
  4. "Can": well, I suppose it can. It can also lead to people losing their jobs and being exploited beyond any semblance of decency.

I'm still trying to chase down the $22,000 reference within the productivity Commission website. Have also tried Andrews' own ministerial website, WorkHarderUF**ckers" website and ComLaw. Still lookin' (can't get a proper researcher when I need one!).

Sunday morning coming down

If you want good political commentary with a dose of common-sense social analysis, you can go no farther than my favourite Tory, Jeremy Clarkson. Apart from a distressing over-dependence on similes a la Peter Reuhl and Rowan Atkinson, he writes appealing, funny pieces with loads of insights into English town and country life. So, many of the cultural references go straight past, but you kind of get the point: smart-arse pseudo-intellectuals looking for sea and tree changes (and, importantly, the cash to do it very well indeed) tend to have similar interests here also (kitchen appliances as an example). Given the cash, we'd be doing it too, let me be honest.

And then, at the end of the piece, you get a short and brutal assessment of whatever car he's testing that week. If he likes it he'll say why in detail: if not, he pulls no punches, to the extent that for a while Vauxhall (GM) wouldn't give him any cars to test. What he thinks about Mercedes, which are regarded here in Oz as some kind of new rare metal, is great: he loathes them. And he owns one.

So welcome to my Sunday: the Times of London puts up a new Clarkson column about mid-morning and by golly, I'm there.

Meanwhile, in the unreal world, Premiers Rann and Lennon are back with a big swing towards in SA and a smaller one away in Tassie. Will be interesting to see the analysis and spin - were the wins on local issues (both States are witnessing something of an economic recovery although what is driving each is open for debate) or Federal (IR? Trust?). If Federal, what is the implication for Federal Labor?

Update: predictable, eh?

In beer-related news, I've just brewed batch 8: Coopers Aussie Bitter. I spent a bit of time last night on brewing chat sites which left me quite depressed: all these things you need to do for the best results, like making (?) your own yeast, stuff to add, you should really boil it up on the stove and so on. My approach to date has been to try and get a consistent result from the standard kit and process, I figure until I can do that I shouldn't try to get clever.

Brewing update: Brew 8 is bubbling away merrily. That's the first batch since no. 2 that has made the tell-tale bubble work. The secret? Using the proper o-ring, not a cheaper supermarket version. Got a good seal.

And as it seems to offend some commenters, I pointedly won't discuss the morning's leaf clean up, during which we uncovered a small brown snake just at the back of the house. He's gone now - not sure where, which will make hanging out the washing and doing the pool later a bit interesting.

18 March 2006

self explanatory

A word from our sponsorsoverlords. Enjoy. Thanks to Helen at Cast Iron Balcony.

Back in the real world, I've just bottled batch 7. It seemed very flat: I'd noticed each night as I drew a sample to test the specific gravity, that there was less froth/head. Anyway, we shall see. Going to do another batch tomorrow.

16 March 2006

No, Prime Minister

From New Matilda, via Crikey, and also picked up by Club Troppo, is this entirely depressing insight into how the Australian Government, lately renamed the Howard Government (for one of us!!), prefers to receive information, or not, as the case may be:

Michael Pascoe writes: From children overboard to AWB and all stops between, John Howard and his ministers have been accused of perfecting the art of not being told what they don't want to know. Now a former insider has spilled the beans on how it happens.In New Matilda, we're told how it's been done by Paul Barratt AO, former Deputy-Secretary or Special Trade Representative in DFAT or the Department of Trade 1977-91, Business Council executive director 1991-96, Secretary of the Department of Primary Industries and Energy 1996-98 and Secretary of the Department of Defence 1998-99.Says Barratt: "The Cole Inquiry into the AWB is partly about who knew what when and who should have known. If the Inquiry manages to shed some light on the passage of information through Ministers' offices then it will be more fortunate than the Parliament, because there is a key group of players – Ministerial advisers – who are not examinable by parliament. "Space and copyright prevent a detailed report on how ministers no longer hear what they don't want to here, but the concluding paragraphs of Barratt's piece provide a clear example of why the phrase "Westminster system" has become meaningless here. And it leaves one wondering where and if the rot might ever stop:
In late 1998 I was directed by the then Defence Minister to give him a comprehensive report on the history of the Collins Class submarine and the matters that remained to be dealt with in order to bring the submarines into naval service. It was appropriate for advice on this subject to be signed by both the Secretary of the Department and the Chief of the Defence Force (CDF).The CDF and I prepared and signed our joint advice and in early December I rang the Minister's Chief of Staff to say that I was sending it to the Minister in that morning's deliveries. I was asked not to. “Why not?” I asked."Because it mightn't be what we wanted, and if it got out that we had received it and sent it back to be changed, that could be embarrassing for everyone. Just send it over ‘informally', we'll have a look at it, and if we need any changes we will get back to you".I informed the CDF of this turn of events and said that I was not prepared to play this sort of game. As the Minister was visiting the Department in two days' time, I decided to hand it to him in person then.The day came and I did just that – handed the advice to the Minister in the presence of the CDF and the Minister's Chief of Staff. This was 16 December 1998. It is a sign of the world now occupied by some Ministers that, weeks later, on 21 January 1999, the Minister told Max Moore-Wilton that he was still waiting for the report, and an article in The Age on 7 February 1999 referred to it as something “soon due to be delivered”.
The rationalisation for this position can only be that the advice was not sent through the Department's Ministerial Correspondence Unit, and was therefore provided “informally”. So signed written advice handed from Secretary to Minister in the presence of the CDF can still leave the Minister able to say that he has not been told.

Like I said, this is just depressing and so I'm offto bed, perchance to dream.

15 March 2006

round round get around I get around

Well maybe not that much. But I caught up with an old - as in long-standing - friend today which is always a pleasure as I value his opinions immensely. Amongst many things, we discussed blog proprietorship and what it entails. I'd been thinking of doing a reflective piece about the several months of vvb so far, but I get the feeling I need to write and hone it (blue pen! blue pen!) over a period of time and then paste it to the blog.

Suffice to say that, for the moment, it's still very much a learning journey. I've learnt that you can't just spit venom about the stainless steel rodent every day if you wish to remain relatively sane. On the other hand, I feel that the more 'personal' pieces are pretty trite, unless you're really interested in models of cars I've owned, or home brewing. Or deceased cats.

I've been extremely chuffed to get comments from 'known' bloggers from the corner of the blogosphere I inhabit ideologically (although my blogroll reveals a somewhat broader view of how the world works than straight 'soft leftism'). Long-standing friend today revealed that he's been commenting anonymously on at least one other blog that I visit, so I've got to go back and see if I can pick him.

Here's another one. In my business I have often been told that we should be copying what Singapore does, given that Singapore has been so successful. I always reply that good ideas need to be transferable and Singapore, for all its similarities, is vastly different to Oz. In particular, the dominance of the People's Action Party (PAP) over parliament since 1959 enables a single-minded pursuit of economic strategies that we can never match (even under a 10 year Howard Government). The longevity of the PAP - by fair means and foul - has also resulted in cross-ownership of key infrastructure and institutions through Temasek Holdings, the Government's holding company that reinforces the adherence to economic policy and mechanisms. This extract from Asean Focus's monthly newsletter gives an accurate taste of how it works:

"That PAP will win is a forgone conclusion. No sane person will bet against the PAP winning office. The only questions are: (a) what will be the margin of victory, i.e., how many seats will the Opposition win and what will be the percentage of the popular vote captured by the PAP, and (b) will the Opposition be able to field enough candidates so that the PAP will not in effect 'win' on nomination day? In the last general election in 2001, the PAP won on nomination day when the Opposition contested in only one-third of the 84-seat Parliament. The so-called 'by-election' strategy was supposed to bring more Opposition members into Parliament but it did not work. Under this strategy, the Opposition purposely stood in less than half the seats in Parliament to ensure that the PAP would win power on nomination day. This was supposed to reassure Singaporean voters that the PAP would not be voted out of power even if the Opposition won all of its contested seats. The thinking was that the majority of Singaporeans still wanted the PAP to rule in order to ensure Singapore's economic prosperity and would not risk an 'accidental' Opposition win."

Finally, the proposal - quickly 'scotched' (yeah yeah) by the Rodent - to allow advertising on the ABC. I have to admit to more wishy-washyism here, albeit of a more (generic) conservative kind: I believe such a move would inevitably ruin what I like about the ABC. The PM's arguments that there's not enough advertising to go around bears some thinking about, but in its current guise the ABC's audience is very different from that of the commercial channels and, in some cases, more valuable (the 'A-B' demographic). What you'd get would be electronic versions of those glossy ad mags you get in the Australian and the AFR: luxury cars, outrageously expensive watches, investment advice and merchant banking (has anybody started dealing with Mac Bank since it went all retail?) holidays in exotic locations, expensive houses, and so on. Probably for a while, then as the viewer demographic changed in response, both viewership and the advertising would go downmarket. Once the ABC was more or less indistinguishable from the other channels, it'd be taken over. The power of money.

14 March 2006

in Sydeny, my home town

The Times of London remembers 2000, phonetically.

And in client-focused news, a company in Sydeny has kept my contact details and my wish list and rang up yesterday to tell me that
another model for my collection has arrived. That's customer service. It's Models Too in Clarence Street Sydeny if you've half a mind to start collecting. And he tells me the Peugeot 405 Mi16 will come out in a 1/43 scale model in the next 12 months. It's on the list. I hope they make it in red (just like in the photos).

Finally, made batch no 7 at the weekend - a straight Coopers Aussie Bitter. The tell-tale isn't bubbling (still got leakage problems, I noticed that they've changed the design of the fermenter obviate that problem) but specific gravity change indicates fermentation is a'happenin'. It's very, very, very brown. I've got a lot of empty (unbroken) bottles so will do another batch this coming weekend.

12 March 2006

another Pleasant Valley Sunday

Actually, Pleasant Valley would considerably more pleasanter if there were slightly fewer leaves in it. Or if the leaves were stuck to the trees, particularly the trees in the immediate vicinity - say 200 kilometres or thereabouts - of the pool. Anyway, in between collecting and disposing of said leaves, I've had a little time to spend on the internets, which yielded these:

  1. The parallel one can draw with Australia is uncanny - when actually, it shouldn't be. Governments in power for too long with too much autonomy (a.k.a. the 'mandate') and a particularly strong leader. Blair's been on the nose for a while in the UK while the stainless steel rodent goes from strength to strength. But eventually even those who will not see have to acknowledge what's being done 'in their name'.
  2. and while this one is hilarious, just count how many of the stories have to do with exaggerated concepts of individual rights and utter lack of recognition that fellow citizens might have any rights at all.

09 March 2006

oh baby it's a wild world

It's always kind of...comforting?..to run across an article that more or less reflects what you believe but manages to say it so much better. Such is the case with this piece in the Times of London on globalisation. I've done just enough trade policy work and studied just enough economics to recognise the benefits that trade brings. However, the most recent trade mania - dating from the fall of the Berlin Wall perhaps - has been accompanied by outrageous claims about the gains and precious little about the inevitable costs.

I used to read reams of this sort of stuff, written by my fellow trade toilers, which would always conclude with a single throw-away line, "there will be some adjustment costs". The "adjustment costs" so fleetingly referred to by someone in comfortable secure employment usually meant the jobs of those with no skills to easily pick up new employment. I thought about men, women, families, homes, children and pride. I thought about lives shattered and dreams obliterated. I also thought about my own comfortable, secure employment.

"Adjustment costs". Well this makes me a wringing wet latte luvvie, but the ease with which someone else's whole life can be dismissed is wrong, wrong, wrong. And don't think it can't come back to bite.

Later that week: Crikey.com.au catches up with venividblogi: "Will globalisation turn out to be another concept that has been mis-sold to the same old group of decent, unremarkable people whom you never hear about until they get shafted by a system they trusted?" asks Camilla Cavendish in The Times (UK) – because the globalised economic models sold to us aren't working as well as we were told. As previously forgotten countries like India and China grow to become full of intelligent, well-educated global citizens, mixed with a growing underclass, "the stage is set for an ugly clash within countries, as well as between them." Economists need to ask some hard questions, because at the moment "our political discourse seems strangely complacent."

08 March 2006

it's a hard (right) rain's gonna fall

Des Moore, Director of the Institute for Private Enterprise, is on TV rabbitting on in the background in support of Nick Minchin's (inadvertent?) disclosure that the Federal Government, popularly known as the Howard Government (for all of us!!!) should be pursuing further labour market 'reform' in pursuit of labour market 'flexibility'. Moore's CV on the IPE's website reads:

"Director Des Moore has had considerable experience and training in analysing economic issues. After graduating in law from Melbourne University, Australia, and in economics from the London School of Economics, he worked for 28 years in the Commonwealth Treasury, including five years as one of three Deputy Secretaries.
During his time in Treasury, Des headed most of the main policy areas. In 1987 he resigned from Treasury because of his concern that the macro-economic policies being pursued by the Federal Labor Government would likely lead to recession. During the following nine years spent as Senior Fellow of the Economic Policy Unit at the Institute of Public Affairs he published and commented on a wide range of economic policy issues. A list of all publications by Des since he left Treasury is included on this site."

There's not a lot in that CV to indicate that Mr Moore has the slightest clue what an unskilled or semi-skilled worker would do to negotiate, on his or her own, greater ' flexibility' with the boss. He could probably claim a win on the recession forecast, though (without going into cause and effect, external factors, etc).

Quite possibly Mr Moore has other life experience that helps to fill in such an....obvious?....gap. Particularly for someone presumably paid quite handsomely to provide advice to
people who have no greater aim in life than than to run unions into the ground and maximise the opportunities for capital to extract greater returns.

Now the
stainless steel rodent has denied that this is the Plan, so we know what weight to give that.

The current (is new) IR legislation is barely in place and so is quite untested. No data to indicate that any further changes are needed or what any unintended consequences of WorkChoices might be (oh, stone the flamin' crows, of course they're intended...I must be losing it!). So it's now plain...to all of us?????? .. that it's ideological?

So what is Labor doing? We're doomed, I tells ya.

Update: "We won't be taking further major proposals in that area to the next election". Given Howard's propensity to speak 'carefully', I would interpret this to mean that they'll be doing it before the next election - or after, without making it a specific 'promise' - whatever that might mean. We don't need no stinkin' mandate no more.

07 March 2006

take me back 'ome

Just got back from our sunny National Capital. First 'business' trip in utter yonks. They still stink, actually. Caught up with (read - had several thousand beers with) child no 1 and I can still flog him at pool. Child no 2 collected me at the airport which was mightily appreciated: it wasn't long into the journey that she was punching me even though we weren't playing punch buggy so I knew I was home.

In between actually doing some work I spent a couple of happy hours auditioning hi-fi gear: NAD amp and Paradigm and Monitor Audio speakers. I've had Monitor Audios in the past and liked them, but on this comparison (Paradigm 7's vs MA Silver 6's) the Paradigms came out way ahead to my ears - as the bloke in the shop pointed out, a better rock speaker. So the momentum towards new gear is growing. A few more weeks/months of auditioning and we'll be there. Then all I'll need to do is evict the rest of the family from the lounge room so I can listen.

I was going to do a post on Ian McFarlane's comment, reported in today's Australian, about how Asian countries should be running deficits like the US and Australia to keep "global propserity ticking along". He thought that those countries' preference for saving stemmed from the 1997 Asian economic crisis. I thought it went back way longer - in other words, I had always thought it was deeply cultural, like their preference for investing in education for their children - but a very quick Google seemed to support his view. This was disappointing (but I still think I'm closer to it).

03 March 2006

a question of balance

Those of you looking to read about the Moody Blues, stop now, you will only be disappointed..

No, this is about economics and the difficulty I continually experience in figuring out where I stand on the spectrum. I get utterly riled about outrageous CEO salaries,
industry special pleading, privatisation as the sine qua non of economic management and the marketisation of absolutely everything. I think arguments about markets always delivering the best outcomes because they allocate to the "highest and best use" fall way short of comprehensive analysis. I get awfully annoyed about the unholy alliance of Treasuries, market/securities analysts, ratings agencies and sympathetic journalists who all support Washington Consensus economic policies. This alliance is dangerous for democracy and public well being. I particularly oppose policies that treat people as inputs.

On the other hand, I understand that governments cannot throw money at very 'deserving' cause, that the price mechanism is an effective allocator of resources and, in general, intense competition works very well in ensuring consumer choice.

But I loathe excessive choice for choices' sake - insurance, health, phone plans etc are good examples - where governments intervene to bolster choice while the companies go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that you can't easily compare offerings.

When I do on-line quizzes I generally end up labelled as fairly pro-market, for want of a better term and my approach to my work more or less reflects such a preference.

As with all things, I suppose, the answer lies in the middle and maybe what really upsets me is that there seems to be an acceptance that because the economic reforms over the last two decades have delivered generally good outcomes, we simply need to keep going. But, in contrast to a bloke I once worked for, I believe that all such gains are not cost free. Holding back progress is one thing: inadequately recognising and compensating those adversely affected is another, and often gets lost in the euphoria about the supposed benefits. Which leads in turn to inflated claims: recall the billions that the Uruguay Round was going to deliver, and then the same types of claims were made for the USFTA. And it's all crap - the answer depends on the inputs (and in these two cases the inputs reflected the wishlist, not the actual outcome).

All of which is bad for democracy. Which assumes we still live in one. Have a good weekend, folks.

02 March 2006

Friday catblogging

A day late, I've just turned the calendar over the computer desk to March and, as the calendar is of Abyssinians, there's another heartbreakingly beautiful photo of these delightful creatures. We've had two - both got skittled by cars and so no more Aby pusses for us until we live in a quieter street. Here's a picture of the first one, Baxter, not long after we got him - he's about 3 months old in this photo. He was killed at 7 months.

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