Monday, October 27, 2008

Take Action

The bus I’ve been catching to work since my car blew up (sniff) was late this morning. The other passengers at my stop were also getting nervous. My last experience with public transport was Sydney’s woeful train service, where there be days when you’d wait for hours before a train would come – if at all.

Before five minutes could go by, a couple of little white Action minibuses pulled up, and the drivers called for any passengers for route 62 to hop on. No charge. “Free service,” the driver explained cheerily. I got to work more or less on time – a few minutes late, but in my workplace it wasn’t worth noticing.

I never used to have an argument with the “user pays” model. Seems fair enough: the people using the service pay to use it. Capitalism. That’s what we’re all about, isn’t it? (Shut up, you commie pinko scum.)

Some public services need to remain apart from that model, though. Some public services are there simply because they are needed, and to withdraw them on the grounds that they lose money would be unthinkable. Libraries. Medical services. More controversially, some sectors of the arts. And Action.

Action – Canberra’s one and only bus service – loses money hand over fist. Millions of dollars a year of taxpayer’s money goes down the gurgler to fund this public transport network that, arguably, is inefficient, superfluous, and as a commercial enterprise is a dismal failure.

To shut it down would be a tragedy. It’s Canberra’s only public transport, apart from taxis. If it were to go, as on purely commercial grounds it probably should, then thousands of people across Canberra would have an extremely tough time doing something as simple as getting to the shops.

Take capitalism to the extremes – as in closing down Action on economic grounds – and there are problems. Somehow, this has escaped so many of the world’s most powerful and (supposedly) well-educated economic movers and shakers. Result: economies world-wide are going in freefall, the world is probably facing a global recession, and even the most optimistic commentators acknowledge that we’re not coming out of it any time soon. Countless folk worldwide will lose their jobs. Families will suffer. Some will turn to crime. Retirees – our fastest-growing demographic segment – are either on Centrelink benefits or about to be forced to be. Others may simply suffer quietly and do whatever it takes to keep their heads above water.

I wonder how those responsible can sleep at night.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Oh, you THINK?

Gen X finds itself the ham in the sandwich
[Snip a lot of self-indulgent blather]

"Yes, I have always felt very sorry for generation X," laughs Salt.

"You've got to say the baby boomers have had it easy economically - cheap property prices by any measure and free tertiary education.

"Gen X on the other hand were faced with $20,000 HECS debts and then, when they tried to get into the property market in the 1990s the baby boomers had hiked prices up to a level where it was almost impossible to get across the line.

"And when they finally take the plunge to have kids and drop back to a single income, they're faced with this period of economic uncertainty," he said.

"It's no wonder they feel very put upon. They're the ones doing all the work, paying all the tax, copping it left right and centre," he said.

Thank you, Captain Obvious. I'd cry, cry for the future, but I wouldn't get anything done.

Good morning, internet

Well, I almost didn't need a cup of coffee.

Wall St plunges amoid global meltdown

US shares have plunged amid a wave of panic selling and a meltdown in share prices around the world on rising fears of a global recession...

"We have now reached a point where fundamentals and long-term valuation considerations do not matter any more for financial markets," said economist Nouriel Roubini at New York University.

"There is a free fall as most investors are rapidly deleveraging and we are on the verge of a a capitulation collapse," Mr Roubini said.

"What matters now is only flows - rather than stocks and fundamentals - and flows are unidirectional as everyone is selling and no one is buying as trying to buy equities is like catching a falling knife.

"There are no buyers in these dysfunctional markets, only sellers and panic is the ugly state of this destabilising game."

Yay. Time to go back to bed and bury my head under the covers.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Shield your eyes!

Taken from

Putting on my Captain Obvious hat.... yeah, there's a REASON FOR THAT.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Why we are all in big, big trouble

Because of people like this.

Let's identify the behaviours displayed:

* Smug ("He knows what's right.")
* Self-righteous and intolerant of other views ("It should be make-or-break for everybody.")
* Denying facts ("That isn't Christianity...")
* Plainly self-destructive - she is voting against her husband's interests as a worker
* Blindly foolish ("The Lord will provide.")

There are others, but I've run out of buckets to vomit into.

Yes, I personally believe this woman's faith to be misplaced. I'm not trying to make any points about that one way or another here. Most people would agree, even in principle, that it's best to do what you can to help yourself before relying upon anything or anyone else - "the Lord helps those who help themselves", even if you take away the L-word. This woman is just stupid, no matter what you believe.

Monday, October 20, 2008

...I wonder?

Is this where "poop deck" actually comes from?

At one point in the tropics Margaret Hall on the Friendship was put in irons for 'shitting between decks' rather than from the poop deck, as was required.

David Hill, 1788: the brutal truth of the First Fleet

Friday, October 17, 2008

Oh noes! The red thing is ringing!

Points if you can identify all the references.

You may call me "drug-monkey"

Or "Most Worshipful Supreme Potentate and Ultimate Omni-Authority of Benevolence and Love".

Or, more informally, "Sir".

But I will answer to "drug-monkey".

The future?

Charles Hugh Smith seems to be an interesting thinker. With no apologies whatsoever for failing to do any, even cursory, checks into who this guy is and what credibility he has (because, you know, I'm a complete professional with a wide audience), I repost here some thoughts he's had in an interview above the global economic crisis and what the world may be as a result in the next decade.

Richard Metzger: When I was reading The Fourth Turning -- a book I know that you are a fan of, too -- I felt like the authors were building up to a moment in history that is pretty much nigh upon us, a period of intense change and perhaps chaotic transformation, but one they seemed determined not to describe or speculate about in their book with any detail. When the tectonic plates move between generations, much changes. Putting on your long-range prophecy goggles, and assuming that we're coming out the other side of this mess ten years from now, what kind of a world will we have in 2018? (I cling to the hope that things will be as different in 2018 from today as the change was from 1960 to 1970).

Charles Hugh Smith: While many predict doomsday scenarios, and those are certainly possible if we go into complete denial for another decade, I suspect painful adaptations will have been made by 2018. We will have learned to get by with much less energy consumption per person and how to create distributed networks of alternative energies. The Federal government and all state governments will be essentially bankrupt and the entire culture of entitlement will have been upended by this inability to pay everyone’s medical care and pension. Self-reliance and community will replace dependence on central government. The dollar may well be replaced with a “new dollar” or superceded by a global currency based on gold or a basket of commodities of enduring value. Hopefully we will have avoided “resource wars” but if we haven’t weaned ourselves from petroleum then we may well still be engaged in a “long war” over oil resources, perhaps even involving China or Russia. If we refuse to become energy-self-sufficient then a major global conflict is not impossible in the 2017-2021 timeframe.

Richard Metzger: How will you personally live and protect yourself during the hard times?

Charles Hugh Smith: In June 2008 I wrote an essay called Art of Survival, Taoism and the Warring States which a lot of people seemed to like. Basically I plan to rely on living simply and reciprocity/generosity with my circle of friends, family and neighbors. My beliefs are counter to killing and I will depend on community for defense rather than stockpile weaponry and ammo. Many survivalists wrote me positive comments about this essay so that gives me hope that we will collectively recognize that pulling together is the best way to “take care of Number One.” 

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Most you would know that I’ve had recently some problems – to put it mildly – with my back. I won’t bore you with the detail, but for most of the last two months I’ve been semi-crippled with enormous amounts of pain and very little physical ability to do anything other than sit in my chair and swear. (This may explain the tone of some of my posts from that time… I’ll leave it to you to judge!)

Thankfully I’m coming out the other side of it now. It hasn’t gone away entirely – I will need some complicated surgery with titanium separators and bone grafts and, who knows, maybe some nanobots and a wheelie bin – but right now I’m feeling a hell of a lot better. Still taking the painkillers, because opiates opioids are not something you come off suddenly, and I am not 100% just yet. But I can see it from here.

My back may go out again. It may not. But I’ve a history of back trouble, since Lorraine had her neck surgery in 2005, so I'm thinking the odds aren't good. I’ve put my name on a waiting list for elective surgery to get the nuts and bolts installed, and will have to wait around nine to twelve months for my number to come up. If nothing’s happened by then, I’ll cancel out of it; no harm done.

Why I’m writing about this, however, is that this period of forced inactivity had more of a profound impact upon me than I would have thought. While I was incapacitated, I was hell on earth to live with. “Grouchy” doesn’t begin to cover it. Nothing was good enough, I found fault with anything, and I would voice my opinion about that, loudly, and often, until I’m quite sure that Lorraine would have happily stuck a knife into me. Quite frankly, I couldn’t say something even halfway conversational; everything I said was a criticism or direct attack, whether it was the latest Sarah Palin faux pas or the dirty dishes that had sat on the kitchen bench for, oh, all of five minutes, but that's not good enough, dammit! This place is a mess! And why is everyone else in the world a flaming idiot? And those morons in America, jeez, let’s not even talk about them, and some bastard at the petrol station cut me off, and what’s up with the bloody weather today?, and…

Yeah. It wasn’t pretty.

On my return to work, limping around with a cane, I joked that all I needed to complete my Greg House MD impersonation was another 50 IQ points and a snarky attitude. A good mate of many years’ standing looked at me and said thoughtfully, “No, I think you’re there.”

I’ve been so glad the last week or so to be able to do something – anything! – that I’ve gotten into it with a will and a smile on my face. No problem. Shovel two trailerloads of mulch because Lorraine had an idea about making over the front garden bed? Great! Let’s do it! Done! Kids playing up? Smile, sit down on the floor with them, and gently and good-humoredly get to the problem and try to fix it. Cup of tea? Yep, there you go sweetie. Do the washing up religiously. Yadda yadda and so on.

The world is sweet.

It’s only now, of course, that I realize how precious good health is, and how not being in good health can disrupt everything. I’m so glad now that we can return to condition normal that Lorraine is wondering what happened to the grouchy old man she’d found in her bed every night this year.

So, my point is this really, and only this: be grateful for your health and the good things in your life. Don’t take it for granted. Life is messy, and sometimes inconvenient, and God yes, there are more than enough idiots around, and I will not give up pointing out their foolishness and incompetance whenever warranted. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. It’s just not worth getting upset about.

Hey, I’m alive, we have a roof over our heads, there’s food on the table, we can pay the bills, and what’s more, I have two great kids and a wife who loves me despite everything. That’s all the reason that I need to be happy, every minute of every day. The rest of it can go and find someone else to piss off; I’m not playing that game any more.