Thursday, December 30, 2010

Well, this seems legitimate

Imagine you're the president of one of the former member states of the USSR and under your newish democratic system are meant to be having an election soon. What do you do?

You could take a page out of the President of Kazakhstan's book and decide not to hold not just one, but the next two Presidential elections. The fact that his party controls the entire parliament makes this a bit easier, although they are going to go ahead with a referendum on the issue, just to make it look like things are on the up and up.

Supporters of the plan say they are sure that they people trust the president, but if that is the case why don't they trust the people to vote for him in an election. They also say it will bring stability, but if the people want stability then they can vote for it at an election. These aren't really reasons for doing an end run around the constitution.

The idea of holding a referendum on this is an interesting twist, making it easier to say that this avoidance of electoral scrutiny is the will of the people. But even if the people like him now, are they going to like him when he's still president in 2020 and hasn't had to go to the polls for 9 years?

Even if it is the will of the people that Mr Nazarbayev remains president until 2020, they can bring this about without having to short circuit their electoral system. Doing it this way just makes the government of Kazakhstan look corrupt and illegitimate, which might be a price it is willing to pay, but it will cost the people even more.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Back on the Bike

So after a long intermission due to breaking my leg, I have finally resumed riding my motorbike. My friends who had been looking after it for me brought it back to me last week. My first ride was sooner than I intended, but when I missed the bus on Friday I figured it was a better option than catching a taxi. I got into work all right, and decided to park in the car park attached to the building I work in. On the way out I learned that when they got rid of the car park attendants it meant they got rid of the cheap parking for bikes, so instead of paying $4 for the day, I paid $8. Still, cheaper than a taxi.

Sunday was when I was planning to get back on the bike. My friends who had been looking after the bike are members of a motorcycle club, and the club was having an open ride to which they invited me along. The ride started somewhere south of the river (I forget the name of the suburb), and we started out riding along the highway to a small town whose name began with a C I think, where we stopped for morning tea/coffee/beer as per people's preference and legal options. Then we went along the back roads to Wyvenhoe Dam. This really highlighted the advantages of a large engine, as at times I was going full throttle and still falling behind the main group. Riding across the dam was interesting as on the right you. Had dry land down below you while on the right the water was unnaturally high up. We had a BBQ lunch in the park near the dam, which gave everyone a chance to chat with each other. After lunch the Brisbanite contingent headed home via Mt Glorious, where I again fell behind the pack and took my time getting up and over the mountain. I spent most of the way up in third and fourth gear, on occasions getting into fifth and once or twice dropping down to second. A final gathering occurred at the petrol station on the other side of the mountain (I was only a few kilometers from having to use my reserve tank by this stage), and then everyone parted ways. I did about 250 kilometers and all in all it was a rather pleasant way to spend a day. I will try and remember to put sunscreen on my neck next time.

Overall getting back on the bike has not been too bad. I'm not entirely gracefully getting on and off yet as I don't have the full flexibility in my knee that I used to yet, and after riding for a while my knee gets a bit sore and stiff (but that also happens if I sit at a desk for too long or walk too far, so that's life really). I am a little bit paranoid about things happening on the right hand side of me and am a little rusty, but that will go away as I get back into things. I think I'll wait a bit longer before regularly commuting with the bike, as the free off street parking has been relocated due to the old location now being a bicycle hire stand and the new location is a bit further away from work and doesn't look to be the flattest walk (downhill slopes are still annoying to walk down)

Group photo of the riders taken at the dam

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Green Banking

So the Green's have introduced a bill into parliament intended to put the banks in their place. Or so you might have thought if you just heard the sound bites about forcing the banks to limit changes on home loan interest rates to changes in the Reserve Bank's cash rate. Careful listening actually shows that that idea has yet to be put to parliament.

So, what does the current bill do? Well, it does three things, and I'm not sure how well it achieves what it's intending to do.

Part one says that the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) has to introduce a new regulation on banks requiring them to offer a bank account with a minimum set of features with no regular fees, and any fees for certain actions have to be submitted to APRA for approval before they can be applied. No guidelines on what APRA can approve are included other than that the fees should be based on the bank's actual costs. No fees can be charged for withdrawals from the banks own ATMs, and fees for using another banks ATMs should be limited to the actual costs.

The one feature that is required which isn't a default feature now is the ability to access funds using a credit facility. This means every account would have a visa debit like feature (I'm sure mastercard also does this), which I don't think is something everyone needs.

I think most banks already offer accounts like this to people who aren't regular working folks such as students and retirees and such, so the only major impact would be reduced ATM fees and a bunch of bank pamphlets needing reprinting.

Part two requires all banks to offer a fixed interest gap mortgage product. This might sound like a good idea, but given the way the law is written, I can't see it working the way people think it will. The bill says each bank must submit to and get approval from APRA for a formula for calculating the base rate which reflects their cost of borrowing funds, and details on how frequently they will update the base rate. So far so good, but already I can tell you that the banks will likely update the base rate more frequently than people think and it will be much more complicated than base rate = Reserve Bank rate + a bit. The other part of a fixed interest gap mortgage is the fixed interest gap. This is a constant forth length of the mortgage but is negotiated between the bank and the borrower when the loan is originated. No limit is placed on the size of the fixed interest gap so if the banks really want to kill it off a good combination of funky base rate formula plus a huge fixed interest gap will mean no one will actually get one of these.

Part three deals with mortgage exit fees. It requires the banks to submit to and get approval from APRA for a formula linking exit fees to the actual costs involved. Again no guidelines are given to APRA on what should be approved or not, so the only thing holding banks back from something like exit fee = 5 x costs is the requirement that this formula be explained in the marketing material for the mortgage, but I'm sure the banks will manage some obfuscation of what they actually charge.

So we have a requirement for banks to offer a product that they can make as undesirable as they want, another product that they already pretty much offer to a lot of people, and some rules requiring banks get approval of the fees they charge with no clear guidelines on what will be approved or not except for a vague suggestion it be related to the actual costs the banks incur. This could have been a much tougher bill, but that would be a lot tougher to get passed, and then the Greens would have to console themselves to another bill that went nowhere. With this the Greens get to say that they're tough on banks despite the fact that there's more bark than bite.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Abbott and Reform

Recently Tony Abbott gave the 2010 Alfred Deakin speech which was on the topic of reform. As is perhaps to be expected, he used the opportunity to take a swipe at the governments policies without offering much by way of an alternative. Along the way he criticized the NBN, the mining tax, the recent proposed changes to health care funding and carbon pricing, saying none of these are true reform but mere Labor power grabbing at the peoples expense.

I can't say that I agree with his analysis of these subjects. The NBN is an investment in infrastructure that I think will be of much more benefit than could be initially estimated, just as someone trying to estimate the value of building the telephone network decades ago would have failed to consider all the value derived from things utilizing that infrastructure such as faxes, DSL internet and more. I also believe that the NBN is one of those infrastructure systems where having a non commercial standardized underlying system that everyone has access to equally is a good thing. Roads are another example of such a system.

The mining tax, while terribly introduced by the Rudd government is something that to me seems eminently rational. Mining companies dig up minerals from land that is held by the government in trust for all of Australia, so it is only right that they pay the Australian people for what they take. And while the government was suggesting taking a 40% cut, they were also going to take a 40% cut of any losses. And while you may want to haggle over the exact amount, the principle is sound.

Tony also suggests that he is for a market based solution to reducing carbon emissions, and yet opposes introducing a carbon price. I can only ask how can you have a market without a price?

I haven't got anything to say on the matter of health care as I don't know much about the most recent proposals, but my recent time in hospital has made me even more supportive of public health car for all in general.

As an alternative to Labor's "reforms", Tony harkens back to the Howard days for some of his own examples of "reform". Work for the dole, while a good idea, is hardly what I'd call reform. More of a tweak really. And while helping disabled people to live independently is a good thing, doing so by cutting their welfare to drive them into the workforce is hardly the best way to achieve that goal. The only example of reform that wasn't Tony resting on his laurels was a suggestion to raise the tax free threshold to $25,000 and then have a single tax bracket from there's to $180,000, but that comes from the Henry review, which was started by the Rudd government.

Tony also said that in a hung parliament the opposition has an even greater responsibility to not just be the opposition, but to be a credible government in waiting, with viable policies of its own. Based on this I'd say the Coalition has a long way to go yet.

And So It Begins

Sarah Palin has announced that she will run for president in 2012, "if there is no one else to do it." Now that the cat is out the bag, I don't think there's any chance she won't try to become the Republican candidate regardless of who else may put their name forward for the job, regardless of how much more better suited to be president they are.

Since Palin was plucked out of Alaskan obscurity by the McCain campaign she has undoubtedly done well for herself, with spots on Fox, a huge book deal, a documentary series, and so forth. However, while all this may have built up her popularity, she hasn't really shown herself any more suitable to high office than she did while running for VP, and that wasn't really all that good a showing, all things considered.

Across a wide swathe of issues, Palin has come across as lacking in the statesmanship field. Inciting hysteria by dreaming up death panels that didn't exist in the health care bill, provoking hostility to the builders of the Islamic cultural centre in New York, using inflammatory language and encouraging people to reload and take aim at Democrats, and much more paint a picture of someone who is catering to a narrow section of society, and does not particularly care for or respect the rest of it.

Besides for increasing her popularity and her bank balance (both essential nowadays for a wannabe president), she hasn't made much progress on other things necessary to being a good
president. She resigned as governor of Alaska halfway through her term, showing a lack of commitment to the responsibility the voters had entrusted her with, she still hasn't built up any experience with foreign affairs (support our troops is about the closest I've seen from her on foreign affairs, and that's more patriotic jingoism than thought out foreign policy), and policy positions that are a mix of opposing anything the democrats suggest and populist slogans with no thought as to the implications beyond the fact that it rates well now.

I'm not sure I want Palin to run, because although I think if she ran Obama would be a shoe in for reelection, I think it would be better for America if the voters had a choice between two people who would be a good president.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Black and White Cabs invoke my Wrath

Black and White cabs did not make me a happy chappy this morning. So far, I've been using them when I needed to call a cab because their number is easier to remember, but from now I'm going to take the effort to remember the other cab companies number.

I've been catching taxis to work since the buses in the morning are 1) crowded, and 2) really inconveniently timed for the shifts I've got at the moment. And since I'm still getting about on crutches, when I call up, I ask them to get the driver to drive into the yard, as I go down the back stairs. So far, this has about a 30% success rate of actually getting the driver to come into the yard, but so long as they at least park on the driveway I can get around to the driver's side to get in (getting in this side lets me sit with my injured leg on the seat, and I'm not sure I can bend the leg enough yet to get in the front seat).

This morning the cab pulls out in front of the house, and the driver got out and called to me from the gate that he can't get his car into the yard (I'm not sure if he's got some randomly variable width car or something, or he's just scared that a few leafs might ruin his pretty cab). Anyway, I'm wasn't too upset, as I can actually walk out to where the cab is. I do so, and when I get there I ask the driver if he can back the car into the driveway because I have to get in on his side of the car. I asked this because he had parked on the street, and to get in on the drivers side I'd have to hobble onto a reasonably busy road to get into the taxi.

The driver however simply reverses the cab back parallel with the curb, in no way solving the problem of me not wanting to hobble on a busy road. So I gestured to him to show that he should back into the driveway. I'm not sure what went through the driver's mind at this point, but his next action was to jam the cab into gear and drive off at a quite rapid pace.

I wasn't too impressed. My mind briefly toyed with the notion that he might have been going to the roundabout up ahead to do a uturn to get a better turn into the driveway, but that was soon proved false.

And so Black and White Cabs has invoked my wrath. This is perhaps painting a broad brush, as I have had a few good drivers along the way, and a few less than good ones, but this was just ridiculous (the guy who parked out the front where I couldn't see or get to him and caused me to be late at work is another stand out example). I really don't think it's too much to ask that a cab driver give a bit of consideration to a guy on crutches.

As an epilogue, after an angry call to Black and White cabs demanding another taxi, and after waiting I called Yellow cabs who got a taxi to me in a few minutes with driver who was willing to back into the driver so that I could get in the car without risking being on the road, and even was going to open the door for me before I told him I could do it myself.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Blatently False Headlines

So a news story turned up today with the headline "Pi record smashed as team finds two-quadrillionth digit" which I was naturally interested in. This new digit of Pi was found by means of some clever method of computing digits separately, which is kind of interesting. But then I got to the meat of the issue, what was the two-quadrillionth digit of Pi. It turns out that it is a 0, in binary.

In binary? Really? If we're doing it in binary you've got a fifty fifty chance of getting it bloody right. But that's not my major complaint against doing it in binary. My gripe is with claiming this is the two-quadrillionth digit of Pi. When I count digits of Pi I count decimal digits after the decimal point (the three is too easy and doesn't count). Pi to five digits is 3.14159. In binary the same number is 11.001001000011111 which is just a tad longer, and could have been much longer (my first run to calculate the binary value of 3.14159 got to over 350000 digits before I killed it for taking to long. I then decided to limit it to 15 digits for this example). My point is that calculating a bunch of binary digits is really easy and doesn't match what we normally consider the number of digits in a number. So calling this the two-quadrillionth digit of Pi is a bit of an exaggeration. In fact, I'd call it a bit of bullshit.

Sunday, August 01, 2010


So while browsing through my regular source of torrents, something new popped up that looked interesting. A new show called "Sherlock". A quick wiki check showed that the Sherlock involved was indeed Sherlock Holmes, but that rather than being set in Victorian London, it would be set in the modern day. The wiki page also revealed that one of the driving forces behind the series (although so far there's only three being produced) is Steven Moffat, whose work I have consistently enjoyed (Coupling is hilarious, and season 5 of the new Doctor Who was amazing). So I acquired the first episode and had a watch.

It was a very good show. Martin Freeman (Tim from the British UK and Arthur Dent from the Hitchhikers movie) is an excellent Watson, and while I'm not familiar with the actor who plays Holmes, he looks a bit like Neil Gaiman and portrays Holmes quite well. Not exactly the tall guy in a deer stalker of tradition, but this is the 21st century. The characters are updated to better fit the modern world. Watson is still an injured veteran from the war in Afghanistan, but now has a therapist who encourages him to write a blog to help him ease back into civilian life. Holmes is up to date with modern technology, but still as quick at making deductions, which is presented in an interesting way that doesn't necessarily give everything away.

The story is well written, and as the title A Study in Pink suggests, it does play off the first Holmes story A Study in Scarlett, in which the characters first meet, although the crime at the heart of the story is different. The music reminds me a lot of the music from the Robert Downey Jr Sherlock Holmes movie, which makes me wonder if both were taking their inspiration from an older Holmes movie or show.

All in all it was an excellent show, and I'm looking forward to when the next one comes out.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Those Wacky Catholics

So I'm sure we're all aware of the recent public relations fiasco the Catholic church has been suffering through recently. To deal with this they've updated canon law to make it slightly easier to fire a priest who gets caught doing things they shouldn't.

Not being one to kill just one bird with one stone, the Catholic church decided to make a few more updates to the canon law while they were at it. The other big thing they updated was the treatment of those who dare to ordain a woman.

Now of the two, guess which one of these is considered worse. The ordaining of women is now considered a "grave sin". And abusing children is a "grave sin". Now I'm sure there must be some sort of theological argument based on scripture and church doctrine but I don't see it, and I really don't think I'd see it if the pope himself visited to explain it to me. The church is over reacting on one issue and under reacting on the other

I Say Nepo You Say Tism

Tajikistan's national broadcaster has a new newscaster. And I'm sure despite the fact that she's only sixteen she'll be great. Obviously she must have tons of experience and have really impressed whoever was making the appointment. I mean the fact that her dad is the President surely can't have affected her appointment. And I'm sure her sister the deputy foreign minister got her job on merit as well.

I don't think I believe this

So apparently one of the UK's new conservative MPs got a bit wasted at a late night sitting of parliament recently. Apparently he was so drunk he was unable to vote. This seems a rather impressive feat, as voting is not exactly all that difficult to do, especially when you have a bunch of people around you telling you when to stick your hand up to be counted, or however they do it in the UK parliament.

The really good part of the story though is the guy's name. Mark Reckless. Who on earth gives responsibility to someone named Reckless. It's just asking for trouble.

Friday, July 02, 2010

A Note on the Australian Constitution

One of the byproducts of the transition from having Kevin Rudd as PM to Julia Gillard has been a bunch of people who think we live in America complaining that the whole process was undemocratic and not what they voted for. They say that they voted for Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister, and not Julia Gillard.

On this they are wrong. None of the voted for Kevin Rudd to be Prime Minister. Most of them didn't vote for Kevin Rudd for anything (I happen to be registered in his electorate, but he didn't get my first preference (I think he would have been around second or third depending on what other parties were running)). They voted for a member to represent their electorate.

They should take a closer look at the Australian constitution. And then they could tell me which part of it says we get to vote for a Prime Minister. In fact, if they can find anything about there being a Prime Minister I'll be surprised.

Back when they were setting up the federal government in the late 19th century, and they cribbed a lot of stuff of the British, including the concept of the Prime Minister, who was basically the member of parliament who had the most support from the other members of parliament. If the PM loses the support of parliament, he loses the job.

And that's what happened here. By losing the support of his party, Kevin Rudd effectively lost the support of parliament as a whole. And while technically he did not have to stand down as soon as it was apparent he had lost that support, by doing so he avoided a lot of messy parliamentary procedure that would have had the same end result.

This is all a well accepted part of the Westminster system. The government we have today is the same government we had before and is the one we elected. While you can definitely question the motivation of the Labor party (the support of the party has gone to the person they think will give them the best chance of being reelected, which is not necessarily the same thing as who will be the best leader of the country) in making this change, what they have done is in no one unprecedented, or even unexpected. Keating did the same thing to Hawke, and Costello should have done it to Howard.

So, in conclusion, let us welcome our new red-headed PM, and hope she does right by the country, even if she has missed an early opportunity to get rid of Senator Stephen "Internet Filter" Conroy.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

EsonLinji and the Chiropractor

Three weeks ago I endured a rather severe tension headache which kept me off work for two days. Although it was a lot better on the second day, I still went to the doctor on the second day, mainly to get a medical certificate for the second day (while work allows me two of my ten sick days without a medical certificate, I want to save those for something vaguer). However the doctor I saw on the second day told me I should visit a chiropractor for some further assistance.

Now I was somewhat less than enthusiastic about this suggestion. In the Simon Singh vs the Chiropractors of Britain, I was on the side of Simon Singh. I have advised family members not to visit chiropractors on the basis of the unverified claims that chiropractors make. When I admitted to my sister I was going to see the chiropractor she burst out laughing.

A few factors got me over my distrust. The first was the fact that it was a regular doctor who had recommended it, so the chiropractor was riding on his credibility. Second was that the letter of recommendation was addressed to someone with the title doctor. I assumed that this indicated that the person had some non chiropractic medical qualifications and had simply branched out into chiropracty. Finally, about the only area chiropractors treatments may be of use is for spinal conditions, which is what the GP suggested was the problem.

So about a week later I turned up at the chiropractor. Actually I first turned up across the road at the medical centre which was a lot more obvious and professional looking. Only after not finding the chiropractor on the building directory I looked around and saw the chiropractors office. It was a slightly worn down old house with a sign out front. I walked in and introduced myself. while signing in, I asked if the person I was seeing was an actual doctor and was informed that they were in fact a doctor of chiropractic. This was less than reassuring. The all natural massage oil didn't feel very clinical either.

After waiting for a little while, I was ushered into the main room. On the wall were two posters. One was of a nice landscape with some platitude about chiropracty and overall health. The other more worrying one was of a bunch of sesame st style puppets with a kid getting some sort of treatment by a puppet chiropractor. This I did not like.

The chiropractor was a bit late, and after a quick read of the letter from the GP, had a look at my back. After a few different twists of my neck to see where the problem may be. After this was what was essentially a back massage. The only thing different was that she also had a mini jackhammer doohickey she used to apply pressure to different places.

My back felt a bit better afterwards, but in much the same way it feels better after any massage. My skepticism about the whole endeavour remains, and I won't be going to the follow up session the chiropractor suggested. In fact she suggested regular sessions, which at 50 bucks per 15 minutes is a lot more expensive than a massage.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


On Last Thursday's Colbert Report the guest was Alan Bean, the fourth man to walk on the moon. The interview was about his art based on his experience as an astronaut. Mostly it was all ok, but one thing that came out during the interview just shocked me.

Alan wanted to include something of the moon in his painting, and had asked NASA for some moon dust to mix in with his paints, but they said no. So what he ended up doing was cutting up the American flag patch from his uniform which was clogged with dust from the moon. My reaction was immediate and physical.

The idea of mixing up moon dust with the paint is pretty cool, but cutting up the patch like that is just wrong. It's something precious and rare and meaningful and important. It would be like using bricks from the Colosseum to build a snack stand nearby.

All I can say is NASA, you can stop this. Give the man some god damn moon dust now.

Bookfest Acquisitions

Yesterday was the start of this years bookfest, and like any cheap bibliophile, I went along to see what I could find. I came out with a rather mixed bunch of different things that caught my interest as I scanned the many tables filled with books. In no particular order (well, the order I pull them out of the bag) they are

The Bachelor Home Companion by P.J. ORourke ($2.50). I mainly picked this up because P.J. O'Rourke is a common guest Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, an NPR Radio show I listen to as a podcast.

The Magic Goes Away by Larry Niven ($2.50). Niven is a big name that I haven't read anything by, so I thought I should change that.

Rising Son by S.D. Perry ($3.50). A Deep Space Nine novel set after the series focusing on Jake Sisko. Deep Space Nine has a good share of the good Star Trek novels, although I may be biased as I think Deep Space Nine was the best of the Star Trek series.

Battlestar Galactica 11: The Nightmare Machine Glen A Larson and Robert Thurston ($2.50). A novel that follows on from the old Battlestar Galactica, this will probably suffer from being no 11 in a series I haven't read and not living up to the new series.

The Fortress of the Pearl by Michael Moorcock ($3.00). Moorcock is another big name in fantasy that I've not read anything of. My recognition of the name was enhanced by a piece in Neil Gaiman's "Smoke and Mirrors" called "One Life, Furnished in Early Moorcock". I've just noticed that it is the 7th in a series, so I may have to visit the library soon if it turns out to be good.

A Dagg At My Table by John Clarke ($3.50). A collection of stuff written by John Clarke, whom I know best for The Games, but he's been doing a lot for a long time. Since I've yet to come across anything by him I haven't liked, it was an easy pick.

That's all from the priced section. The rest are from the unpriced section, where at the checkout they have some rectangles of various sizes drawn up, and the price of the book is determined by which rectangle it fits in.

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. I'm pretty sure Nethack quotes this in the entry for Unicorns, and I think nearly anything quoted by Nethack is worth a look (I say anything because it does quote the bible).

Laying Down the Law 4th Ed. Morris, Cook, Creyke, Geddes, Holloway. This was purchases as something to look at in line with the finance course I'm doing as regulation is a part of what gets studied.

So Sue Me by John O'Grady. An Australian humourist from a few decades back whose work is always enjoyable.

Gone Gougin' By Nino Culotta. Actually by John O'Grady this book is the third sequel to "Their a Weird Mob".

Australian Corporations Legislation 2004. Another finance course inspired purchase. Admittedly it's a little out of date. The contents include such hits as Corporations Act 2001, Australian Securities and Investments Commission Act 2001
Corporations (Fees) Act 2001, Corporations Regulations (2001), an extract from the Acts Interpretation Act 1901, and more. The physically biggest item by a good margin.

An Introduction to Australian Foreign Policy by J.A. Camilleri. Well out of date having been published in 1973, was purchased out of desire to know more of Australian politics.

The Penguin Dictionary of Quotations. Although missing all of the pop culture stuff I've filled my head with (I can identify an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer from nearly any 30 second scene), it should be an interesting reference piece.

How to Lie with Statistics by Darrell Huff. The title says it all I think.

Even Gods Err Book One by F.A. Gourley. I believe the Author and Von Daniken would have gotten along well. I bought this mainly as a debunking exercise and to protect the more vulnerable from it.

How To Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carneggie. A book everybody has heard of, picked up under the nagging thought at the back of the head that I do need to improve my social interaction skills. The true test will be to see if I actually read it or not.

And there ends the list. I'll also mention another recent acquisition picked up at the weekend markets in the Valley, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. So far it's interesting, but not as informative on zen or motorcycle maintenance as I'd expected, although I've still got a way to go.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Please and Keys

Near the place I live there's a church with a sign out front on which they put up various sayings about life that range from cute and pointless to subtle attempts to convert. As you might expect I tend to disagree with the things they put up, or agree for what they might consider the wrong reasons.

The latest bit of wisdom to go up on the sign is "You can open more doors with 'Please' than with keys." I presume that this is meant to imply something positive about humanity and how being nice is good and all that. This is not however the lesson I draw.

For me, this is really just a statement of the obvious. Consider the facts for a moment. There are a bajillion doors out there (maybe not a bajillion, but lots), and a fair whack of those have locks. Now at the moment I possess four different keys. Between them they open half the doors in my house, a post office box, the glove box of my bike (it also turns the bike on), and 4 doors at work. So the percentage of doors that my keys open is, oh roughly, 0. And while I haven't tried it, I'm sure if I went knocking on doors asking people to please open the door I'd manage to get more doors to open. I might not be able to go in, but I'm sure the doors would open. So, yes, of course you can open more doors with 'please' than with keys.

This also suggests another thing. Human security is much less reliable than the mechanical security provided by locks. If a door is locked and there's no one there, my ability to get in is pretty slim. Add a person and it's easier to get in. The person is the weak point there. So perhaps the message is actually to be more aware of your security procedures. That's a message I could get behind, but they really should be more to the point.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Abbott's Paradox

Does anyone else find it odd that Tony Abbott's statement that we should only take his scripted statements to be 100% correct was not scripted, and so shouldn't be taken as 100% accurate?

Monday, May 24, 2010

On Contacts

Most people who know me have only seen me while wearing glasses. In fact, there is a decent bunch of people who have only seen me in one specific pair of glasses. In fact the only time I've seen myself without glasses since I was in high school was either as a blur or from about 15cm away from the mirror, neither of which give the greatest perspective. So going to contact lenses was kind of a big step.

I had tried contact lenses once in university when the optometrist on campus was offering one day trials (I guess this must have been when daily lenses were a new thing) and they were all right then, but I didn't have to put them in or take them out myself, and being a broke uni student with a relatively new pair of glasses at the time, I didn't follow it up further.

So why did I decide to try sticking pieces of soft plastic directly on my eyeballs instead of just continuing to wear glasses? The answer is pretty easy, my bike. Glasses and a helmet don't work well. Neither do glasses and peripheral vision.

Getting the lenses didn't turn out to be too tricky. I made an appointment with an optometrist, and after an eye test it turned out my eyes were just bad enough that medicare would cover some trial lenses to see what worked best for me. So then I waited for a week for a pair in my prescription to arrive, and the next Friday I was back to learn how to put them on and take them out.

Now putting a piece of plastic on your eyeball, much like putting anything one your eyeball is not something you generally want to do, and the body has a whole bunch of automatic systems that try and stop you doing this. And these even interfere with trying to take the damn thing off as well. So it started out with the optometrist putting the contacts in. Then I had to take them out. This involves holding your top eyelid open with one hand while first sliding the lens down the eye so as to form a fold, and then grabbing the fold and pulling the lens out. sounds easy when you say it, but you try poking yourself in the eye and see how easy it is.

Next I had to put them in myself. This proved even trickier than taking them out. You need to hold both eyelids close, and then stick the lens straight onto your eye. And if you don't hold your eyelids tight enough and blink halfway through, well then you just have to start again. I think it took about twice as long to get them in as to take them out. But get them in I did, and with a few other pieces of advice I was sent on my way.

I hung around the city for a little while to give my eyes some time to adjust to the presence of these intruders on my eyeball before riding out to Chermside for games night.

This first pair was meant to be a fortnight pair, but I stopped wearing them after about a week. After getting them on the Friday, I think on Wednesday night while they were meant to be soaking in contact lens fluid the right lens got stuck on the lid of teh container and so stayed out of the fluid. In the morning it had a bend in it and I couldn't get it in, and so wore my glasses and let it spend the day soaking in fluid. The next day I was able to get it in, but on the Saturday I was reading when the right lens fell out. I didn't notice immediately, but after a while noticed that the focus of my two eyes was different, and assumed that the right lens was a bit out of place. Close my eye and rubbing the eyelid did not do much to restore vision in the right eye, and so I decided to just take them out for the night. Only when trying to take off the lens and getting a more than normally unpleasant sensation did I realise the lens was actually not there. I did manage to find where it fell out, but decided that that was that for that pair of lenses.

At the follow up appointment on the next Tuesday I got two pairs of daily lenses and a monthly pair. Unfortunately I only got to wear one pair of the dailies as I managed to drop one while trying to put it in, and it ws then that I truly began to appreciate how helpful it was that the first pair I'd got were actually blue (it didn't seem to affect my perception of colour, but it did make seeing the things a lot easier). As a lens in just the left eye isn't much use, after get one day out of the daily, I started using the monthly pair, which I'm still using now.

In general the contacts are best while I'm out and about, either walking around or riding the bike, although riding the bike tends to dry them out a bit. Sitting in front of the computer gets a bit uncomfortable after a while, and when I play on my Wii I tend to lose focus a bit, forcing me to close my eyes for a little bit, which during most games can be a disadvantage. If I'm at home I stick with the glasses, as my routine has become such that I put the lenses in after taking a shower (I should ask if it's ok to wear them in the shower. I was told to use a daily pair if I was going to go swimming or such so I'm not sure), so when they go in depends a bit on my schedule.

I'm going to have to make a decision soon on if I want to keep going with them, as medicare will only pay for so much trying out different things. I think I'll continue using them, even if they are a bit uncomfortable at times (I presume that that will change with time). The improvement in vision is pretty good. It does avoid the hassles of the glasses not fitting in the helmet well, although it does introduce the whole eyeball poking as an alternative hassle.

I was also surprised by the general lack of comment brought about by switching to contacts. It was about two weeks before anyone commented on the fact, and in the month I've been wearing them there have been only 4 comments, and one was asking why I had gone back to the glasses on that day. I guess like a few other circumstances I've tried applying it to, Daria episodes are not a suitable guide for life. I guess perhaps its not so big a change from other people's perspectives. I have had two people not recognize me straight away, but one is understandable since I hadn't seen her in about 4 years and have a beard now as well (although given my irregular shaving habits back then that's not such a big change) although the other person had no such excuse.

Here endeth the stream of consciousness

Thoughts on an empty blog

So it seems my life has become boring. This is the only conclusion I can come to after considering the fact that I have only written one blog post in the last almost two months, and that 2010 was already shaping up to be a record slow year as far as the blog went.

There have been a few things I've meant to write up but haven't for various reasons. Something on wearing contacts should have been written a few weeks ago to be timely, but I just haven't done it yet. There was something I wanted to write about involving an incident with some people I know, but since I was felt there was a pretty decent chance of at least one involved person reading it, I didn't put it up. Given that this blog started out as an emotional outlet for me to try and work stuff out by writing it up and putting it out on the interwebs shows that that has changed.

My current job is less exciting than my old ones. No exotic (or at least foreign) locales. No adventures on the weekends. The biggest thrill that's happened was a systems crash today that meant I got to sit around bludging for two and a half hours or so while getting paid.

I considered writing something for my birthday, now a month gone, but felt that it would probably end up to whiny and emo, much as this one seems to be trending.

Perhaps this situation has developed because my current situation is what one could describe as safe. I've got a place where I get room and board pretty cheap, I've not worried about money since I've got back to Australia, although being on the dole was frustrating, my current job is modestly lucrative but not challenging, and in general I've got a pretty regular schedule going with a mix of new friends and old.

There are a few things that by previous standards of notability would have gone up on my blog. These include buying a motorbike and getting my motorbike license, being a bridesmaid at a friends wedding, comments on various news pieces the most recent of which being the situation regarding the alleged sinking of a South Korean navy ship by North Korea, getting a new job, tests for my finance course, learning to play go and a whole bunch more.

I do see this lack of writing to be problematic. I've had times where I've aimed to put something up every day. Now my goal of something every three days has a massive backlog. I guess I need to make more of an effort.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A message for Greece and Germany

So I'm sure most people are aware of the slightly sticky situation Greece has got itself into lately. And I'm sure that the people who already want to know more about the causes already do so. I just want to give a brief statement on how I think certain parties involved in the situation should be acting.

Firstly, Greece. Man the fuck up. You've dug yourself into a whole, and now it's time to start fixing shit up. Cut back on the budget. Fix the god damned civil service. Don't give people 14 months pay each year. Don't let them retire on generous pensions at 50 (The only way someone should be able to retire comfortably at 50 is if they've made a fortune somewhere, not just held a job for 30 years). Change the constitution so you can fire the crappy ones.

Next, the Greek People. Man the fuck up. You voted for the fools who got you into this position. Recognise that you are not entitled to retire at 50, get cheap credit and cushy jobs. Rioting against cuts in government spending does not make people want to lend your government more money, or visit your country and you need all the tourism euros you can get. Don't get uppity when the countries trying to pull your asses out of the fire make strong suggestions about what you do with their money. And pay your god damn taxes.

Germany. Man the fuck up. You are the big dog of the Eurozone, and naturally the place people are going to look to when the shit hits the fan. Yes, you've done the tough things that the Greeks haven't. You've kept wage growth low, saving high, debt low, you've raised the pension age, and a raft of other things that have made your economy pretty strong. But you've also committed to a common currency with a bunch of other people, and if some of those other countries self implode, it will hurt. It's not going to be fun handing over sackfuls of cash to ungrateful, whiny, Greeks who show no signs of changing their ways, but it is the lesser of two evils.

Finally, to every other country, person, corporation and any other kind of entity who deals with money. Learn from this. Don't spend more money than you god damn have, and don't think that easy credit is yours for the taking with nary a care. And expect a rough time if you don't.

PS This is a rather simplistic rant at some of the main groups involved in the whole Greek Crisis thing. The causes and solutions are nowhere near as simple or straightforward as what I've just said, although I think it would be a good start.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Your not really making the point you think you're making

Thanks to Media Watch I found out about a little bit Alan Jones did reading out another of those chain emails that gets certain types of people going. This particular one was on the topic of refugees. As Alan read out
Alan Jones: The smugglers know the rules. The new ones. They know you don't have to go to Nauru now. You don't have detention in the desert now. You don't have a temporary protection visa now... There's an email doing the rounds at the moment which is most probably a bit apocryphal and a bit inventive but it's instructive and it says that:
"If you cross the North Korean border illegally you get 12 years hard labour.
If you cross the Iranian border illegally you are detained indefinitely.
If you cross the Afghan border illegally, you'll get shot...
If you cross the Chinese border illegally you may never be heard from again...
but" as the email says, "if you cross the Australian border illegally you'll get a job, a driver's licence, a social security card, welfare..."

The point I think Alan wants us to take away from this little monologue is that we need to be tougher on refugees coming to Australia illegally.

That's not the message I take away from this. The message I take away from this is "and that's one of the reasons why Australia is a better country than those other countries."

Now I know that the problem of a higher than desired number of refugees arriving through improper channels is complex and will require a multi-facted solution, there are two things I'm reasonably sure are not part of that solution.

One, a race to the bottom between nations for who can treat such people the worst (and trust me, Australia will lose on this one anyway),

and Two, not helping the countries the refugees are coming from become better and safer countries to live in will just keep them coming.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Margin Pricing

McDonalds has the following interesting price scheme.
Mighty Muffin $3.95
Mighty Muffin + Hash Brown $5.45
Mighty Muffin + Hash Brown + small coke $4.10
Effective price of a small coke -$1.35

A similar pattern was seen at a Night Owl as well
600ml coke $3.90
1.25l coke $4.50
2l coke $3.00

I think the main point to take away from this is that the amount we pay for some stuff depends not on the costs of production but more what they think people are willing to pay for something.

Also, please don't take this as an endorsement of any of the products mentioned. I'm just looking at the pricing anomalies.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Legislation, we hardly know ye.

One of the subjects I'm currently studying is Law, Regulations and Ethics. Since it's part of a finance course, the law part of it is pretty much the Corporations Act 2001 (Aust), and a few other related bits and pieces like the Corporations Regulations 2001 (Aust) and the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Terrorism Funding Act (2006), but it's given me more of an understanding of how legislation reads.

The first thing is that law is confusing. This is the main reason lawyers make big bucks. They need to know this stuff inside and out and they need to know a lot of it. I barely dented Chapter 7 of the Corporations Act, let alone the whole thing.

There are a number of reasons why the law is confusing. The main reason for this is the fact that so much of it is indirect. Take the Corporations Act. Section 1311 starts out by saying that anyone who does something that is prohibited by the act or doesn't do something required by the act is guilty of an offense. But then it goes on to say that they're guilty of an offense for some things only if a penalty is listed in schedule 3. Fortunately schedule 3 is pretty straightforward.

Then there's the language used. From what I've seen every act has a list of definitions in there somewhere. This is because words don't always mean what they normally do. Sometimes this is because the normal meaning is a bit vague in what it covers, or sometimes they want a word to cover other things like it, but not quite the same.

There's also a lot of language that makes you wonder just how pedantic the people writing this are. Take for example this lovely bit of prose
(1) A margin lending facility is:

(a) a standard margin lending facility; or

(b) a non‑standard margin lending facility; or

(c) a facility of a kind that has been declared by ASIC to be a margin lending facility under subsection (8);

unless the facility is of a kind that has been declared by ASIC not to be a margin lending facility under subsection (9).

So a margin lending facility is either a standard or a non-standard margin lending facility, or something ASIC has said is a margin lending facility, unless ASIC has said it isn't. All very clear. Fortunately it does go on to give a bit more detail as to what a standard and non-standard margin lending facility are, but still.

This also makes me think about the idea that ignorance of the law is no excuse. There are great swathes of the law I'm completely ignorant about, and likely the bits I think I know about I have huge misconceptions about. We all know the basic stuff like don't steal, don't kill, don't run red lights, etc, but what does the average person actually know of the law? Now, I'll admit there's not much chance the average person is going to commit an offense under the Corporations Act without knowing it, but what other laws are lurking out there that we don't know of.

There are certainly expectations that people who want to do certain things are aware of the relevant laws. People need to prove they know the rules of the road to be able to get a license. To get a financial services license you need to show that you know the relevant laws. But there's no requirement to know other sorts of laws to get by in everyday life. I think this is definitely a gap that needs to be filled. High school would probably be a good place to teach this, but I'm not sure how interested kids would be in it then, or how you would fit it in with all the other things schools have to teach. The more cynical part of me thinks maybe make it and stuff about our system of government part a course you have to pass to enroll to vote, although I don't think that would go down well, especially if you required everyone already enrolled to vote to go through it as well (maybe give them 10 years to pass the test or their off the roll)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Assignment Aftermath

This week two assignments for my finance course were due in. I think I made a tactical error in doing two subjects with mid session assignments and final exams rather than one with a mid session assignment and one with a final assignment, but we live and learn.

I don't think what I submitted was the best I could have done as I did leave it quite late in the process to get serious about working on them. A three day weekend is not really enough time for two 4500 word assignments, even if you have been thinking about the questions for a few months.

I put most of my time into what I though would be the easier assignment and where I thought I'd be able to do better, the subject on economic principles, but I didn't do so great. The last few questions where we had to back up opinions on a few different things I did a huge rush job on and didn't include any references or such, which will cost me a bit. I'm mainly hoping I pass so as not to put too much pressure on me for the final exam.

I'm more happy with the second assignment for Law, Regulation and Ethics. I now realize why lawyers make so much money. Laws are very hard to understand. Convoluted references, finicky definitions, references to regulations made and listed elsewhere, mean working out what is and isn't in the law quite a challenge. I have another post brewing about legislation, so more will come out there on that topic.

The last minute approach to the assignments also made life a bit less fun last week. I had to miss the Richard Dawkins talk on Thursday, and on Monday and Tuesday night I only got about 4 or 5 hours sleep. On Wednesday I was absolutely useless at work, barely able to keep one thing in my head at a time, which is really bad because you need to at least keep a name and a location to avoid having to keep asking the person to repeat things. Thursday after about 9 hours sleep I was more my normal self, although I still fell asleep watching TV around 5 o'clock after work.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Really? You're Surprised by this Development?

The story on the front cover of yesterdays MX was about high school students, who, having been given a free laptop by the government to use for schoolwork have managed to get around the filters and install games, MSN, and are breaking the administrator password.

Now I just have to say, who didn't expect something like this to happen? I mean really, you give a kid a computer and say you can't play games on it and expect them not to try and play games? This is ignoring basic human nature.

I mean if the government had really wanted the kids to not play games on their laptops, why give them a Windows machine? Give them a laptop with Linux installed, an ordinary user account, and a copy of OpenOffice. I can bet you now the number of kids doing stuff you don't want them to on that will be a bajillion times less.

Anyway, a tip of my hat to the kids who worked out how to get around the filters, a wag of my finger to the ones who just followed the directions they found in the facebook group (I endorse initiative and learning, not getting around the filter just for the sake of playing games) and a sterner wag of my finger to the relevant governments for putting in place an inadequate system that they knew the kids were going to try to break.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Economics Bullshit 101: Co-insurance Clauses

Over the past few years I've been trying to build up my understanding of economics, and along the way I've come across a few things that are apparently standard practice that just seem like bullshit. Since I've just started a course on finance and such, I'm coming across a few more, and I feel like sharing. So here's the first installment of Economics Bullshit 101, Co-insurance.

Co-insurance is a practice that mainly affects insurance policies on big ticket items, like homes. Lets say I have a home that's worth $1,000,000 (sure, it's not going to happen anytime soon, but this is a hypothetical), and insurance to cover that much seems a bit too expensive to me. So, I cut a few corners, and insure the house for up to $800,000. Sure, I'll take a big hit if the house gets totaled, but I live in a pretty safe area and I'm not too worried.

So I've got my insurance, and while it doesn't cover the whole value, I'm feeling pretty safe. But then something bad happens. Nothing too major, but still pricey. All up, the bill comes to $100,000. No big deal, I'm insured up to $800,000, so that's well under my limit, no problemo.

Actually, problemo. Here's where the co-insurance clause kicks in. What it says is that when I said I wanted $800,000 worth of coverage on a $1,000,000 house, what I meant was that I wanted coverage of 80% on any damage. This means that when I put in my claim on the $100,000 worth of damage, they go "Fine, sure, $100,000 damage, 80% of that is $80,000, here's your cheque, have a nice day" and I look bamboozled and wonder where the hell the other $20,000 is. And I'm willing to bet they work that bit out before factoring in your excess, so there's another hunk of cash you don't get back.

Now, sure, I knew I was underinsured, but if I have coverage for up to amount X, and I claim for an amount Y that is less than X, I expect to get amount Y back from the insurers, regardless of whether amount Z, the value of the property insured, is greater or less than amount X. That's why I pay the insurer amount W every month.

So today's lesson is, like I guess many of these will be, read the god damn contract and make sure you understand it. And be sure you can afford the insurance if you buy a house.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Justice, Bangladeshi Style

So here's the situation: A 16 year old girl gets raped, to cover it up gets quickly married off by her parents, and it turns out she got pregnant from the rape. How do you think things go from here?

If you said the bastard who raped the poor girl gets dealt with harshly, guess again. He got pardoned by the village elders.

How did the husband react to finding out about his wife was pregnant with another man's unwanted child? He divorced her.

And the parents, how are they faring? Not so great. The fathers been fined with the threat of being outcast if he refuses to pay up.

And what do the village elders propose to do with the girl, who surely has already suffered more than enough? After letting off the man who raped her, threatening her family with ostracism, this poor girl was forced into isolation until her family accepted her punishment of 101 lashes.

101 lashes. With a whip. For getting raped.

That's one hell of an incentive to not get raped. Although I'm sure you have to weigh it up against the hell she'd have had to pay if shed kneed the guy in the balls or sprayed mace in his face. It's a bad choice either way.

Just what the hell were these village elders thinking? How is this in any way just? By what sort of messed up view of the world does this girl deserve punishment? And how is it that the rapist gets off free?

We like to think that just because our little corner of the world is pretty decent, things must be OK, but the sad truth is that for too many people, the world is not a very nice place at all. This is just one more reminder of this sad truth.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

China's Love Hate Relationship with Avatar

China just can't seem to make up its mind about the film Avatar. First, it banned screenings of the 2D version because it thought the movie was hitting a bit too close to home with China's own forced eviction of millions of people so that some mining can get done.

But soon after, in an attempt perhaps to catch some of the megabucks that Avatar has raked in, some Chinese provincial officials have said that the Hallelujah mountains in the movie were inspired by a more grounded mountain in their province, and have renamed the mountain from The Southern Sky Column (a translation I'm sure) to Avatar Hallelujah Mountain.

I guess this is part of the Chinese duality. Rigid totalitarianism mixed with cash hungry pseudocapitalism.

Finally, a slightly tangential factoid, apparently China only allows 20 foreign films to be shown in cinemas each year.

End Post
Writing time: 14 minutes
Time since last post: 12 days
Current media: none

Friday, January 15, 2010

Not Everything Needs to be 3D

According to the Times Online, Avatar, in addition to making people depressed, is causing movie makers to want to go back and upgrade their movies to 3D.

Now I can understand why. 3D is cool, and a number of the movies mentioned would have been awesome if done in 3D, but the fact is that they weren't. And regardless of the amount of computer jiggery-pokery that gets done, it's not going to change the fact that going from 3D to 2D is really easy, but going from 2D to 3D is very tough.

The movies discussed are action movies that relied on lots of special effects the first time round, and depending on how much of the computer models still exist, you might even get some pretty good 3D in parts, but the more everyday scenes with just people and sets won't have that advantage, and will diminish the effect.

Such upgraded movies will also lack in comparison to made for 3D movies. Avatar does 3D well because it was planned as such from the beginning, and this gave the creators new tools to use when composing scenes and designing locations. Upgraded 2D films will not have these benefits and it will show.

All this improving of old movies to fit with new technology is not unprecedented. Classic black and white films have had color added to them later, to a generally negative reception. One of Orson Welles last requests a few weeks before he died was to not let Citizen Kane be colourised.

Now before you go calling me a neo-luddite or what not, let me sum things up on a positive note. Great 2D films, like great black and white films are great because of the art that went into them, the direction, the design, the acting, the writing, all of it. No one denigrates Citizen Kane because it's not in colour (no one with sense, anyway), they praise it for its merits. And so to if movie making transitions to 3D as a standard, people aren't going to mock today's greats for their lack of a third dimension. They will still praise the stories, the art, the greatness for what it is. Movie makers don't need to go add the latest gimmick to their movies.

On a final note, let it be said that no one should be surprised that George Lucas is one of those movie makers who can not wait to do this, and to be fair to him, if he does, I will go (to episodes III-VI at least)

Saturday, January 09, 2010

When Boogeymen Collide

In response to the guy who attempted to blow up a plane but only managed to blow up his groin on Christmas day, various countries have stepped up their "security" in an attempt to prevent this exact type of scenario happening again. The US have cracked down on people doing things in flight, forcing you to stay in your seat for the last hour and not have anything in your lap.

The Brits are beefing up preflight security (again). And their doing this with fancy new full body scanners that can see through your clothes and provide something that is a lot closer to a nude image of you than a clothed one. These images exist in a very fine line between decent and indecent, and are more likely to fall on the indecent side, as I'm sure the photos released to the press are not as clear as what is actually produced (it's a standard tactic to understate your capabilities).

And now the Brits want to use these machines on everyone, which is causing a problem. For most people, while they don't like have indecent images taken of them by low paid security guards and feel like it's an invasion of privacy, it's not actually illegal to do so. But there is a subsection of the population for which it is illegal to make an indecent image of. Who? Children.

That's right. Terrorism is butting heads with Child Pornography. Won't somebody think of the children? When the two biggest boogeymen of our day butt heads, who will win? Right now, Terrorism is losing as the suggestions for dealing with this is to just not scan children with the machines, but I expect Terrorism will come back strong once an under-18 terrorist wannabe pops up somewhere.

I think a better solution would be not to use these $150,000+ machines and not make indecent images of anyone, but then what would I know?

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Around the World in 5 Stories

A few small items I'd like to comment on. Going in order of geographic proximity we have

1) Malaysian police had a busy new year's eve, raiding hotels to find unmarried couples there. Since Islamic citizens aren't allowed to be alone with members of the opposite sex, those caught are looking at up to two years in jail and a fine. Of course, the non-Islamic population of course are free to get jiggy with it.

2) The chairman of Thai Airways has resigned after getting caught avoiding excess baggage fees. Surely a perk of the job you'd think. But he took it too far when instead of the meagre allowance of 150kg for himself and his two companions got in first class, he brought 398kg back with him from a trip to Japan. Apparently a friend gave him some fruit for a temple in Bangkok. In addition, he got the fruit sent to the lost property office in Bangkok, conveniently skipping customs in the process. It's fair enough that he resigned, but he clearly wasn't trying hard enough to profit from his position. All this netted him only $5,000 dollars or so. If Thailand wants to improve its economy, it needs it's businessmen to take greater liberties with their companies. Ken Lay and Bernie Madoff couldn't have done what they did without huge companies to take advantage off.

3) Burma news now. The military leader of Burma has spoken to his people about the election happening some time this year. He has called on the people to make the "correct choice" when voting. I have no doubts about what he'd consider the right choice, and I'm pretty sure making the "correct choice" won't necessarily be the best for the people. Although given what happened last time the military allowed an election, I wouldn't bet on a freedom loving government coming to power. However the military has rigged the game a little, with the constitution requiring a quarter of the parliament being military members appointed by the head of the military so there's a little bit more of a chance they'll play nice after the election.

4) Out of Asia and into Africa now. A tribal king in South Africa facing 15 years in jail for charges including kidnapping, arson, assault and more is threatening to secede and take more than half the country with him in an attempt to get out of jail free. The king's supporters have called for the charges to be dropped and he be paid over ten billion US dollars in compensation for humiliating him. President Zuma has said that the claim the king can declare a new country in South Africa is ridiculous which is perhaps the best way to deal with such things, and a surprisingly sane reaction from a man with three wives.

5) And finally, a surprisingly sensible and rational policy from a political party. The French Socialist Party has announced that even though they are opposed to the burka, they are going to oppose efforts by the government to introduce a legal ban on people wearing them. It is good to see a party that is willing to say that they don't like something, but realize that legislating against said thing is not the best way to deal with the problem. Kudos to them for this.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Life is Hard for Beautiful People

Life is hard for the beautiful. All those online social networking and dating sites are full of people who are, well, not beautiful. And it wouldn't do to be seen online associating with someone of the non-beautiful inclination.

You might think might be an answer to this horrible, unfair dilemma. An online dating and social networking site where to join you have to be judged beautiful enough by the existing members sounds like just the thing for beautiful people wanting to avoid slumming it with the beautifully challenged masses.

But even with this great aid, life is still difficult for the beauties who walk among us. Apparently, over this Christmas/New Years period some members indulged a little too much and might have put on a little weight. Not too unusual an occurrence, but it was enough to get 5000 members kicked out for getting too fat. Those poor people. Being judged like that. It's so unfair.

Of course, once my application for the site gets approved, this post and any related disparaging remarks will disappear into the ether.