July 31, 2009

Damn prosperity!

It's true that all economic gains from the last decade have been wiped out, in full, by the current global financial meltdown, this unattractive fact is not open to debate.

Last week, our intrepid Prime Minister followed up his earlier neo-con blame game with another essay, yet again hammering his favorite target: prosperity.

Yes, prosperity is evil!

Prosperity is to blame for our current ills!

According to His Ruddness, the cause of the GFC is prosperity:
"The roots of the crisis lie in the preceding decade of excess. In the past decade, the world enjoyed an extraordinary boom. Living standards rose faster than at any time in recent memory. Global economic growth reached a peak of 5.1 per cent in 2007, the highest global growth rate in more than three decades."
Damn prosperity! Damn it to hell!

The Road to Recovery - by Kevin Rudd

Their place

Muslims want to wipe Israel off the map and Israeli's continue to insist that they are god's chosen ones - so, you know, bugger everyone else.
“We are rebuilding the land of Israel,” Rabbi Yigael Shandorfi, leader of a religious academy at the neighboring settlement outpost of Nahliel, said during the ceremony. “Our hope is that there will be roads, electricity and water.” The message to President Obama, he said, is that this is Jewish land. He did not use the president’s name, but an insulting Hebrew slang for a black man and the phrase “that Arab they call a president.”

Many could be incorporated into Israel through a border adjustment; others say they would move if compensated. But some, like these outpost settlers, say they will never move because they believe they are fulfilling God’s plan with every hut they put up. They are likely to be a major stumbling block to any attempt to find a two-state solution.


“The Torah says the land of Israel is for the Jewish people. This is just the beginning. We will build 1,000 homes here. The Arabs cannot stay here, not because we hate them, but because this is not their place.”


“The land rejoices because its children are returning to her,” he said, referring to Jewish settlers, making no mention of the 2.5 million Palestinians here.


Tirael, the teenager from Ramat Migron, put it another way: “I believe that every inch of this land is us, our blood. If we lose one inch, it is like losing a person.”

Irreconcilable.

Moral authority of either side: nil.

West Bank settlers send Obama defiant message

Calories miscalculated

Do'h!

Forget counting calories, they're all wrong!

According to New Scientist, the art of calculating calorie content is ancient and wrong, leading to both under and over stating of food calorie content.

If your diet's not working, it might be all down to faulty calorie counts. A mere extra 20 calories a day can result in a weight gain of a kilo a year.
"Calorie counts on food labels around the world are based on a system developed in the late 19th century by American chemist Wilbur Olin Atwater. Atwater calculated the energy content of various foods by burning small samples in controlled conditions and measuring the amount of energy released in the form of heat.

Nutritionists are well aware that our bodies don't incinerate food, they digest it. And digestion - from chewing food to moving it through the gut and chemically breaking it down along the way - takes a different amount of energy for different foods."
It's back to basics: eat fresh, eat less, move more. Doesn't cost anything to implement.

The calorie delusion: why food labels are wrong

Disposable plant

Melbourne's one and only desalination plant is going to cost $3.5 billion to build, yet will have a life span of only 25 years.

What then?

AquaSure wins desal plant contract

Going postal

Americans might be low on unionism, but they're high on pollies.

The US Postal Service still - STILL!!! - delivers six days a week and still - STILL!!! - has umpteen thousands sorting locations too many.

The service is bleeding billions of dollars every quarter, but US pollies blanch at introducing a five day delivery service or rationalizing thousands of sorting locations.

Dudes, seriously, we're in the twenty first century, time to get with the almost modern era.

Increasing postal deficits intensify talks on solution

Rorschach rukus

A small rukus amongst interested parties has broken out over the publication on Wikipedia of the Rorschach ink blocks, accompanied by the most common responses.

Handy for those who are sane enough to study up before their next trip to the psychologist.

Scroll down for the blots & cheat notes - Wikipedia

Duck Friday

July 30, 2009

Humans are lazy: discuss

I know, I know, humans have been to the moon and back, landed robots on Mars, built pyramids, saved the world from Hilter, cured smallpox, and so on and so forth.

But sometimes, I just think we're not even trying.

Yeah, sure, let's get hysterical and worry about how to "reverse" the temperature in 100 years time - or to put it another way, in six generations time, when every person presently inhabiting the planet will be long dead - because humans thrive on end of the world scenarios, complete annihilation. There's a reason why the bible includes some lengthy Armageddon scenes. Wouldn't have been a best seller without them.

Our salvation, apparently, relies on human ingenuity and cooperation of mammoth proportions, not to mention heroic technologies not yet imagined. Good luck with that.

Over in Utah the state has saved cleaning and electricity costs of $1.8M in the last year via the dead obvious and not at all stupid mechanism of squishing the normal working week of 40 hours into four days for state workers. That economic saving to the state is cold hard cash, and doesn't capture the savings for employees in travel costs, not other direct and indirect environmental savings, such as nasty emissions or general pollution and wasted resources.

Smart.

Won't be implemented here any time soon, of that you can be sure. Unlike in the US, we plucky Aussies have stared the recession down, so we're hardly going to start implementing smart cost savings and environmental savings when, you know ... why the heck would we do such a thing unless Armageddon was upon us, right?


Should Thursday become the new Friday? The environmental and economic pluses of the four-day work week

But wait, there's more simple stuff that should have been implemented decades ago.

White roofs.

Yes, white roofs!

The scientist Mr. Chu calls his hero, Art Rosenfeld, a member of the California Energy Commission who has been campaigning for cool roofs since the 1980s, argues that turning all of the world’s roofs “light” over the next 20 years could save the equivalent of 24 billion metric tons in carbon dioxide emissions.


“That is what the whole world emitted last year,” Mr. Rosenfeld said. “So, in a sense, it’s like turning off the world for a year.”

Simple.


Notice how he's been "campaigning" on this not at all stupid, not at all high tech, not at all complex idea for a couple of decades?


White roofs catch on as energy cost cutters


There are no doubt tens of thousands of other not clever, not high tech, dead obvious things that we humans should have started doing 30 or 50years ago. Some of them might have even saved us no end of human histrionics and allowed us all a calmer, more contemplative existence.


Are we complacent, lazy, stupid?


Why are we so awed and excited by pumping CO2s into the ground (oh yeah, that is such a good idea), so busy looking for the single fix, the sexy fix that the mundane things that could have averted no end of idiocy and hysterics are shoved aside?


How is it that humans can be awfully clever, yet pike when it comes to refining the small stuff, daily, day after day, instead of laurel resting five seconds after the first decent idea comes to mind?


All too often we drop the ball at the point of "that'll do".


Meanwhile, we obsess about perfecting the useless, such as synthesized pheromones, specifically to aid and abet humans as sexual attractants, which is a bit like using a push up bra to give the illusion of having an amplitude of breast. Take away the synthesized pheromones and what's left is your own odor, which may or may not be the sexual attractant that the attractee had been expecting.


Banking on a chemical reaction


July 29, 2009

Wednesday Wisdom

The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

July 26, 2009

Where do they find 'em?

Journalists might fail us on countless important occasions, but never let it be said that they provide suboptimal performance when it comes to finding, amongst 22 million little Aussies, the most useless dregs who can guarantee holier than thou salivating from the rest of us.

"Why bother doing a job you hate? Why does anyone bother doing anything they don't want to do?'' she said.


"I used to do that, but I thought: `What the hell am I doing conforming to a job when I hate it?'''

So says 25 year old Simone Francis of Marrickville, who has had - we can't say "held" - 70 jobs in her short life, some of which she persisted with for, oooh, entire weeks. Mostly it sounds as if she has an attention span and get-out-of-bed phobia that runs on a three to five day cycle, making it tough to hold down a job.


Still, Ms Francis has sufficient synapses firing to understand that the problem is with her, not the jobs she attempts to undertake, however fleetingly:

"I realised there was something wrong with me after I was getting paid to be in the sun, spending most of the day looking at fish and turtles (as a snorkel guide on Hamilton Island) and I still didn't like it."

It took an entire week of snorkel guiding on Hamilton Island before Ms Francis declared herself bored.


But all is not lost, Ms Francis does have one interest: she is"addicted to travelling'', including jaunts overseas.


At least she excels at fiduciary management if she can stretch her $240 a week unemployment payment to paying for her travel addiction.


Why conform with the ninnies when you can stand in the other line with all of the other sheep, 'ey? Someone wake me up with all the non-conformers come up with an original thought, 'kay.


She's had 70 jobs and didn't like any of them

July 25, 2009

This is how they do it

One opaque practice replaces another in the share market.

It didn't take long.

It is called high-frequency trading — and it is suddenly one of the most talked-about and mysterious forces in the markets.

Powerful computers, some housed right next to the machines that drive marketplaces like the New York Stock Exchange, enable high-frequency traders to transmit millions of orders at lightning speed and, their detractors contend, reap billions at everyone else’s expense.

In theory, the free market operates toward a happy little equilibrium because everyone has the identical and complete information upon which to make their rational economic decisions.

It ain't so.

Now it's even worse.

Stock traders find speed pays, in milliseconds

Medical muddle

The NYTs asks its readers in relation to medical care:

"We’d like to know what you think about the prospect of rationing.
"

As if medical care for every man, woman and child, insured or not, isn't already rationed in irrational and extreme ways in the US - and rationed everywhere else, somewhat less irrationally.


The invitation to comment section follows on from an article by Peter Singer who, being one of our best known exports and rightly fawned over for his crisp, unsparing, logical thinking, really should know better than to assert, right at the outset, that health care is a "scare resource", hence the need to
consider rationing in the US.

Fact one
: health care is not scarce, or at least it need not be. Train more doctors, surgeons, specialists, nurses and ancillary specialists, build more medical centres and hospitals. Scarcity problem fixed. For a moment. If the doctors' *union* permitted it to be so.

Bread isn't scare and it's dirt cheap, ditto milk, and plastic bracelets from China. But here's the thing: bread and milk do not have unlimited demand. There comes a point where we have "enough" bread and "enough" milk, and "enough" plastic bracelets. We might still be hungry and we might still want more adornment around our person, but instead of buying another loaf of bread we buy a dozen lamb chops, at greater expense, or a slab of beer instead of milk, at even greater expense still, or a tiara to decorate on our heads.

Scarcity in and of itself, as I've noted many times before, isn't the central issue when discussing the provision, distribution and cost of medical care. Unlike other goods and services, including scarce and even finite resources, demand for health care is perceived to be unlimited, and perhaps real demand truly is unlimited, but since health care is rationed, the limitations of demand have never been tested in any country.

Humans only want so many loaves of bread, but when it comes to health care they're insatiable, and, we could suggest, irrational in their demands and expectations. Consume until it hurts seems to be the going currency for health care.

Fact two: ipso facto, medical resources always have and always will be rationed, mostly on the supply side, partly on the demand side - the latter being because people do make a choice over their level and frequency of medical care consumption, even when it's ostensibly free or extremely cheap.

Fact
three, which Singer never gets a handle on, even though his entire piece is set around the value, and therefore the price, of a life: 80% of health care expenditure is chewed up on the last six months of people's lives. Keep in mind that this encompasses anyone's last six months and doesn't signify that all those "old folk" are being kept chugging along unnecessarily. The nearer to death, the higher the price of saving a life, no matter a person's age or health problem and the more desperate and irrational the demand for heroic medical intervention.

Fact four: if the US ever finds the gumption and humanity to provide universal (and therefore, genuine community risk rating) health care, demand will go up, since people currently unable or averse to seeking medical care when it's needed will have a somewhat more forgiving choice than they have a the moment. This doesn't and shouldn't mean that their current humongous expenditure on health care will increase. Universal cover could be provided at lower cost than the one sixth (and growing) of US GDP being chewed-up for poorer health outcomes compared to other developed countries.

Bizarrely, again taking account of Singer's rightly vaunted reputation, he discusses the options for the US, offering this bright little nugget:
"Rationing public health care limits free choice if private health insurance is prohibited. But many countries combine free national health insurance with optional private insurance. Australia, where I’ve spent most of my life and raised a family, is one."
Quoi?

Hands up everyone with private health insurance who feels they have unlimited and unrationed health care choices?

Oh, that's right: we don't! No one does. Anywhere.

We can only procure approved medical interventions, which in itself is a sledge hammer mechanism for rationing, and not a bad one either, since the standard is set high so as to minimize harm and maximize good to the greatest number of people.

We also pay an arm and a leg in out of pocket costs for having, for example, a routine surgery next week instead of next year. Yes, that's certainly a choice, but just as many who have private cover will choose to have a surgery done under Medicare next year, rather than carry any of the extra cost of choice and have the surgery next week. Risk management and cost / benefit assessments in exercising choice still, largely, sit with the patient.

However, Singer's point is valid, to the extent that little Aussies aren't kept awake at night disturbed about the coexistence of public and public medical insurance. It's not difficult in theory nor in practice.

Importantly, unlike in the US, health insurance companies in Australia have no role in decision making over treatments, surgeries, drugs, or medical tests. Nor should they, ever. They're insurers, with no medical qualifications - they should stick to actuary calculations and butt out of anything to do with medicine or science. No doctor in Australia has to check with a private insurance company before ordering a test, or prescribing a drug, or ordering a surgery. Their time isn't wasted in having to consult and get the nod from an unqualified person. All of those activities simply go ahead, with the only concern for the patient being who pays what and how much. For the most part, our out of pockets, not to mention our insurance premiums, are tiny compared to those faced by our friends in the US.

In the US, private health insurance, mostly tied to employment, is subsidized to the tune of around $200B a year in tax deductions to employers (a historic practice introduced during WWII). Hardly what you'd call a "private" cost. (Singer acknowledges this aspect of the system as being one that needs to be abolished, that is, tying medical insurance to employment.)

Oddly, Singer doesn't advocate freedom of decision making for doctors, in consultation with their patients, he sees this as a legitimate component of rationing in a reformed US health system:
"... extending Medicare to the entire population, irrespective of age, but without Medicare’s current policy that allows doctors wide latitude in prescribing treatments for eligible patients. [emphasis added]

Every American will have a right to a good standard of health care, but no one will have a right to unrationed health care. Those who opt for unrationed health care will know exactly how much it costs them."

Again, no! There is no such thing as unrationed health care, anywhere, unless he's talking about those who resort to unscientific and unfounded treatments and interventions - the snake oil options not covered by any kind of insurance. Also, anyone charting their own course on pick a box medicine, with an unlimited budget, is very likely to have little clue of how much that path will cost them until they get to the end, and even less clue as to the likely success. We can't buy life or well being folks, at least not yet.

In any case, the Singer article is longish and doesn't present any arguments that haven't already been done to death (was his agent provocateur hat at the drycleaners?), but still of interest as it provides some level of insight into the singular confusion that the US has spun around this singularly crucial social good.

Why we must ration health care


The comments are a nutty mix of those who are quite convinced that they actually have full - unrationed - choice in their health care, as determined between only them and their doctor, and those who are quick to identify the overarching shortcomings in Singer's piece.

July 24, 2009

Tee wee steps to the future

It doesn't sound even a little bit radical when presented like this:
"Oakland residents overwhelmingly voted Tuesday to approve a first-of-its kind tax on medical marijuana sold at the city's four cannabis dispensaries.

Preliminary election results showed the measure passing with 80 percent of the vote, according to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters."

While Oakland is only bringing an illicit drug into the legitimacy fold for medicinal use, others can see the obvious way forward for broader change.
"Advocates of legalizing pot for recreational use hope to use Oakland's experience with Measure F to persuade California voters next year to approve a measure that would legalize and regulate marijuana like alcohol."
There's no quicker way to break the back of illegal activities, and all the social costs entailed, than to legalize them.

Oakland to tax marijuana to fill budget shortfall

Duck Friday

July 22, 2009

Wednesday Wisdom

I think laughter may be a form of courage. As humans we sometimes stand tall and look into the sun and laugh, and I think we are never more brave than when we do that.

Linda Ellerbee

July 21, 2009

Tee hee, tee hee

From The Age on Sunday, their light hearted section, headlines you won't see this week:
  • Chinese Savouring Ability to Snub Rudd In Their Own Language
  • Al Gore Just Making Up Any Old Thing Now: "Grass getting pointier, oceans leakier, mountains more potatoey".

Credit Rating Agencies Sell Free Speech

As we continue the blame game of the GFC, litigation is coming along nicely in the US, with investors taking aim at the credit rating agents who handed out gold stars to financial institutions that were more deserving of steaming pile of doggy-doo ratings.

Keep in mind that these credit rating agencies don't just rank companies, they also rank countries and states.

It's okay though: turns out that they're in the business of offering nothing more expert or valuable than opinion, running commentary, editorial at a price.

That's their legal defense.

Free speech.

Opinion.

These guys are still in the business of offering opinions that they will legally defend under the US First Amendment protection. (Meanwhile, many financial institutions are required by law to rely on ratings.)

And again - I am so in the wrong business.

Readers should expect to receive my invoice for editorial services within seven days of reading this post, and please note the five day payment terms. Thank you.

A matter of opinion?

July 20, 2009

Cringe: stupid Aussie on the loose

"As her flight reached Beijing airport 10 days ago, Natalia D'Morias gathered her belongings - and ticked a box on her immigration card indicating she had a stuffy nose."
Little Miss Aussie, was whisked away in an ambulance, diagnosed with swine flu, locked up in quarantine for seven days, with no visits from Mom and Dad Aussie - with whom she had been travelling - and her Chinese medical hosts fed her nothing but pizza and fried chicken and other common Western takeaway foodstuffs.

A true life horror story!

Lesson learned from this nightmare by Little Miss Aussie:
Ms D'Morias, a seasoned traveller, said: "That's officially the last time I'm honest on any airport documentation."
I vote we offer her back to the Chinese.

In minutes I became a modern day leper

July 19, 2009

Stop it already!

Every.


Single.


Time.


One thing is guaranteed: whenever someone survives a physical ordeal out in the wilds against the odds, the immediate response from the unwashed masses - with gleeful support from the media who disseminate the belief - is that the person is a fraud, they staged it.

Truly, enough of this shit already.

Sometimes people do survive against the odds. It's not that friggin' unusual.

"Staging" an "ordeal" would take significant planning, and to the best of my memory I can't think of anyone who has been caught out having stayed in a luxury hotel, all the while pretending to be lost in the wilds of Australia. It's never ever happened. And yet the fraud accusation is trotted out every fooking time.


Jamie Neale, 19 year old British backpacker survived for 12 very cold days in the bushes, he stayed near a waterfall and ate a few leaves and berries during his lost time. He also cut up jumpers to use the arms as socks and generally did the best he could with what he had to keep warm.


Lesson one people: without water you die quickly; without food, not so fast. You can live without food for quite some time. Not fun, but not a death defying feat.


One paper even managed to find a former SAS officer, who was stupid enough and arrogant enough to want to be named, who asserts that Neale is full of it:


"Meanwhile, former SAS commander Andy McNab and ex-special forces officer Ken Hames said they were astounded the 19-year-old was still alive after enduring sub-zero temperatures and eating only native vegetation.

"This boy was supposed to be out in the freezing cold for two weeks dressed in jogging bottoms and thin top layers," Mr McNab told The Sun newspaper.


"I'd expect hypothermia to kill him in a few days. It doesn't seem to stack up. If he was trying to find his way out you'd expect him to have lots of scratches."


Mr Hames questioned how Neale knew which Australian bush berries had been safe for him to eat.


"About 40 per cent of berries in that region are edible, the rest will make you ill," he said.


"He's inexperienced enough to get lost in an area with signposts and footpaths, but he knows all about these berries. I find that really hard to accept."

Well suck it up buddy, he was lost and he lived, it's not a miracle, it's what happens!

The dichotomy of human existence: the most seemingly trivial things can result in death, yet humans also defy death, ad nausea, in the most objectively extreme circumstances.

Can we just stop screeching "fraud" every time someone is fortunate enough to live?

Why are we so begrudging and bitter about happy endings, 'ey?

July 18, 2009

All show, no tell

There is much not to envy about the US political and legal system, one aspect of which appears to have become nothing more than a charade.


Judge Sonia Sotomayor turned up for her Supreme Court confirmation hearings, for three days straight, answered nearly 600 questions, said nothing, and disowned a number of her own and the President's opinions - opinions that could and should have been defended quite easily.


It was more like a beauty contest, except there were no bikinis and Sotomayor didn't offer that she yearned for world peace or a cure for cancer.


It has taken a couple of decades, but the lesson for confirmations appears to have been learned a little too well, with Sotomayor perfecting the persona of intellectual blandness.


Her history as a judge is one of almost total reliance on precedent, with no intellectual flourishes offered to illuminate her devotion to past rulings and interpretations.


Even during the hearing she stuck like a mindless barnacle to droning recitation of precedents.


In truth, Republicans need have few fears, since it's improbable that Sotomayor will suddenly become an intellectual leader when she arrives on the Supreme Court. Of course, intellectual timidity and hiding behind bookish knowledge isn't really what any country requires for their Supreme Court.


One of the fireman who testified in relation to the tossing out of test results that saw more white and Hispanic firemen promoted, an action that Sotomayor upheld - basically on the grounds that it wasn't her jurisdiction and the Supreme Court could decide these things, if need be (strange that she didn't see herself as the right person to overturn it, deferring to the very court she will now be appointed to!) - noted his objections to that decision, but in front of the hearings he had nothing to say about Sotomayor, he had no opinion. I can see why.


When asked what the hearings revealed about Judge Sotomayor’s legal views, the Harvard Law School professor Laurence H. Tribe, a longtime adviser to President Obama who supports her confirmation, had a simple reply: “Nothing.”
There was nothing to see and nothing said.

Intellecutal timidity and disowning one's own opinions is hardly an impressive benchmark for women in high places. A missed opportunity. Again.

A nominee on display, but not her views


July 17, 2009

Business as usual

Unseemly? Ungracious? Untimely?

Stunning profits from any financial institution in the US would ordinarily be marvelous, spiffingly wondrous news. In the midst of a US induced GFC, it's mega-excellent news.

Really it is.

Goldman Sachs took billions of US tax dollars, sacked around 6000 employees, paid back the tax dollars only a month ago, and are now set to celebrate their recent sterling performance by making confetti from one hundred dollar notes and dry-showering each other on Mondays and Fridays.

Then they'll get down to the serious business of rewarding themselves with seven figure bonuses, possibly bigger and better than the bonuses they'd been accustomed to during the years of milk and honey.

Only a few days ago the Bank of America Merrill Lynch also declared the recession over.

It's done. Just like that. Easy peazy.


Substance always means a great deal more to my uncreative brain than perception, and in the case of Goldman Sachs making the biggest quarterly profit in its 140 year history - yes, that's right, in the last quarter they made more profit than in any other quarter during the last 140 years - one can't turn one's nose up at the substance of the achievement, but on the perception front, one does turn one's nose up at the moral legitimacy of rewarding the remaining Goldman Sachs employees with gobsmacking bonuses for three months worth of startling performance.

Didn't a few thousand people have to lose their jobs to contribute to that profit?

Didn't the US government have to pony up $10 billion to keep Goldman Sachs chugging along?

Didn't they also receive even more billions from the US government (non refundable) via the bailout of AIG insurance?

Plus a competitive advantage from the Asset Relief Program, which allows them to issue debt cheaply?

Still, Goldman Sachs feel they possess the moral authority, based on three months worth of staggering profits, to have already earmarked $11.4 billion for bonuses, with that figure likely to grow before the end of the US financial reporting year.

Yes, it would seem that some segments of the US financial industry have come roaring back, and nothing has changed. Not a thing. Business as usual, as if the last two years were nothing but an aberration.

Sure, the PR might get a little sticky come bonus time, but that's a storyline the captains of industry are used to running around the block until we're all giddy. No biggie.

With big profit, Goldman sees big payday ahead

Update

So much hand-wringing over the perils of the existence of businesses that are "too big to fail", yet here it is: the fallout from the US financial crisis appears to be leaving a mere two banks gloating and profiteering over all the rest.

Along with Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan has announced salivating profits for the last quarter, this, despite having been pretty useless at excelling during the boom times. More irony.

The banks are now in full throttle vigorous lobbying mode to put the kibosh on tighter derivatives regulations and consumer protections. Big surprise.

The other market distorting trend is that the top 20 US banks, having received $125 billion from the government in prop-up cash in the midst of the GFC, promptly reduced their inclination to give loans by 16% ($120 billion - almost a match for the funding they received).

The next top 20 banks only reduced their lendings by 4%, or $9 billion.

Meanwhile, all the other little banks combined increased lending during the same period, facing the same market conditions, by 5%.

So, the big banks have learnt something: don't lend money! Ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching.

Two giants emerge from Wall Street ruins



Duck Friday

July 15, 2009

Bing, Bing, Bing

The name still sucks, but apparently I'm in the minority on that thought, with the rest of the punters being quite taken with the Bing (But It's Not Google) branding, which is Microsoft's latest foray into the search engine business.

Defying my skepticism, it turns out that Bing is quite a charmer, as far as search engines go.

Nice look, nice feel, preview capabilities, never ending pages (eg, for image results, instead of having to scroll page after page, as per Google) and very often, more impressive - that is, more pertinent - results than those produced by Google algorithms.

For those enamored of tweeting, Microsoft has already added Twitter to Bing results, a feature not available from other engines.

So, this is my three thumbs up for Bing, a rare MS product deserving of our admiration, and set to give Google a well deserved whirl.

Bing versus Google - neat little site tool that brings up side by side search results from Bing and Google, so you can do your own taste test.

Wednesday Wisdom

The people I distrust most are those who want to improve our lives but have only one course of action.

Frank Herbert

July 14, 2009

No civil overthrow ... yet

"The author of this site does not advocate the violent overthrow of the US Government or any other lawfully constituted government...yet."

So goes the disclaimer at the blog Rebellion University .

Phew.

I was even more relieved to read the post from a few days ago, Pulse of the Rebellion:

"We all have at least one neighborhood kid that we thought was a little off, then he went to college and learned all about how the rich white man is evil. We wanted to kill that kid earlier, but were constrained by law. If that kid comes back to town waving a sign and throwing Molotovs, I'm going to cap him and then get a high five from the police. There is no down side to this.

Lots of reasonable people have been preparing for the bad times and hoping to not have to shoot law enforcement officers and good, honest, young military men. This is completely different. No one will lose any sleep about killing hippies."

The other good news is that the prices of firearms and ammunition in the US are falling, so it's a beaut time to stock up.

Happy times!

Don't forget the many other community services hand delivered to you by this very blog, such as a link to the Survival Blog (over on the right there, in the alphabetically arranged list), without which you would be perpetually under-prepared for the end of the world as we know it.

For example, have you been practicing going about your everyday business wearing your protective mask?

"In my experience, it takes time to acclimate to wearing a respirator mask. There is no substitute for hours in a mask. Particularly for a full-face military mask, and even more so for a full MOPP suit, limited field of vision, dehydration, claustrophobia and sensory deprivation are well-known effects, but heat build-up up is also an issue, particularly in summer weather. In full-face masks, being deprived of prescription lenses is also an issue, unless you have a prescription lens inserts. (BTW, these hard-to-find inserts are available from JRH Enterprises.) Also be particularly wary of dehydration. Even with masks that include a drinking tube, most wearers have a tendency to drink less than usual.

The bottom line: Practice wearing a mask regularly, in a variety of activities."


Indeed.


You can never have too many guns and you can never be too prepared for the end of the world.


(Via the lurverly Kath, who drew my attention to Rebellion University.)


July 13, 2009

Mysoginist visitatons?

American Catholic nuns are being investigated. The Vatican wants to know if they're "living in fidelity" to the religious life.

They might try asking that of a priest or three or five hundred.

No other nuns in any other country are being investigated.

One is tempted to exclaim: "we'll have nun of that!".

But the pontiff and his merry band of men have other ideas.

Perplexing and perturbing, and most likely we'll never know why, nor the outcome, but we'll keep a beady eye out as the visitations unearth US nunnery habits.

What the sisters are up to

U.S nuns facing Vatican scrutiny

July 12, 2009

Confused, much?

Ever wondered if the stock market is just a pile of hooey, the value of which is 90% irrational exuberance, 10% tangible value?

Yeah.

Much proof abounds, but none better than the little example of US General Motors shares that inexplicably and ludicrously increased in value by around $200M in a day (up in value by 37%), forcing GM to issue a statement telling investors not to buy the shares, which are destined to become worthless.

"Nearly 75 million shares traded hands until the securities industry’s self-regulator, Finra, halted trading at 2:09 p.m., citing “extraordinary events.”

Extraordinary exercise of stupidity, even on human scales.

As the old General Motors winds up its way to worthlessness, the new GM will be a privately held company.

Share trading is not for dummies. Truly folks, some of you really, really, really, shouldn't be trying this stuff at home.

A stock with bounce: Investors stick to G.M

July 11, 2009

Woot!

Ward Churchill won't get his job back at UC, despite the UC lawyers pretty well sucking and blowing their side of the case in several dozen different ways.

Fυςќing fantastic!

Woot!

Now for Churchill's ex post facto mythologizing endeavors, all of which he will no doubt attempt to monetize.

Arh, who the fυςќ cares!

Woot!

Coverage over at John's place - The Drunkablog

Or less colorfully, at the NYTs - Court upholds dismissal of Colorado professor

Madoff's Beneficiaries

With Bernie Madoff safely in the big house for 150 years and his wife barred from having her blonde foils done at her local hairdresser, all would seem to be right with the world, aside from the little matter of his financial victims divying up the left over spoils, which will be small bickies relative to their original profit-taking expectations.

The MSM has covered the 'world's biggest ever ponzi scheme' in a slyly muted manner. So many victims, oh dear, oh handwring, oh my - even charities, oh golly, oh gosh! One evil man and one evil man's greed!

A few token shakes of the head or eyebrows raises in the direction of the fund feeders, but beyond that, you'd think every turkey had been taken for a ride, gullible, innocent babes, all losing billions or millions or hundreds of thousands.

Of course, a scheme that large, run over decades, can't possibly have resulted in everyone losing, otherwise the gig would have been up, oh, around 15 years ago. Nor can it possibly be true that everyone was blindly stupid, believing in the promises of ludicrous returns conjoured by one man.

No mention in the MSM of the tax minimisation services that Madoff facilitated for his clients, via his bogus investment scheme. Only a smattering of musings about the feeder funds, which made squillions from their cut of the take, sending new investors to Madoff. Nary a glance at the many billions in *profits* that investors took out over the life of the scheme.

The perp is locked up, his wife will have to find a new hairdresser or buy dye kits from the supermarket, case closed.

But it's a more nuanced than you've been told by the fourth estate, so before you put the nasty ponzi busines out of mind, think a little deeper, learn a little. The world of finance is never so clearcut and cutting corners is never just one man's burden.

Madoff's secret service

The Madoff victims who came out ahead

Taxing Bono

Apparently charity is better than taxes, period.

Just ask Bono.

Having accumulated hundreds of millions of dollars in personal wealth, Bono's bank balance has also benefited from his artistic tax free status in Ireland, until now.

Ireland has sensibly changed it's rules a little, with a threshold introduced for their local artists, being 250,000 Euro per annum. Sucks for Bono, he earns a tad more than that in a bad year.

Not to worry. He pronto moved his financial affairs to the Netherlands.

While he advocates on behalf of the poverty stricken, the starving, the hopeless, while he meets with politicians the world over, demanding (and sometimes succeeding) in bullying them into giving away the tax-payer funds within their domain, Bono himself doesn't pay taxes - anywhere.

It would seem that Bono and his band mates have found what they've been looking for: a tax haven to accommodate their life long commitment to tax avoidance.

"U2’s guitarist, The Edge, protested that the band’s tax affairs were private, adding, “We do business all over the world, we pay taxes all over the world and we are totally tax compliant.”

Indeed. I don't doubt their compliance, don't doubt it at all.

Search results "Bono tax evasion" - Google.

July 10, 2009

July 8, 2009

Shovel ready

France has a tee wee stimulus package, relative to the one announced, but barely distributed let alone spent, by the US.

Much like Australia, the US might, just might, start lifting shovels and doing stuff to support the economy by, well, sometime late this year, but mostly during 2010. A long lag by any reckoning.

Meanwhile, France has rapidly deployed their stimulus cash, with around 100 billion Euros expected to be spent by the end of 2009.

Nice to see that France is investing in sprucing up castles and cathedrals, among other shovel-ready efforts, with art considered an equally worthy area of spending. The French also seem more focused on an immediate boost to employment and aggregate demand, rather than rolling the dice on the chance of long run growth, the later being the Australian and US approach. Of course, no one knows if either strategy will prove successful.

France, unlike US, is deep into stimulus projects

Wednesday Wisdom

It has always been the prerogative of children and half-wits to point out that the emperor has no clothes. But the half-wit remains a half-wit, and the emperor remains an emperor.


Neil Gaiman

July 7, 2009

Burqa on the line in France

Say what you like about the French (go on, you know you want to), but they do take their secularism seriously. Good for them!\


Bless their little silk socks, a French parliamentary committee is underway to decide whether or not the burqa - fashionista garb of choice for devout Muslim women near and far -is a symbol of subjugation rather than faith, and, therefore, a mode of dress with no place in the French republic.


The inquiry, upon which 32 parliamentarians will turn their attentions, won't report for another six months, and when they do, they will announce whether wearing a burqa is incompatible with secularism, and if so, whether the solution to the dissonance is an outright ban on the head to toe covering.


Five years ago France prohibited open displays of religious symbols from state schools, and the same ban is in place for French civil servants. Banning the burqa would be a consistent progression.


In the small cacophony of opinion expressed prior to the announcement of the inquiry, the burqa was variously described, by the French PM and other pollies, as a degrading prison depriving women of identity, dignity and social life, a sign of submission, a garb that undermines women's rights and secular values.


If Aussies find Muslim women's choice of outdoor wear confronting - and for many it is, let's not pretend otherwise - the French, unlike us, eschew political correctness:

"The sight of these imprisoned women is already intolerable to us … It is totally unacceptable on French soil"

On the opposing side of the debate, Irfan Yusuf gets all sentimental about days of ye olde, waxing lyrical about Muslim women who used to lounge about in their burqas, waited on hand and foot by servants, with their primary undertaking in life being regular shopping outings to buy luxuries for themselves.


His little refrain about his maternal (Indian) grandfather's insistence that the women of his household practice a form of traditional aristocratic seclusion known as purdah is so grossly misplaced it's impossible to know what matter of substance he was hoping to contribute to current public discourse. As a defense of the burqa, the intellectual argument - if you can find one in the irrelevant history snippet offered by Yusuf - is, at best, opaque and dishonest.


If his is the best effort anyone can present in favor of contemporary burqa-wearing, then long live a ban on the burqa, not just in France, but everywhere. Of course, such bravery will not come to pass; the French will stick their naked arse into the breeze on behalf of the rest of us, as only the French are wont to do.



French may outlaw burqa

The fuss over the burqra is out of kilter

July 6, 2009

Jaunty environmental book

Sustainable Energy—Without the Hot Air, by Cambridge Professor David J.C. MacKay, is described as being:
"surprisingly playful, sidestepping the oughts, musts and shoulds of most eco-guides in favour of breezy sums. MacKay favours “numbers, not adjectives” and he presents them with a jaunty mix of photos, diagrams, maps, cartoons, timelines, bar charts, algebraic equations, pull-out quotes, tiny URL links, chummy headings (“gadgets that really suck”, “the war on leakiness”) and a generous dollop of exclamation marks."
More impressive than the jaunty tone, cartoons, and chummy headings, the book can be purchased - £45 hardback, £19.99 paperback - or save your dollars and just download the PDF for free. Noice.

Learn unsurprising things like this:
"The energy you save by switching off your phone charger for a whole day is used up in one second driving a car. To focus on the phone charger is like “bailing the Titanic with a teaspoon”.
Or this:
“Europe needs nuclear power, or solar power in other people’s deserts, or both.” For Britain, that area in someone else’s desert would have to be the size of Wales."
Now try to imagine how much land would be needed to provide solar power for even 50% of global power needs. It's all about energy density folks, and nothing comes close to that most dense of energies: oil.

At least MacKay's book looks like a sensible read in a sea of hyperbole and feel good "every little bit helps" dogma.

Review here ...

Ink versus bubbly

So, here's the dilemma:

- printer has run out of ink

- printer ink costs between $40 to $80 an ounce

- Dom Pérignon Champagne costs about $5 an ounce.

What should I buy?

July 4, 2009

Vanity, all is vanity

Commentary on the commission into the Victorian bush fires, but really, it could be commentary on any fuck-up, and ain't it the awful truth.

"The vast body of evidence suggests a great deal of loss and destruction could have been avoided if local knowledge, experience and commitment had been respected and used. Instead, the politicians and their bureaucrats shared a motivation to exert close and uncompromised control. An aggressive resistance to contestable advice allowed policy-makers to deny the existence of culpable knowledge.


The mandarins eventually succumbed to their own intoxicating publicity and stared down the risk of their knowledge deficit.


Dysfunctionality bred like a virus in a hotbed of intellectual conceit.


The implications are sobering for every aspect of government policy."


Self-serving know-alls fuelled fires


July 3, 2009

July 1, 2009

Wednesday Wisdom

I think laughter may be a form of courage. As humans we sometimes stand tall and look into the sun and laugh, and I think we are never more brave than when we do that.

Linda Ellerbee