Thursday, 30 September 2010

Some twittering jokes.

The Irish Times reports that a 41-year-man who drove a concrete truck into the gates of Leinster House, Dublin, overnight has quickly gained plenty of supporters.
The truck, which displayed slogans on its side saying “Toxic Bank Anglo”, “€1,000,000 on golf balls” and “€500K for golf” and with the vehicle registration number changed to “bankrupt” caused little actual damage but the driver was taken to Pearse Street Garda station under section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act 1984 where a garda spokesman said the station had received numerous calls from members of the public with the vast majority offering congratulations and support for the man.
Twitterers were also quickly active.
30-09-2010 cementgate
The Irish Times provided these examples of what it called the Best of ‘Cementgate’ from Twitter:
  • johnfoley: “In what’s seen as concrete move the construction industry cements their relationship with government”
  • colmtobin “Finally, the government have some concrete plans.
  • ConorWilson: “Good to see constructive protest. They’ll be able to build on this”
  • ConorLambert “Maybe Cowen ordered a mixer for the whole cabinet!!”
  • waterychestnut: “So you get arrested if you crash a truck into the Dail but not if you crash the entire economy?”
  • Littlesapling: “Demise of present government now written in (Road)Stone”
  • EleanorFitz: “In the wake of #cementgate Dail rushes to release statement assuring the public that no TDs were plastered.”
  • JODedia: “That’s not what i meant when i said i wanted a mixer to go with me jameson”

An example of the Murdoch style.

Five potential Republican presidential candidates are employed by Fox News as contributors or hosts and have made at least 269 appearances on the cable channel — compared to a total of six appearances on all other major news channels combined.
The Media Matters for America website records that Mike Huckabee, the former Governor of Arkansas and 2008 GOP presidential candidate who hosts his own Fox News show, appeared on Fox News 96 times through September 18.
Fox News contributor Rick Santorum, a one-time Republican Senator from Pennsylvania appeared 52 times, and former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich has appeared 48 times on Fox News so far this year.
Sarah Palin, the party’s vice presidential nominee in 2008, appeared 37 times, while Bush’s U.N. ambassador John Bolton appeared 36 times.
30-09-2010 foxnewsappearances

Obama on Murdoch and Fox.

A quote for the day from an interview with President Barack Obama to be published in the October 15 edition of Rolling Stone:
The golden age of an objective press was a pretty narrow span of time in our history. Before that, you had folks like Hearst who used their newspapers very intentionally to promote their viewpoints. I think Fox is part of that tradition — it is part of the tradition that has a very clear, undeniable point of view. It’s a point of view that I disagree with.
It’s a point of view that I think is ultimately destructive for the long-term growth of a country that has a vibrant middle class and is competitive in the world. But as an economic enterprise, it’s been wildly successful. And I suspect that if you ask Mr. Murdoch what his number-one concern is, it’s that Fox is very successful.

Where the jobs are - not for miners but pen pushers

Read the economists writing in the financial press and you might think that it is the booming mining industry that is going to end Australia's unemployment problems. Figures out from the Australian Bureau of Statistics this morning show that just isn't so. The big growth in job vacancies over the last year has been in what the statistician classifies as 
This job vacancies data is similar to the story told by the latest ABS data on employment in Australia by industry.

Sir Humphrey on electoral reform

A version of that classic political sitcom Yes, Minister is about to open on London's West End stage and to mark the occasion Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn have prepared for the London Daily Telegraph what they think Sir Humphrey Appleby would make of Whitehall today. This excerpt is from a minute from Sir Humphrey to Bernard Wooley on the subject of electoral reforms:
Our objective is full Proportional Representation, when electors simply vote for a party, and the parties then appoint their placemen in proportion to the votes they receive. This would cut the last link between the MP and voter, eliminating the risk of voters electing one of those maverick independent-minded members who cause us so much trouble. All MPs will have their jobs by virtue of party patronage alone and therefore their docility will be guaranteed. Furthermore, it will greatly increase the likelihood of a coalition, as no single party will be able to introduce those sweeping reforms which overturn those tried and trusted administrative procedures which enable us to conduct responsible government.
Your criticisms of some aspects of government as being ''undemocratic’’ suggest a profound misunderstanding. Democracy is the enemy of government. The mass of voters have no idea how the country should be run. That is our job. Democracy is only a device to enable the government to pretend it is acting with the consent of the people.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

With global warming perhaps we need constant repetition

When the media keep pretending day after day that something is news by giving constant updates it is bound to eventually get into the public's mind that the information is important. If it was not so why would they keep telling us about it?
Thus the vague view that most people have that the level of the stock exchange index today compared with yesterday or last week or last year or 10 years ago actually matters. Ditto for the foreign exchange rate or the official interest rate. Newspapers, radio and television keep giving daily reports on them all. Therefore, QED, we should be pleased or worried about them.
Complete nonsense really. The figures reported so breathlessly on the hour every hour every day indicate nothing of value to ordinary people. The main reason they began being reported was to fill in the media's insatiable desire for regular content.
Only with the dull thud of repetition have they become factors in the political process where a rising value of the Australian dollar against the US dollar is portrayed as a sign of national strength rather than as a symbol of a social change that will force the closure of Australian factories with a consequent loss of manufacturing jobs. The idea that things that go up are good while things that go down are bad is too deeply ingrained for the truth to be realised.
This power of repeating a basic, if sometimes irrelevant, message is something that the worriers about climate change  have not yet realised. These good and earnest people can repeat all they like their generalised warnings about the dangers of rising world temperatures but it means nothing when the public do not have it rammed home to them regularly in a way that is easily understood.
What is needed is a picture to appear alongside the the daily media weather reports that illustrates what is happening to global temperatures. A daily version of something like this:

Now I know that some of the experts in the field of climate change measurement have some reservations about this particular daily chart but to me it is something like this that that they can agree on that all of them should be lobbying to have appear every day throughout the world alongside the weather map
It is only when ordinary voters are persuaded that global warming is a reality that politicians will be prepared to take the actions necessary to prevent it.

Upset Labor but not the journalists.

No doubt it fitted in with the policy of vigorous opposition espoused by Opposition leader Tony Abbott, but refusing to grant Simon Crean a pair so he could address the National Press Club today was not such a good idea.
Making life difficult for Labor is one thing but upsetting the masters of the parliamentary press gallery was quite something else. It did not take long after regional affairs minister Crean told the NPC he would have to cancel his well-advertised appearance for the tough guys of the Liberal Party to change their mind.

Going in a different direction.

In the United States and the United Kingdom this week advisers to central banks have been talking about the need for further economic stimulus. Meanwhile, at home the talk is all about the Reserve Bank stepping in to curb growth. The Crikey Interest Rate Indicator, for example, gives a 69% probability to official interest rates being lifted by 0.25 percentage points when it meets on October 5.
29-09-2010 crikeyinterestrateindicator

Dictatorship? We don’t give a toss, actually.

The foreign minister might regularly go tut-tut about Commodore Frank Bainimarama and his illegal hold on power in Fiji but ordinary Australians apparently don’t care too much. Figures out from the Australian Bureau of Statistics this morning show that Australian visits to Fiji have grown by an average of 10.3% a year from 1999-2000 to 2009-2010. That’s only just behind the 13.5% growth rate of tourism to China and 11.3% to Thailand.

Sculpting a pylon

American architects Choi+Shine won an award from the Boston Society of Architects for this different approach to electricity transmission towers that they designed for Iceland’s power authority.
29-09-2010 pylons
The firm describes its design as transforming mundane electrical pylons into statues on the Icelandic landscape by making only small alterations to existing pylon design.

The workers are revolting

Austerity measures are all very well and good for the financiers of the world but they are not much fun for those thrown out of work because of them. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the tough measures being imposed in Europe as governments struggle to rein in budget deficits blown out as part of the global financial crisis is just how subservient the workers have been as their jobs disappear. But now, it seems, the revolt is beginning.
The BBC reports this morning that thousands of people from across the EU are expected to march in Brussels to protest against sweeping austerity measures by many national governments. The European Trade Union Confederation says its protest could be one of the biggest in Belgium’s capital for years.
According to the BBC, the union says EU workers could become the biggest victims of a financial crisis set off by bankers and traders. A general strike against cuts is expected in Spain and protests are also due to be held in other EU states.
In Greece and the Republic of Ireland, unemployment figures are at their highest level in 10 years, while Spain’s unemployment has doubled in just three years. In Britain, the government is planning to slash spending by up to 25%, while France has seen angry protests against a planned increase in the minimum retirement age.

A real clown for a parliament

A Brazilian clown known as Tiririca — which means “Grumpy” in colloquial Portuguese — is favoured to win a seat in the Brazilian Parliament in this Sunday’s elections. Tiririca, whose real name is Francisco Everardo Oliveira Silva, is predicted by the pollsters to gain a million votes after campaigning on slogans including “It can’t get any worse” and “What does a federal deputy do? Truly, I don’t know. But vote for me and I will find out for you.”
Appearances by the clown on You Tube have been the advertising successes of the Brazilian election campaign.
28-09-2010 clownfordeputy
The only impediment to victory appears to be a constitutional requirement that deputies be able to read and write with a judge in Sao Paulo demanding he demonstrate that he meets the literacy requirement for elected office after newspapers reported that, like one-in-10 Brazilians, he is illiterate.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Uncertainty about economy returns to Ireland after very short reprieve

For a few days after the Irish Government saw a €1.5 billion bond issue snapped up last week there was a brief moment of optimism that the worst might be over for a country hard hit by the fallout from the global economic crisis. The much higher interest rate that investors were demanding from Ireland compared with major European nations eased a little bit. Alas, it has proved to be a false dawn.
The yield on 10 year Irish bonds has kicked up again as doubts quickly returned about the cost to the Government budget of bailing out Irish banks. The final cost of saving the largest of those banks is expected to be revealed later this week.

Best tabloid headlines: HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR

As part of its 35th anniversary edition New York Magazine has published a list of best tabloid headlines with that famous New York Post Headless Body effort naturally making the list.
I know it doesn't qualify as it appeared in Dublin rather than New York but I still have Woman in sumo wrestler suit assaulted her ex-girlfriend in gay pub after she waved at man dressed as a Snickers bar as my all time favourite.

A petty nonsense by the Opposition

Sensible civilities are going by the board as the Coalition parties abandon the traditional common-sense civilities of the House of Representatives. Confirmation of the obstructionist approach that Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has ordered was confirmed today when Regional Australia Minister Simon Crean had to abandon a planned National Press Club speech. The Opposition refused to grant Mr Crean a pair - a member agreeing not to vote so the majority was not affected during his absence - for the couple of hours he would be away from Parliament House. It deemed the speech did not meet its new grounds for granting pairs of being in the national interest.
How petty.
Lunacy has now been corrected. Perhaps someone in the Liberal Party has realised that upsetting the Government is one thing but annoying Canberra journalists is quite another thing. The Crean pair has now been approved.

Intensifying adjectives with obscenities - a study

From - one of my favourite websites - a little language study.
And for anyone having what might be called "a terrible-ex" problem I can recommend xkcd's BAD EX

A quote for the day about the obsession with paedophilia

Dominic Lawson writing in The Independent - Society is Really to Blame - that a form of displacement activity is occurring, designed to avoid facing up to the real cause of so much abuse of children, which is the breakdown of family life.
... last year the Labour government drew up proposals to make punishable by imprisonment the possession of indecent images of imaginary children – in other words, not real children, but drawings or computer-simulated images. Obviously, in the case of images of real children being abused there is a sense in which the distributor is involved in the commissioning of acts of terrible cruelty. Yet this legislation set out by Labour's last Justice Minister, Angela Eagle, was nothing less than a proposal to make disgusting thoughts illegal; so terrified are all politicians of appearing to condone paedophilia that not a single MP dared speak out against Ms Eagle's plan to make the possession of indecent sketches of imaginary children punishable by three years' imprisonment ... .
The most interesting question is why, as a nation, we have become so disproportionately obsessed with paedophilia – illustrated in its most bureaucratic form with the vetting of millions of would-be volunteers and teachers via the Criminal Records Bureau. The answer, I fear, is that it is all a form of displacement activity designed to avoid facing up to the real cause of so much abuse of children, abuse that goes on across the nation, every day. That cause is the breakdown of what we used to call "family life" and the growth of profoundly dysfunctional homes (usually state-funded) in which there are a succession of so-called "stepfathers".

And on that subject of s-x offender registries and such-like

 A view from that favourite cartoonists on the subject.

Inflation, fellation, who gives a ...

To the advice don't speak with your mouth full we can add another rule for politicians: don't speak too quickly.
Former French Justice Minister Rachida Dati
When you are in too much of a hurry to get the words out, things can go wrong as the former French Justice Minister Rachida Dati found to the amusement of many watchers of political television interviews this week. While mouthing off at a rapid rate about the perils of rising prices she substituted "fellation" for "inflation" which my handy little Google translator treats as follows:
London's Daily Telegraph reminds us that Ms Date was dropped from the French government last year "after her penchant for designer dresses and appearing on the covers of celebrity magqzines prompted criticism that a senior minister should not engage in such frivolity." She is now a member of the European Parliament and gained her latest 20 seconds of fame while launching an attack on foreign investment funds during an interview on Canal Plus.
Lapsus: Dati confond "inflation" et... "fellation"
Uploaded by LePostfr. - Watch the latest news videos.
A translation? 
"When I see some of them looking for returns of 20 or 25 per cent, at a time when fellatio is close to zero, and in particular in a slump, that means we are destroying businesses," 

Monday, 27 September 2010

Recession over but economy heading down again

Forget about inflation. Start worrying again about recession. The Chicago Fed didn't exactly put it like that in commenting on its latest National Activity Index but the message was there clear enough.
In official Federal Reserve language:
Led by declines in production - and employment - related indicators, the Chicago Fed National Activity Index decreased to –0.53 in August from –0.11 in July. None of the four broad categories of indicators that make up the index made a positive contribution in August. 
The index’s three-month moving average, CFNAI-MA3, declined to –0.42 in August from –0.27 in July. August’s CFNAI-MA3 suggests that growth in national economic activity was below its historical trend. With regard to inflation, the amount of economic slack reflected in the CFNAI-MA3 suggests subdued inflationary pressure from economic activity over the coming year.
The Chicago Fed rather prizes its ability to pick the start and end of US recessions using its National Activity Index. When the three month moving average falls below -0.70 following a period of economic expansion there is an increasing likelihood that a recession has begun. Conversely, when the average value moves above -0.70 following a period of economic contraction, there is an increasing likelihood that a recession has ended.
It certainly worked in picking the recession of 2008-2009 and with a current moving average down to -0.42 it is heading towards dangerous territory again.

Distorting Westminster

This morning it was the turn of the Liberal Member for Fadden Stewart Robert to display his ignorance for the benefit at the Canberra ritual of the doors. With the subject of the day for the gaggle of journalists being the election tomorrow of a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Stewart, a comparative parliamentary newcomer just about to start his second term, pronounced that “the Westminster system requires the government to provide a Speaker”. Which is simply nonsense because the House of Commons, sitting in the Palace of Westminster, requires no such thing.
Now it is true that only once in the 20th century was someone elected Speaker for the first time not a member of the governing party but subsequent elections saw those once chosen re-elected until they retired irrespective of which party had become the government.
And then there was the exception of 1992 when Labour’s Betty Boothroyd became the first female Speaker of the House of Commons when the Government was Conservative. That precedent of choosing a presiding officer from the ranks of the opposition party was followed in 2009 when the Conservative MP John Bercow was elected despite there being a Labour Government.

Gunning for Oakeshott

Independent MP Rob Oakeshott is really getting the tabloid beat-up treatment from the News Limited empire. This morning’s attack, which made page one in some states and was featured prominently in them all, resurrected an 11-year-old finding by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption that there was no merit to a complaint against him as if it was some kind of new shock-horror revelation.
Then for good measure it was suggested that making representations to the Defence Department on behalf of someone Oakeshott knew without disclosing that the person was a friend of his was in some way improper. Complete nonsense but, I fear, a sign of what is going to make this Parliament a very ugly one.

A truth for today - The power of conventional wisdom

From the blog of Paul Krugman - The Power of Conventional Wisdom -
"When everyone – tout le monde, as Tom Wolfe used to put it, meaning a relative handful of people, but everyone who supposedly matters – is saying something, it takes a real effort to step outside and say, wait a minute, how do we know that? It’s especially hard if you spend most of your time hanging out with other Very Serious People; I know that I myself have a hard time saying that people I know personally are talking nonsense, even when they are. The VSP effect is one reason smart bloggers, both on economics and on politics, have generally been a better guide to what’s really happening in America than famous reporters: their distance, their lack of up close and personal insights, is actually an advantage."

Sunday, 26 September 2010

The musical taste of a dictator in waiting

London's Sunday Telegraph reports that the favourite song of King Jong-un, the 27 year old son of North Korea's Kim Jong-il, when he was at school in Switzerland was a German remake of an original Hot Chocolate hit.

Shocked at Midsommer Murders

Who said Midsommer Murders was bland? Dialogue from last night's episode:

Jess, what's the best thing about necrophilia? You never have to say you're sorry.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

What Republicans mean by being American

The Daily Kos website produced an ingenious illustration of who the modern US Republican Party sees itself as appealing to - a collage from all the photos used in the Party's just released pledge to America.

There are plenty of white faces - can you spot a black one? - and bald heads.

Banana republic - here comes the US of A

Read this column and be scared. Very scared.
Downhill with the G.O.P.
Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman forecasts a frightening future as Republicans get closer to taking a grip on the government of the United States.
 ... the party’s main concern seems to be the war on arithmetic. And this party has a better than even chance of retaking at least one house of Congress this November.
Banana republic, here we come.
On Thursday, House Republicans released their “Pledge to America,” supposedly outlining their policy agenda. In essence, what they say is, “Deficits are a terrible thing. Let’s make them much bigger.” The document repeatedly condemns federal debt — 16 times, by my count. But the main substantive policy proposal is to make the Bush tax cuts permanent, which independent estimates say would add about $3.7 trillion to the debt over the next decade — about $700 billion more than the Obama administration’s tax proposals.
The big fear, argues Krugman, is that the Republicans will not actually gain enough control of the Congress to implement their secret aim of dismantling social security. The clear and present danger is, "is, rather, that Republicans will gain just enough power to make the country ungovernable, unable to address its fiscal problems or anything else in a serious way. As I said, banana republic, here we come."

Friday, 24 September 2010

Not Muslim but cactus

Given what the lunatic fringe has been saying about Barack Obama of late perhaps this is not a spoof story at all.

Laughter the best policy

Swiss Finance Minister Hans Rudolfdiscussing a parliamentary bill about meat imports:
24-09-2010 parliamentarygiggles

Justice for a Justice Minister

 The King of Swaziland has fired his Justice Minister after he was allegedly caught having an affair with one of the king’s 14 wives. Just thought you ought to know that adultery has a price.

Today’s quote goes literary.

There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.” — Kung Fu Monkey’s blog.

Gay adoption ban unconstitutional.

Those Crikey readers interested in the debate caused by Guy Rundle and his peculiar views on same-s-x adoption might find that this week’s decision by a three-judge panel of the Third District Court of Appeal in West Miami-Dade, Florida adds a different dimension.
In deciding that the state’s ban on gay adoptions was unconstitutional, the judges said there is no “rational basis” for excluding gay men and lesbians from the pool of potential adoptive parents.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

A risky and short sighted Opposition policy

In the peculiar way of such things, the decision by the Coalition to renege on its deal with the rural independents to provide the greatest possible stability to a federal government will rebound to its disadvantage. The decision to  willfully break a written promise will simply strengthen the resolve of the independents not to vote in a way that forces Labor from office. The Liberal and National Parties must now hope for a Labor party desertion or a by-election caused by a death or two to take over government or force a new general election. The odds are very much against either eventuality and a Parliament going its full term would now be the favoured outcome in my betting book.

What happened to the Susans?

A correspondent has drawn my attention to the absence of women in our list of Crikey election competition prize winners and asks what proportion of the entries actually came from each s-x.
A quick count this morning told me that 19% of entries had what I took to be female first names with another 3% in that category of not being able to tell with male names making up the other 78%.
As to why there were no female winners on our list of 20 I can offer no clue but I can tell you that Susan/Sue/Suzanne is the most common name of Crikey’s female entrants.

The myth of not having an opinion

Part of the business for ordinary journalists at our ABC and, for that matter, many other parts of the media as well, is not to directly give their own opinion. In a pretense of impartiality the technique is to ring some academic or other who you know will say what you want said.
It’s “almost a process of laundering my own views” is how I saw one journalist describe it recently and there was a wonderful example of it this morning on the AM program when University of NSW constitutional law expert George “rent-a-quote” Williams was turned to to give this momentous opinion about the speakership of the House of Representatives:
Look ultimately there’s not going to be a legal answer to this it will come down to negotiations and a political settlement and it may be only resolved on the floor of the Parliament and they may only occur when the Labor Party may be forced to provide a speaker because in the absence of the speaker Parliament simply can’t operate.”

Far too serious

After an evening of serious wine tasting I find myself in agreement with the reader who sent me this suggested Quote for the Day:
I think I have an allergic reaction to leather. I find that every time I wake in the morning with my shoes on I have a headache.”
- Scottish folk singer and satirist Hamish Imlach

A navel gazing quote of the day

Former BBC correspondent and editor Mark Brayne on how the desire to be seen to be fair now means, after a period between Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth and the disaster of Copenhagen when global warming was everywhere in the output, that public broadcasters have been bending over backwards to reflect the opposite, sceptical view.
The determination to be “fair” to all sides on all stories can at times go to such absurd lengths that Allan Little, one of our best reporters with hard experience of covering Sarajevo in the mid-90s and much more, speaks of the analogy of two men at a bar, one saying that two plus two equals four, and the other that two plus two equals six. The BBC solution to this disagreement? Put them both on the Today Programme, and the answer clearly lies somewhere in the middle.

A nice test for a new boy

When federal government financing of sport was taken away from the health department  by Julia Gillard and added to Prime Minister and Cabinet it was no doubt considered within the Labor Party to be a fitting perk with which to reward Mark Arbib for services rendered in the overthrow of Kevin Rudd.
With the Commonwealth Games in Delhi now on the brink of being one of sport’s all time great stuff ups, being Sports Minister takes on quite a different complexion.
22-09-2010 markarbib
Minister Arbib now finds himself in the difficult position of saying enough about the dangers of Australians going to the Games to avoid the Australian Government being blamed for not giving people warnings not to go if something does go wrong and the desire not to annoy the government of a potentially great trading partner by saying too much.
It is no easy task and while the new boy has so far handled it well the final political outcome for him is in the hands of Indian construction companies, Delhi’s mosquitoes and Muslim terrorists.

A quiet Prime Minister

It has been a relatively quiet Prime Minister since the swearing in of the new Labor ministry and a good thing too. After an election campaign that lasted nigh on eight months and then another month of haggling over who actually won, the public is surely in a mood to concentrate on football grand finals rather than politics.
And as Julia Gillard thinks about her approach to what will be the very testing time of being a minority leader I hope that when she does find it necessary to break her silence that she abandons the courtyard scramble approach of her immediate predecessors and actually holds a formal press conference.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Finding the frogs.

reported a month or so ago on the search byConservation International for missing frogs including the Australian gastric brooding frog, last seen back in 1985. Well there is no news yet on our missing little fellow but the mission aimed at rediscovering amphibian species thought to be extinct has yielded its first results elsewhere.
The BBC reported overnight that conservationists have turned up live specimens of two West African frogs and a cave-dwelling salamander from Mexico.
The Omaniundu reed frog was last seen in 1979, until the recent expedition