28 February, 2009

GraphJam Fail

A few months ago, I made a submission to GraphJam, a division of the I Can Has Cheezburger empire, but as far as I can work out, it never got picked up so I'll post it here. Might be worth a bit of a giggle and it does have the advantage of being factually accurate.

26 February, 2009

It's the stupidity, stupid!

I've been listening to some more of Bobby Jindal's reply to Obama's speech and you've really got to marvel at the gall of some people. He's actually holding up Hurricane Katrina as an example of why government can't run things. That may seem like a slam-dunk argument but you have to think things through.

With Democratic local and state government and a Republican federal government at the time, that gave the three separate levels an excuse to all blame the incompetence on each other. The truth is that they all stuffed up mightily and there's more than enough blame to go around.

But this is where Jindal and the Republicans' utter gall comes into it. They assume that when government cocks something up, it's not a personal failure on their part, but a failure of government as a concept.

Having replaced Democrat Kathleen Blanco as governor, Jindal could have pointed to those previous failures and shown how much he'd learned from it and how much better his administration is at handling things now. But no, instead, his reading of the situation is that government simply can't manage things at all so it's better to just get out of the way and let others handle it.

That seems to be the Republicans' platform at the moment,
Vote for us. We promise we won't do anything!
We'll give it all to someone else. Anyone else. What have you got?

It makes you wonder what on earth government is for if not to govern.

Here's the real lesson:
Things don't fall in a heap just because they're managed by government.
Things fall in a heap when they are managed by stupid governments.
Don't use previous government failures as an excuse to delegate your duties, learn from those failures so that you can do the job properly this time. Government is not the problem. Stupidity is the problem.

25 February, 2009

A Revolution?

There's a huge buzz going around about the "newly discovered" version of the Beatles' Revolution that appeared online this week.

I've listened to it a few times now and here's what I know:
It's labelled "Take 20," but it is clearly not a rough take. It has the same "Take two" edit as on the album version, John's voice sounds like it's been ADT'd and there are obviously overdubs. Not the kind of thing you do on a discarded take.

According to Mark Lewisohn's The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions (the last word on all such matters), take 20 was in fact a tape reduction of take 18.
Well, the Beatles only had 4-track tape machines at the time. So once the first three were filled up, they were mixed down to the fourth track and the other three were then re-used. This actually happened three times during the recording of Revolution 1. So all you hi-fi buffs take note - even the master recording is third generation! The "Take 20" announcement that we hear is for the benefit of the tape and was not part of the live recording session. That would explain the dropouts at the start of the leaked recording.

Even though take 18 was a long and meandering version of the song, they evidently overdubbed the whole of it - at least the first overdubs, anyway. There's not evidence on the newly discovered Take 20 of the brass section that was added later. And yes, some of the ad libs at the end were later used for the sound collage, Revolution 9.

So what we are hearing is the full length version of what would eventually be cut down to make the album version. Definitely a curio worth having if you can still find it.

Schoolyard politics

So the big news yesterday was that Tony Abbott called Kevin Rudd a "toxic bore." It's enough to make you think we don't have bushfires or an economic crisis to worry about.

I'll be the first to admit that Tony Abbott is usually more entertaining than Kevin Rudd. He's also a slimy, lying idiot.
Sorry Tony. Shit happens.

Also in US schoolyard politics, Republican chairman Michael Steele seemed happy to embrace the premise of a question about "retribution," on the three Republican senators who voted for the stimulus bill.

Retribution? For voting differently to the rest of the party?
I remember a time when Republicans embraced "mavericks."

Finally, Bobby Jindal says the US government shouldn't be monitoring volcanoes. Tell that to anyone who has lived through an eruption. You'd think the governor of Louisiana ought to understand the importance of keeping a lookout for potential disaster.

21 February, 2009


It's Saturday night - time for a couple of Rocktails.

The Radiohead

Add a nip of absinthe to cider and serve over cough drops and ice.
Add sour cream and chill.
Add celery juice and Marmite.
If that still doesn't turn people off, add grass, sawdust, pea soup and iron filings until something works.

The Oasis

Fill a pint glass with gin & tonic, Jack Daniel's and red wine, then throw it at your brother.

20 February, 2009

Shopping at NQR

I have no intentions for this ’blog to turn into another one of those tiresome “what happened to me today and how I feel about it” affairs, but I did want to share something that happened this afternoon.

For those who haven’t heard of it, NQR stands for Not Quite Right and it’s a chain of grocery stores that carry discontinued items, products close to their date, excess stock and other such items that are still perfectly safe for consumption, just not quite right. It’s the kind of place you check for bargains first before doing the balance of your shop at a proper supermarket. It was on such a bargain hunt that I spied some corn chips.

Now, I don’t think there are many local variations on corn chips. Where-ever you're from and whatever brand you’re looking at, they probably come in Original (ie: plain salted), Sour Cream & Chili, Cheese, Nacho Cheese, Cheese Supreme and I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Cheese. I think that’s partly why my eye was caught by some Rositas Guacamole corn chips.

It’s a flavour that, to me, is an obvious one as soon as you see it but I never would have thought of it before. And a reason I’d never heard of it before, and was now seeing it at NQR, was probably what they look like inside.

I know it looks like they have been sitting there for three months, (mind you, if you left corn chips sitting there for three months, apart from some sogginess, they would probably look exactly the same as when you first put them there) but these are fresh out of the packet.

Did they really need to try to make them look like guacamole? I mean, that’s got to be food colouring, right? Nothing natural is that colour. Well, nothing that’s natural and edible, anyway. If you look again at the packet, you’ll see the picture is very green, but that still doesn’t prepare you for their real colour. In fact, the photo doesn’t do them justice. They really are the colour of mould.
They don’t taste too bad if you close your eyes, but green corn chips are definitely Not Quite Right.
= = = =

Another item I bought out of sheer fascination for its existence, was a 175ml bottle of Coke Zero.

For a while, I never understood why the two big cola producers made two separate sugar-free versions. It turns out that in America, Diet Coke is sweetened with aspartame, while Coke Zero is sweetened with the slightly more natural sugar derivative, Splenda. However, in Australia, both Diet Coke and Coke Zero (and Pepsi Max for that matter) are sweetened with aspartame. My guess is that they produce the Zero/Max versions to promote to men who find anything with “diet” in the name a bit too girly. They should probably call it Diet Bloke.

It might be just me, but when looking around a place like NQR, I often wonder what it is about the stock that isn’t quite right. For instance, the special pink ribbon Tim Tams are probably leftover stock from the promotion which has now ended. I’m guessing a lot of stock there was produced for export but missed the boat because it’s made in Australia but I’ve never seen it anywhere else. Then there’s the obvious stuff that’s past its best-before date and mistakes like green corn chips.

But the tiny coke really bewilders me. Here's a picture to give you some idea of the actual size. I do have reasonably big hands but not that big.

A whole bunch of people at Coca Cola, who doubtlessly get paid a lot more than me, must have agreed that producing this novelty-sized glass bottle was a good idea. Then there is all the engineering involved in producing the bottle itself. And I bought it for something like 33¢. It was somewhat heartening that the girl at the checkout agreed with me about the amusing and slightly depressing pointlessness of it all. Why did they make this thing? I know health professionals are advocating for smaller sizes but this is ridiculous. And I certainly hope it’s not aimed at small children because they should not be on artificial sweeteners. My guess is that it might actually have been intended for showbags and promotions since there’s no bar-code on the bottle. But even so, was the regular 330ml bottle too big?

By the way, I’m sorry if any of this looks like product placement. If Rositas, Coca Cola or Arnotts want to sling me a few bucks, I won’t say no.

Update: I was wrong.
The US versions of Diet Coke and Coke Zero are both sweetened with aspartame. So Coke Zero is "Diet Bloke" in all regions.

19 February, 2009

Breaking News

Following widespread criticism from the conservative side of politics, the Obama administration has released a revised version of its stimulus package.

The new package aims to give every US citizen a slap in the face with a wet fish.

Some Republicans have vowed to oppose the deal saying they are still holding out for a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, but it's believed the new bill will receive broad bipartisan support.

16 February, 2009

The Rules: Self-awareness

How many times have we heard comments along the lines of,

These bloody kids with their hoodies and low-rider jeans that show about four inches of underwear, they're all just trying to be Americans. This is supposed to be Australia.

Well, of course they're trying to ape American culture, but you don't get to complain about that if you've ever worn blue jeans, a baseball cap (in any direction), sneakers or a leather jacket. People have been imitating American fashions since the 1950s. The only difference is that the old stuff has been assimilated into our own culture now, and the homeboys still stand out.

If you wear moleskins, a slouch hat and Driza-bone all the time, then you've got a point.

14 February, 2009


Okay, it's time for some levity at the end of an awful week.

Allow me (as if you could forbid me) to introduce Rocktails.

It's something I've posted on various sites before and I freely admit that I stole the idea completely from NME. Way back in the early 90s, they published a throwaway article of cocktail recipes based on rock stars. One of these days I'll dig out the original article and post it, but today isn't that day. I've taken the idea and devised a few of my own. Some will be a bit dated now, but hopefully still good for a laugh. Suggestions or challenges welcome.

These are not real recipes! This is for entertainment purposes only. I take no responsibility for anything that happens to anyone who is silly enough to actually mix and consume any of these concoctions. This disclaimer applies to all future posts with the Rocktails label.

The Paul & Heather

Mix 2 parts 25yo single malt scotch whiskey with 1 part Island Cooler in a stainless steel Gucci blender.
Mix again.
Leak recipe to the press.
Add twist of lemon.
Continue adding twists of lemon until the whole thing is so bitter you pour it out.

The U2

Combine Irish whiskey with lime juice and soda water in a straight glass and mix earnestly.
Garnish with novelty hats.
Pour out of the straight glass into a modern design glass.
Add lemon.
Pour into a really silly glass with flashing lights.
When the straight glass has come back into fashion, pour it back into that and serve on an oversized coaster with the contact numbers for Greenpeace, Amnesty International and Make Poverty History.

10 February, 2009


I suppose I should have something to say about the bushfires that have been burning across Victoria since Saturday. But what can you say? What can even begin to describe the devastation? These are the worst ever. 71 people died in the Black Friday fires of 1939 and 75 people were killed by the Ash Wednesday fires (which really were on Ash Wednesday) on 1983. So far, 173 people have lost their lives and that number increases by the hour. It will take weeks to identify them all, by dental and medical records, or perhaps by jewellery.

The death toll doesn't tell the whole story of the magnitude of the fires. When you factor in the advances in firefighting technology, it's even worse. They didn't have water-bombers in 1939.

We should be clear about one thing: fire is part of the natural cycle of the bush. The seed of the Banksia can't open without a fire - that's why it's surrounded by kindling. It's not that all fire is bad, just this kind. And this time around, it looks like it's not for want of proper forest management and fuel reduction.

It's looking like some of the fires were deliberately lit, and others were possibly caused by lightning strikes or overloaded power lines. I guess the latter is something they did have much of in 1939 either.

There is excellent coverage at the ABC and threat updates at the CFA.
Donations can be made to the Red Cross.
Please donate only to well-known, reputable agencies.

By the way, I am deliberately vague about my exact location. The Gippsland region, by its broadest definition, stretches all the way from south-east Melbourne to the pointy bit in the far east of the state. I'm not near any of the danger areas, so please don't worry. There are others who need your concern far more.

06 February, 2009

Newscorp Loss

Fox News' Bill O'Reilly loves to cite dwindling circulation and falling profits of certain newspapers as evidence that the publications are morally bankrupt and that decent people have rejected whatever agenda O'Reilly alleges the publication to have. This is despite the fact that newspaper sales are down across the board.

So it makes you wonder what O'Reilly will have to say (if anything) about his paymaster, Newscorp's operating loss of $US7.6 billion for the last quarter. If you follow O'Reilly's logic (which is a stupid thing to do at any time) then that must mean that all good people have rejected Newscorp's ideology and behaviour.
While that's not the only reason, it's closer to the truth than anything O'reilly has said about the New York Times, et al.

We all love a bit of anti-Murdoch schadenfreude but in the case of the current crisis, this is one character who actually deserves it. It has been Murdoch and his minions who have used and abused their power over the last 30 years to promote the discredited economic theory that has led to the meltdown. It's only fitting that they should suffer for it.

But his Mum is a fan of Kevin Rudd!

04 February, 2009

Brother, can you spare a grand?

It looks like some time around April, the government is going to give me $950. It's part of the latest round of economic stimulus packages. The opposition has expressed doubt that the grants portion of the package will do anything, leader Malcolm Turnbull saying. “If you give people one-off windfall lump sums in uncertain times they are more likely to save it than to spend it.” The government rejected that criticism, citing Westfield statistics showing a surge in December sales at their Australian locations, following the last round of grants, but not similar bumps in their New Zealand and US outlets. The government might also have mentioned some Howard government grants to people on benefits that were actually meant to offset increases in the cost of living but nevertheless came in the same week as a spike in the sales of plasma screens.

Even so, the opposition is probably right to say that most people are unlikely to go out and spend it all, but isn't it better that they have it for when they need it? Either way, we know we are in uncharted economic territory when the opposition is complaining that Australians are saving too much.

It is somewhat refreshing though to see governments react so relatively quickly to the revelation that much of their economic thinking over the last three decades has been wrong. Mind you, it isn't as if they had much choice. This is not the kind of stuff-up that you can keep hidden on the other side of the world. One of the first things the Australian government did was to guarantee all deposits in all Australian banks. This immediately averted a run on the banks, which was already beginning, and had the knock-on effect of overseas money flowing into the country from account holders who want to be sure their money is safe. So Citibank's loss is the NAB's gain. Fine by me.

But there can be no doubt now that much of the world's economy has all been based on a false assumption. Even Alan Greenspan, poster child of the free market, has admitted to a flaw in the system that he never saw before. And why would he see it? When you believe that the market is self-regulating and self-correcting, why would you consider flaws? Obviously I'm no economist – anyone who knows the first thing about economics figured that out long ago. But it seems to me that the free market is kind of like a machine. It works perfectly, until it doesn't.

The computer you are reading this on has most likely been programmed to check itself, update itself, diagnose itself and correct itself. Left to manage itself, it should constantly self-regulate and self-correct and all you need do is enjoy the benefits. And that's how most computers work. Until they don't. Despite anything that Microsoft or Norton or even Apple say, everyone knows that there's no substitute for a bit of informed vigilance on the part of the user. If you find your computer running awfully slowly, or giving you strange messages or suddenly having new programs that you didn't know about, you don't just assume that the system knows what it's doing and will right itself. You assume that there is something wrong with the system and it needs intervention from someone who knows what they're doing.

Just as no-one has ever been able to build a perpetual motion machine, no-one has ever been able to design a perfectly self-regulating economic system. Unfortunately, many have had to learn this latter fact the hard way. The “hands off and let the market decide” policies of the last 25 years have been thoroughly discredited and one of the sad aspects of that is that so many of its surviving proponents are now comfortably retired or reliably ga-ga and will never have to face the consequences of their failed experiment. Some who still cling to the notion of a self-regulating, self-correcting market will argue that no government has ever been truly hands-off and that it's the tinkering around the edges of the free market that caused the problem. That's like changing the oil in your car once in twenty years and then when the engine blows up, blaming it on the one time you actual did change the oil. The problem is that you didn't change the oil enough. Machines have to be maintained and so so economies.

At this point, the analogy (and, indeed, the economy) breaks down because a machine will behave in a predictable way based on a certain set of circumstances. Economic rationalists assume the market will too, but that fails to take into account the vagaries of human nature. Free market theory assumes that people and companies will act in their own interests. But people don't always do what is in their own interests. It's not in anyone's interests to smoke, but people still do it. Governments attempt to reduce the damage done by these people who act against their own interests by raising taxes on cigarettes, assuming that people will do what's in their economic interests, even though we have already established that we're talking about people who do not act in their own interests. I only know of one person who stopped smoking because of the amount they were taxed, and that's probably one more than most. They have also banned smoking from pretty much every place it's possible to ban it from, and only fringe groups have complained that it's an intolerable restriction on freedom and the natural order of things. I believe the restriction of people's ability to smoke and gradually making it socially unacceptable has worked far better in reducing smoking than any appeal to people's self-interest. It takes human nature out of the equation.

Speaking of human nature, there remains the question of what to do with my $950. It's always been my nature to take any windfall and put it away until such time as my own personal economy needs stimulating. Is this greedy of me? Unpatriotic? I don't think so. I don't need a new TV or washing machine or interstate holiday right now. If I were to spend the payment on any of those things, or fritter it away on wine, clothes and CDs, that would just be spending for the sake of spending. I'm not well off but I am doing alright at the moment. That could change in the future. I don't know if it might be two weeks or two years, but it will be reassuring to know that if times get tougher, or I have a sudden expense, there will be money there to put towards it. So Malcolm is right to predict that not everyone is going to go out and spend their grant immediately. We don't want a binge-and-purge economy anyway. But it will make people more secure in knowing that if they need the money, it will be there, and that alone will be enough to loosen people's budgets a little bit.

Someone once defined 'consumer confidence' as people's desire to spend money they don't have on things they don't need to impress people they don't like. In this climate, it might be enough for people to know they do have the money for things they do need.

Recommended reading:
Crikey's Bernard Keane on Turnbull's response to the Rudd package

02 February, 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For

(and be grateful you didn't get it)

I think it's time for all the Clintonites (and even a few Palinites) to recant their claim that Barack Obama made a gross error in not choosing Hillary Clinton as his running mate. Obviously, he won the election so it was no electoral error, but with Clinton's appointment and easy confirmation as Secretary of State, her supporters ought to realise now that she got a much better deal than she ever would have as Vice President.

Constitutionally, the Vice President is nothing more than a spare tyre, whose official duties range from the trivial to the banal. Or as John McCain put it (in what was widely interpreted as a rebuke of Dick Cheney), the VP's duties are to break ties in the Senate and enquire daily as to the health of the president. It could easily be a one-day-a-week job. Any further duties are within the gift of the president. As far as most presidents have been concerned, the office of VP serves two very different purposes: it placates a section of the party that has reservations about the top of the ticket in an election year, and it keeps them out of the way in between elections. You don't make someone Secretary of State if you want to keep them out of your hair.

People have short memories. The fact that the Bush administration devolved so much power to the vice president says far more about Bush and Cheney than it does about the office of VP. Al Gore is not a household name today because of anything he did as Bill Clinton's VP. Between 1993 and 2000, far more eyes were on Warren Christopher, Janet Reno, Madeline Albright and, of course Hillary Clinton. By comparison, Al Gore was better known as Tipper's husband and the man who was just a cheeseburger away from the presidency. To think for a moment that Obama was going to give his VP even half as much power as Bush gave his, is ludicrous.

In fact, Obama showed great leadership in his choices. He gave the Clinton supporters what they really wanted (a position of high power and influence for Hillary) instead of what they merely thought they wanted (her name on the ticket). It would be easy to imagine that if Clinton had been nominated VP (assuming it wouldn't have cost Obama the election), her supporters waking up on the 21st and suddenly realising she'd been consigned to political irrelevance. Instead, she will be answering far more of those eagerly-waited 3am 'phone calls than she might have, even as president.

It's not that Joe Biden isn't capable or loyal. But we are going to be hearing a lot more from Secretary of State Clinton over the next four years than we will from Vice President Biden. It would be nice to see the sisterhood of the travelling pants-suits give Obama some credit for that.

01 February, 2009

The Rules: Op Shops

When shopping in opportunity shops (or charity shops), pay what the item is worth to you, even if that's more than the asking price.

Op shops are a great, affordable way to develop your own unique style. For this reason, a lot of people shop at op shops who don't necessarily need to. There's nothing wrong with that, but remember that op shop prices are aimed at people who can only afford a token payment, and any meagre profits they make, go to support the charity which usually involves people who can't afford to pay anything for clothes.

So, if you find a nice shirt, a cool jacket or a funky tie at an op shop, give them a little bit extra if you can afford to. I don't mean paying what it would cost new, but if the tag says $4, and you would have been willing and able to pay up to ten, then be cool and give them the ten. It's worth it just for the expression of surprise and gratitude you'll get from the nice volunteer working there.