Saturday, April 12, 2014

The right agenda

The other day I was in a coffee shop, and all copies of decent newspapers were gone, so I picked up a copy of The Australian.  Only to do the puzzles, of course.  But I couldn't help noticing a piece by Denis Shanahan about reforming the Australian Electoral Commission.

This piece was written because Western Australia had just had a re-run of a senate election after 1400 odd votes were lost in last year's election.

As Denis rightly points out, Australia is rather good at elections.  We hold fair elections, and most people vote, and the results are accepted (ok, there is the odd recount when things are too close), and everyone is happy.  Not with the result maybe, but certainly with the process.

Voting is kind of fun.  You wander down to your local polling booth, join the queue (if there is one), and within about 10 minutes you tell one of the booth staff members your name.  They find your name on the list, confirm your address, and ask if you've already voted today.  You say "no", and they cross your name off and give you the ballot papers.  You got to a booth, fill them in, and put them in the cardboard box while being watched by an attendant.  And out you go.

You don't have to show ID.  You don't get your thumb dipped in indelible ink.  You don't even have to go to a booth in your electorate - you can vote anywhere.

So what was the point of Denis' argument?  On the surface a sensible discussion of possible improvements to our voting system.  But the subtext was, as always in the Oz, that government is incompetent, and that fraud is rife.  And no doubt they'll eventually decide that we need to show ID when we vote, and that we need to make registering to vote more difficult.  And to what purpose?  To discourage the poor and less organised from voting.  The usual right wing rubbish.

And in response I'd just like to say to Denis and Rupert, "Get fucked".

Monday, April 7, 2014

Sweat and ammonia

Yesterday I cycled 145 km in the 3 dam challenge.  The weather was kind, but it was hard work.  After ~90 km and 3.5 hours, we stopped for lunch at Wungong dam.  I have a hanky which I put inside the front of my helmet to absorb sweat, and I wrung this out.  And most strangely, it had a distinctive smell of ammonia.  Just a little, but you couldn't mistake it.

I searched the internet and found that this is not uncommon.  Most people attributed it to the body running out of carbs and burning protein.  In which case, I'd really like to complain - because I've got plenty of fat to burn, and can't understand why my limited supply of muscle would be consumed preferentially!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Norrie and gender

Norrie has achieved notoriety by getting a third gender in Australia, which is basically neither male nor female.

Norrie first came to my attention when I was at the University of Western Australia as an undergraduate.  He stood in the Guild elections as Bruce "Norrie" Watson.  He stood, if I recall correctly, for every position he could, and ended up as a Guild councillor.  I remember him campaigning next to a beautiful picture of a peacock drawn on a portable blackboard.  He was charming and likeable.

Later some of us physics types formed the Manic Depressive Society, and Norrie (who was definitely not a physics type) joined.  We did a PROSH stunt where we staged mock armed abductions in the city.  In the last and best of these an onlooker managed to grab the sleeve of Norrie's faux leather coat, and the arm of the coat was ripped off as we drove off in our "getaway car".  Good fun.

The next I heard of Norrie was when I worked in Social Security.  He did too, but was causing problems.  He had become Norrie Watson officially, but now wanted to be just "Norrie".  And of course the bureaucracy could not handle it.  He was trouble in the office he worked in, so the HR people decided it would be best if he moved to head office.  But not only was he now just "Norrie", but he had also decided he wanted to be a woman.  So he started dressing as a woman.

This was not really a problem.  But some of the female staff took exception to Norrie using the female toilets.  He hadn't had the operation to remove his male anatomy yet (and I don't know if he ever did have it), and they weren't comfortable with him using their toilet.

I left Social Security then (over 25 years ago), and don't recall hearing anything about Norrie until last week.  But now that he has his own gender, which toilet will he use?  Will he start arguing that since the other genders get their own toilets, so should he?

And that is the thing about Norrie.  He wants to be the centre of attention, causing a fuss, making the establishment uncomfortable.  Does it really matter that a new gender label has been created for him?  No.  But it got him another 15 minutes of fame, and that is what really counts.  He's planning to get married.  Think about it.  Its not straight marriage, and its not gay marriage.  Its a whole new problem, and another 15 minutes of fame.

I wonder what his parents think (or though, because he being about my age, his parents may well be dead).  I'm guessing they accepted him however he was.

Anyway, on tele, Norrie looked radiant.  A little old, thin and almost haggard, but radiant nonetheless.  So good luck to him, or given that he's not a him or a her, should that be, "good luck to hir"?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The economics of employing a glazier in Perth.

So one of my mates is a glazier.  Runs his own business.  Used to be a one-man band but expanded a few years ago and trained up a couple of apprentices.  One left for a better job in aviation.  The other moved to Sydney.

So he looks at employing a glazier.  And he can't find any, or not any that he thinks are any good.

Now we all know that if a big company can't find the CEO they want, they just offer more money.  But he can't do this.  If he employs a glazier, they must at least pay for themselves.  And if he pays them too much, they won't pay for themselves, so he's better off without them.

His wife offers the insight that all the decent glaziers run their own businesses.  And I guess that is where the problem lies.  It isn't too hard to set up as a glazier.  So if you are good at it and like it, you'll go into business for yourself.

Interestingly enough, my mate is pretty personable, and does a good job.  He's in high demand, even though he doesn't charge rock bottom rates.  I suspect that glaziers who do employ a few people end up making do with poorer workers, or cut corners to cut costs.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Imports of workers set to rise...

In Australia, employers can get foreign workers in on 457 visas if there is a local shortage.  Now it seems that our government is giving them a blank cheque:

The system is already abused.  Many computer programmers have come into Australia on 457 visas, despite there being plenty of Australian IT graduates who can't find jobs.  You might argue that maybe there is a shortage of the particular programming skills that the imported workers have.  But I don't think so.  Why?  Because I've spoken to programmers who work for a large multinational computer company (ok, its IBM), who tell me that they haven't had a pay rise for 5 years.  Not even a cost-of-living pay rise.  So in reality, their wages are actually falling.  Basic economics says that a genuine shortage would lead to an increase in their pay.

So there is no shortage.  Just a desire by businesses to employ cheaper workers from overseas.  Its worth noting that not only are these workers cheaper, they never cause any problems.  Because if they do, they are sent back to where they came from.  So its win-win for the employers.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Alpha males?

I've always thought that humanities success was that unlike other mammals, we don't have alpha males.  That is, most men get a chance to breed and pass on their genes, and in return, they are intensely cooperative.  A level of cooperativeness that must truly scare all other species on the planet.

But the other day Christine Lagarde  mentioned that the richest 85 people in the world owned more than the poorest 3 billion people in the world.

So is that the deal?  If you are male, you get to pass on your genes, and in return you must cooperate.  But don't expect to share in the riches - mating is your only bonus.

Or maybe that deal isn't quite enough, which is why we are seeing so much unrest in the world.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Electricity privatisation

Electricity privatisation is one of the more obvious dumb things to do.

Given its such a bad idea, why did it happen?

Governments need to be elected.  They get elected by promising to do more or tax less.  If they sell off their electricity assets, they have the money to get elected again.  Us voters are both greedy and gullible.

When the power sale is proposed, cheaper electricity is promised.  After the sale, nobody talks about it much.  Or else they focus on the carbon tax, and pretend that it was responsible for all the price rises.  Us voters are stupid, gullible, and have short memories.

And our stupidity and short memory is greatly helped by Rupert Murdoch, whose newspapers lie to us and distract us.  The gullibility is not Rupert's fault.  We do that all on our own.