Monthly Archives: October 2011

Reasons to be happy you’re not stuck renting, like your kids will be

A glorious morning, where everything has turned out for the best. A couple of unions have been crushed – this time for daring to demand Australian jobs in a company that trades on the record its Australian workers have built up for safety. Glamorous and wealthy people will be visiting Melbourne for a horse race. And people questioning the status quo are being moved on wherever they gather.

So I thought I’d get in the spirit by sharing with you some happy thoughts to make you feel better about your lot in life, so long as you’re not a renter, locked out of owning your own home by the non-portability of your job and the ludicrous prices in Australian capital cities.

  • You own an asset that’s priced by real estate agents at a ludicrous figure! If you can find a buyer wealthy enough to pay it. And if you don’t mind the inflated house prices making your rates higher for pretty much no realisable gain for you.
  • Your housing costs remain roughly stable over the term of your mortgage. You can’t have your rent raised every year at the whim of a landlord. (And if a bank threatens raising interest rates on your mortgage, every politician in the land will fight to prevent it.)
  • You can save money by planting your own vegetables and trees and other things in your own back garden, not limited to pots but in the ground, where they can flourish – if you were a renter, you’d probably be prevented from doing this. And if you weren’t, and spent money nurturing such a garden, the landlord could, with a few months’ notice, just take it from you.
  • You can put up pictures without asking permission.
  • You can install air conditioning without the landlord raising the rent because the house now has air conditioning.
  • You can install solar panels and water tanks and otherwise reduce your living costs.
  • You can have pets without asking someone for permission as if you were a child.
  • You can relax, because you can’t be kicked out at a few months’ notice on the whim of a landlord.

See? Things are pretty good, after all. For you.

Why would the police stop someone from peaceful protest against the Queen?

A contrasting response to protest, depending on from what side of the spectrum it comes, appears to be demonstrated in the behaviour of the police yesterday while the Queen was visiting Victoria:

But the visit was not all smooth, with reports of several protesters removed from Federation Square by police before the queen’s arrival.

A group of anti-carbon tax protesters also assembled near Government House, armed with banners reading “Welcome, your Majesty, please dissolve parliament,” and “carbon tax corruption”.

Here’s hoping that report just leaves out the critical detail that those protesters who were removed were doing something illegal and deserving of removal, rather than simply protesting. Imagine if we lived in a country where you couldn’t protest against the monarchy!

Another corporate thinking fail

Check out the cunning in this business model for videogame publishers:

  • Sign deals with developers that make their pay dependent on a good review score average through Metacritic;
  • Force developer to add nasty, anti-consumer, obnoxious DRM and limitations to the game.
  • If reviewers pretend that your anti-consumer nonsense doesn’t matter, then you get away with it. If they don’t, if they penalise the game by lowering the scores, then you don’t have to pay the developer as much!
  • Profit.

Well, for a while. In the era of digital distribution, their ripoff strategy is actually costing them money – but trying to make these monkeys understand that would be like trying to teach a cockroach to type. Still, the question for those who care about the developers and products affected is – how do we break that cycle?

I suspect that the only way to tackle it is for reviewers to start punishing games that are infected with this sort of rubbish, even though that unfortunately will hurt developers in the short-term – but it’s the only way to let developers know to be wary of those sorts of contracts. Playing along with it isn’t in their long-term interests, anyway.

What are they protesting about, anyway?

So what’s the point of the “occupy” protests? Obviously they weren’t going to get a sympathetic ear – or any kind of fair hearing (did you know that if you buy a mobile phone or a computer you’re agreeing with anything done by corporate Australia and may never object to it again?) – in the commercial media, but what were they trying to achieve? What has standing around in a crowd chanting slogans ever achieved?

Well, for one, it shows politicians that it’s not just the far-right who are angry with where things are going. The anti-carbon tax and “tea party” type protests have obviously sunk into the feeling of some of our politicians, who might be tempted to think – if everyone else remains silent – that they have some kind of popular support for passing ever more right-wing policies. Because for every person on the fringe angry enough to let Alan Jones bus them to Canberra, they might reason, there’s probably a few more voters angry but too busy to come. This could be the tip of the iceberg! I’d better do what they want.

So a protest from the other side helps balance out that pressure. Even if that’s all it does, it’s still arguably worthwhile for that reason alone.

Second, it lets politicians know that there are people out there – possibly many more than have simply attended the protest, for the reasons above – who think we’re going too far down the American path. Who want them to consider the public sphere, the poor, the community as a whole, when deciding whether or not to support legislation that either redresses the imbalances in our society or which makes them worse.

The protesters don’t need to come up with a set of specific policy proposals to have an important impact. What they’re calling for is clear – policies to redress inequality. The opposite of what the so-called “pro-business” low tax advocates lobby for in Canberra. And when legislation comes before the parliament on economic issues, the politicians are on notice that they’re being watched by voters who want the balance to go back the other way for a change.

Sure, there’ll always be a few ratbags at any protest. They don’t have bouncers. We saw it at the anti-Carbon tax rallies, too (although it did seem to be more than a few of them). Even the police had their ratbags, giving the rest of them, the ordinary, decent members, a bad name – those who removed their name badges and thumped people. But so what? That’s no reason to give up on the idea of popular protest.

Protests tell government the direction in which ordinary, engaged people would like it to go. When we have three years between elections and the blunt instrument of a mostly two-party system even then, where the voters’ precise directions are sometimes difficult to discern accurately, protests are a necessary and important part of the process of democracy.

Even if they’re inconvenient and annoying.

Why cats have slit eyes

Apparently we now know why cats have slit eyes:

Almost all animals with multifocal lenses have slit pupils, which help them to make the most of their unique lens, according to the paper. This is because, even when contracted, a slit pupil lets an animal use the full diameter of the lens, spanning all the concentric refractive zones, allowing for all colours to be sharply focused.

When round pupils, such as those in human eyes, constrict, they cover the outer refractive rings of the lens, preventing the focusing of certain colours.

I used to be creeped out by cat eyes, back when I was more a dog sort of person. I wonder how much of the dislike for cats by some people is due to their alien-looking eyes.

But, once again, they just turn out to be better designed creatures than dogs.

Hard to believe this is still necessary

I’ve never participated in a rape trial, but if these questions are still being asked, then maybe this analogy needs to be pointed out in return:

(Via “I’m At Two With Nature, via Keri.)

The ombudsman and the Senator and the beatup

I don’t agree that an Ombudsman, concerned about the inadequate funding of his office, suggesting some “dorothy dixer” type questions he can be asked so that he can express the concerns of his office, is somehow “corrupt”. This is a political system where half of Parliament’s most prominent hour every day is taken up with “dorothy dixer” questions from the government to itself. And whilst an ombudsman isn’t supposed to be party-political, are they really supposed to be neutral on absolutely everything? Against the interests of the office they represent and the citizens it is supposed to protect? How else are they to get these concerns aired, if the big party politicians do not care?

THE Commonwealth Ombudsman has conceded he was unwise and compromised the independence of his office by actively colluding with the Greens, but said he had no other way to air his concerns about government policy.

Following revelations he scripted loaded questions on immigration, defence and taxation for the Greens to ask him during budget estimates hearings, Allan Asher called for a special parliamentary committee or some other mechanism so he could directly raise his concerns.

And until then, why shouldn’t he work within the system as much as he can? In the interests of the ordinary Australians on whose behalf he’s employed?

I don’t see that asking a Senator in a position to raise the office’s concerns to do so in the public forum of budget estimates is improper at all. Unless you define “holding the big parties to account” as “improper”. No wonder they’re united in smearing the Ombudsman and the Greens for daring to challenge them.