Saturday, 28 February 2009

Tennis neck

Tennis. Gah! Don't talk to me about tennis!

I used to play it reasonably often. When Hof was still wearing a uniform of white, I'd knock off work early, take the train from the city to Kings Cross and have a hit with him on the Navy courts at Garden Island. Apparently the grass courts we played on were some of the oldest in the country - but they were ripped out a few years ago by a bunch of philistines. It was magnificent playing on them on the edge of the harbour (and they were free).

Back in those halcyon pre-9/11 days, I could simply rock up at the front gate in my whites, tennis racquet in one hand and backpack full of work clothes in the other, say that I was there for a spot of tennis and the sentry would let me in, free to roam around until I found the courts that we were playing on.

It's the little things that have changed in this age of terror. Try doing that today.

Another big change is that back then, I'd be accosted at least once on every block by a hooker trying to score. I'd try and point out to them that I was obviously on my way to a tennis match, but they were all too strung out to care. They all had this crazy idea that I'd walked that way because my plans that day were to play tennis and root a hooker.

Children, drugs are bad. They cause wastoids to get between you and a perfectly lovely hour of thwocking a ball aimlessly back and forth as the sun goes down.

I've even had a crack at Real Tennis, which is a hoot. I'd like to have another crack - except that there are only a few courts in Australia, and the one in NSW at Macquarie Uni closed in 2005.

I had a long hiatus after getting thwocked off the bike by a car. The damage done to my neck by having my head rotated at unnatural speeds and angles by the force of the impact took tennis off the sports menu for a few years. I gave it a go a year after the crash, and spent the next few days in bed in agony.

The simple act of swinging my arm back and forth was enough to set off all sorts of nasty things in my neck, and as the neck bone is connected to the brain bone, when the neck goes bad, the brain starts to hurt. A lot. I discovered that you cannot get a prescription for painkillers with enough oompf to even take the edge off that sort of pain, which is not fun.

Sometimes kids, drugs can be good. If only I could get my hands on some of those drugs though....

Anyway, my racquet has been getting mouldy due to a certain reluctance to pick it up and risk setting off another episode in my neck. Then for various reasons, Junior couldn't make his regular tennis lesson this week, so I took his spot.

I've been going to most of his lessons, mainly in order to pick up the balls. Since the lessons cost around $1 per minute, I figure that if I can save 5 minutes by walking around all lesson picking up balls with a ball-collecting tube, it's a good use of my time. Many parents just slump there in the shade with a book or the paper, taking no interest in the progress of their kids. I walk around teaching him the value of money - which of course he utterly fails to understand. He thinks I am just trying to make him sweat more by denying him a few small breaks.

I like the coach, because he is a hard, tough, no nonsense taskmaster. He takes no prisoners. When Junior finishes a lesson, he is unable to speak - which is a condition I had never seen him in until he started tennis. Junior of course is still in complete shock at having a coach of this nature - every teacher he has had up until now has been of the touchy-feely variety, and I think he could count the number of male teachers he has had any contact with on one finger.

Whilst the coach is not quite in the same calibre as the legendary drill instructor in Full Metal Jacket, to Junior, he might as well be the same slightly insane, order barking robot.

Anyway, this week he was all mine.

I was hoping he'd take it easy on the old guy, but I was wrong. Within a minute of starting, I was running to all four corners of the court. By the end of the lesson, I was thoroughly shagged. I might be reasonably fit for cycling, but I am hopelessly out of shape for tennis.

My swing is also a complete mess. After 30 years of belting balls in a certain way, he now wants me to completely change my technique. Do you know how hard it is to teach an old dog a new trick? I went from getting almost every shot over the net and into the court at the start of the lesson to actually hitting balls over the back fence, or topping them and watching them sail over the back fence. It's like learning to play left handed. I can appreciate why I have to make the change, and I worked pretty hard at being the change, but by the end of the lesson, fuck-all had changed. I hope Junior can make the lesson next week, because I don't think I am that ready for change.

I can see I am going to have to pour a small fortune into this change, and hope that it works. Hell, I might as well call my racquet "Obama".

Nah, that would be a curse. All I'd ever hear is lots of air whooshing past, and I'd never connect meaningfully with anything. But I'm sure the kids would love me.

A five year plan to dumb us down

I used to think that Julia Gillard was quite bright.

I'm starting to have second thoughts. She wants 40% of 25-34 year olds to have a Uni degree. The current proportion is 29%.

I used to employ a fresh batch of Uni graduates every year. They came from a variety of universities and backgrounds. Most were quite bright and hard working, but some were thick as two short planks and as lazy as a slug on a cold winters morning. I could never understand how they made it into a University in the first place, let alone managing to stay there and pass enough subjects to make it into our graduate program. They were anything but the brightest and best.

For that is how I view a University - as a place to nurture our brightest and best. The problem is, the supply of the brightest and best is limited. The supply is governed by many things, including genetics and upbringing and the school environment, and most of these factors are outside the control of government. You can't just increase the supply of the B&B by government fiat.

Sadly, many today seem to view Universities as nothing more than degree factories, as if the holding of a bit of partchment somehow makes you a smarter, more employable person - someone that can add to the productive capacity of the economy in a meaningful way.

As if.

Intelligence, and the ability to succeed, is one of those things that is not predicated on wealth. Bill Gates might end up having the dumbest, laziest kids on the planet. An Aboriginal kid with an alcoholic mum and an absent dad in a violent, dysfunctional backwater may be the next Einstein.

You can't simply create more brightest and best by adjusting a government target. All you do is turn graduate degrees into jokey, untrusted bits of paper.

Why I give to the Salvo's, and no one else

This report on charities is from the UK, but I'm sure most of it applies in Australia as well.

Thanks be to the Devil.

Friday, 27 February 2009

Build it, and they will come

As they said in Field of Dreams, build it and they will come - although from reading the quotes on IMDB, it seems that the actual line was build it and he will come. They sounds much better when you're talking about building bike paths.

I stopped to have a look at this map that the council has erected to tell residents why they're ripping up the road. I puzzled over it for a moment, unable to figure out what this map was showing, until I worked out that it is upside down. The first thing they taught us about mapreading in the army was orientate the map to the ground. According to this map, I am standing in 10 feet of water.

Planks and lumps of 4x2 - always evocative of proper work being done. Manly work. Yes, there is the odd chick at this site, but they tend to be limited to holding Stop signs, rather than lugging heavy things around.

A work in progress.

The new path, waiting for first tracks to be carved into its obsidian surface.

As far as building it, they will blah blah blah, they don't have to worry about that problem in this neck of the woods. Foot traffic is so heavy around here during peak periods that people spill out onto the road. I'm surprised council didn't consider building a double-deck path.

As far as other vanity projects go though, many government constructions seem to have a large element of "Build it, and they will come" to them. Community centres are a case in point. I'm not sure who the "they" are that is supposed to come, but whoever they are, they seem to be in perennially short supply. Consider that next time a stimulus package is announced.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Man flu

I have sometimes been accused in the past of suffering from "man flu" - a flu virus that appears to hit men much harder than women. Some women will power through the flu, popping pills and drinking tea and disdainfully accusing any male silly enough to stay in bed as having a dose of man flu.

I'm not sure what sort of flu hit me today, but I have been flat on my back for most of it. I went to work as usual, and then around 10am, I was absolutely floored by a wave of something nasty. It was like being runover by a busload of bandicoot-rooters. I've been flung off my bike a few times and have landed splat on the concrete, and none of those road-splattering events hurt as much as the onset of this bug.

I was barely able to walk, let alone drive home. I was suddenly 100 years old - that's what it felt like. Every joint aching, every muscle screaming. I was actually panting as I walked.

Even though the beast has excellent power steering, I was hard pressed to work up enough strength to manouvere out of the car park. If the car had manual steering, I'd still be down there, panting and sweating and trying to turn the wheel. When I got home, I didn't so much get out of the car as fall out.

A shower didn't help. The glands under my arms are so sensitive, I couldn't even wash properly. My arms and legs feel like they are bruised - not in the bicep area, like you get after a day of hard work, but on the outside of my arms. I couldn't even brush my teeth at the normal rate - instead of the brush going sh-sh-sh-sh, back and forth in a rapid manner, it went shhhhhhh-shhhhhhh-shhhhhhhh, and I couldn't work up the energy to brush my fangs like I should. Lying in bed is not much fun, since I'm alternating between the sweats and the chills, and sleep doesn't want to come, even though I can't keep my eyes open. I can't face reading a book - even TV is too much.

I've bounced back somewhat after 6 hours in the sack and 4 Panadol, but even typing this is a nightmare. The kids had it earlier this week - they regularly bring back a bug from child care along with the dinosaur cutouts and finger paintings. Monkey simply flopped on the couch for two days, wimpering and too out of it to even eat ice cream, which is a sign he's not in good shape. He'd happily eat two bowls of ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner if we let him. Not wanting it at all showed how badly he was knocked around.

Man flu - what a bastard.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

The ultimate rejoinder

I'm glad I am not the only one allowing kids under the age of 15 to view Hot Fuzz, which I think is an utter scream.

Anyway, read the article, and then scroll down to comment number 4.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Only in Ireland

Via the ever-excellent Bystander comes this ripper.

Solid gold dribble

I'd like to thank Andrew Bolt for pointing me at the website of Frankston Council.

Mr McGuiness said the Study would address the types of operational frameworks that can deliver the outcomes identified through the consultation phase. "This will be presented to the working party to make a recommendation to Council and a business plan developed based on the adopted framework," he said.

I have not read crap like that for some time. Do I regret leaving the public sector?

Not at all.

The hidden victims of the financial crisis

Remember what it was like to buy a car 20 years ago? Unless your family was filthy rich, and your parents unbelievably indulgent, the average 18 year old drove a fifth-hand car that cost perhaps $3,000. Many owned cars that cost half that. They were clapped out, rattling, smelly, rusty, unreliable hulks, but they served to get one from A to B - most of the time.

Fast forward to now, and see what "extreme capitalism" has done. We now have 18 year old monkey-spankers driving around in not-so-old BMWs; and an M3 to boot (if the sticker on the side is to be believed).

How does a guy with more bum-fluff than common sense end up driving a car of this calibre?

Easy finance, that's how.

When we were buying our first cars, many of us relied on the Bank of Mum. That is, we took out a loan from our parents, and they demanded strict terms. A large deposit had to be provided. They had the final say on whether your chosen transportation option was acceptable or not. The keys could be reclaimed if the Bank was unhappy with your behaviour on the roads. Money was not forthcoming without the borrower having a job, and a demonstrated commitment to that job and paying off the loan. Being rude to the Bank, back chatting, being impolite or disrespectful, was a great way to court foreclosure on one's loan.

Until the Great American Housing Bubble finally burst (along with the Great UK Bubble), the kids of today didn't have to put up with the grief of dealing with the Bank of Mum. That's because the likes of GE Capital, along with its myriad front groups, were more than happy to stuff the largest possible loan down the gullets of our unsuspecting yoof. French farmers producing Foie Gras are accused of being cruel to geese when they overfeed them, but that is nothing when compared to how car dealers have been cramming unaffordable loans into the wallets of bogans and boy racers.

When I go past the car yards along Parramatta Road, I used to often see Master Bumfluff being shown a selection of $25,000 - $34,000 cars - such as a brace of WRXs - by a smiling car salesman, who had no qualms about arranging a 105% loan for M. Bumfluff, knowing that they would be lucky to make six months worth or payments at best. And some wonder why on average we owe so much.

I don't know if I am imagining things, but I seem to be seeing a lot more "flash" cars with P plates being offered for sale these days.


I hope they enjoy the sorts of transport options that we had in the good old days.

How fast am I going now?

Frankly, I have no idea. I went for a ride today, and the first thing I noticed was that the battery in the bike computer had gone flat. Yes, everything about my bike is green and sustainable and tree-huggable: apart from the battery in my computer that tells me my speed, distance travelled, cadence and the temperature of the air that I am speeding through.

And the battery that powers my immensely powerful headlight - so bright I have been mistaken for a motorbike. Charging that thing requires several truckloads of brown coal.

And the battery in my tail light. Make that "batteries".

And the battery in my spare headlight - just in case the main one goes flat (as it does when you are halfway home on a pitch-dark night).

And the battery in my spare tail light, which I have since I am slightly paranoid about being collected from the rear by a driver who tells you, as you are lying on the ground, "Sorry mate, didn't see you there".

Yes, my bike is so green. Kind of. Not really. Not.

It's clean though. I just gave it the quarterly de-grease and wash, which means I can now tell what colour it is, and the chain is no longer making horrible grinding noises. Although the front shifter is still jammed with grit and refuses to change gears properly. The only way to get out of top gear is to detatch my shoe from the cleat and then whack the gear changing thing sideways with my toe. That's not how it is supposed to work.

Idleness produces stupid ideas

Notice how whenever I am not fully occupied, I write silly things on this blog? Work, family, friends, exercise and other activities usually keep me pretty well occupied, but there are times when I've had a quiet (and short) day at work, the kids are in bed, the house is clean, the washing up is done, J is parked in front of Desperate Housewives and I have some time to myself.

That is when the silliness bubbles to the surface. When I have time to kill, I think of all sorts of stupid things. Stupid ideas expand to fill the available free thinking time.

Now if you think that I can dream up some incredibly stupid ideas in the hour or so that I have to myself all day, imagine what it is like being an academic or a member of the commentariat who has their entire day to engage in this activity.

I decided this week that when I rule the world, I will cut all funding of academic research in the field of business and management studies. Back when Demming and Co. were doing their ground breaking research in the 1950's and 1960's, not much had been written in the field of management - except for maybe "Organisation Man" and "My years with General Motors" (which is a great read). Some truly interesting stuff was produced as the field of management was mined, but by the time Robert Townsend wrote "Up the organisation" back in around 1974, the game was over. There was nothing new to write about. The field had been ploughed back and forth several times, and no new nuggets of knowledge were being found.

For the last 35 years or so, management research has been a waste of space. All we are seeing is old ideas being recycled with new names, or trivial and useless bits of information being peddled in trade magazines in order for academics to gain tenure. There really are only so many methods that you can use to lead and inspire people, and the core ones have been known since Caesar went over the Alps. Nothing much has changed since then.

Management research is a racket and a con, and it's time it was put down like a rabid dog.

The downside of renovation rescue

Some distant acquaintances of ours have recently had their place of abode done over by one of those renovation TV shows. The episode will go to air sometime later this year. I had to drop some stuff off at their place during filming, and found that their street was awash with people, trucks and equipment. Someone mentioned that there were 60 people working on or around the site, and I could well believe it. It was mayhem.

The building work is now complete, but the joy and pleasure that you might expect a newly renovated house to bring does not seem to have arrived. The family appear to be as shitty as a Turkish toilet. J rang them the other night, and the mum thought she was calling from Channel 9, and was quite abrupt and almost rude until she worked out that we were not part of that dreaded show. I get the feeling that the stress and strain of having a horde of hammer-bangers, coffee-fetchers, script-fluffers and assorted hangers-on descend on your house for a week is a less than pleasureable experience.

The renovation itself appears to be quite alright, but the machine that is TV production is an emotional wringer. I guess the producers want to film people in a wide range of emotional states - anger, frustration, joy and so on, so for all I know, they may artificially ratchet up the stress in order to capture some explosions - since it is thought that this makes good TV. Personally, I'd prefer to set fire to my toes than watch another woman bawling her eyes out on the tube as she is shown the new hot tub in her backyard.

I was only on site for 5 minutes, and I made sure I stayed out of all the camera shots (they had two crews filming whilst I was there), but the thing you don't see is all the people sitting or standing around doing nothing. The tradesmen were all hard at it (again, all of them were out of shot), but the production assistants, directors assistants and so on (of which I counted at least a dozen) were all standing around having a gossip and a latte. It would not surprise me to learn that an errant tradie has "accidentally" nailed the foot of one of these beret-wearing mungbeans to the floor as they strolled past. You know the type:

Ferdinand, the Production assistant (striding through set, latte in one hand and clipboard in the other): "Alexander! Alexande-e-e-e-e-errrrrr! Tabitha wants you to repaint that wall in ruffled mange-tout, rather than cream of vanilla essentials. Be a darling and get two coats on, quickly now. Shoo! Shoo! Shoo! Tabitha wants to reshoot this room in 10 minutes. Be sure to leave a patch undone for her to paint in front of the camera. I must be off. Destiny calls!"

Ferdinand adjusts his black turtle-neck skivvie, and pats his beret before striding off in the direction of the catering truck.

Alex, the painter: "ruffled mange-tout my arse. Why can't he just call it lime green?"

Ferdinand spills coffee on the newly laid floorboards.

Ferdinand (shrieking): "This is not good enough! These boards have to be relaid! Where is that lazy good for nothing carpenter! Damien, get over here right now and relay these floorboards! We can't shoot them with a stain like that!"

Damien "We can just mop that up. The boards are pre-sealed and designed to resists staining by coffee."

Ferdinand: "I don't care what you think! Did you spend three years studying Dramatic Art Poses at the Pretentious Arts Collective in Orange? Your views are irrelevant. I want you to nail down a new floor covering right now!"


Ferdinand: Squeals like a stuck pig.

Damien: "I reckon that size nine ballet pump you are wearing covers that stain nicely. And blood wipes off these boards just as easily as coffee. I reckon its smoko - whaddaya reckon fellas?"

How many laser guided bombs do the Tamils have?

I forgot to ask the ABC how many of those bombs that the Tamil Tigers dropped on Colombo were of the laser guided or satellite guided variety. You know, the kind that us members of the Anglosphere drop from our warplanes on civilians with great regularity.

None you say?

None at all?

Why have the Tigers bothered to convert a light plane to a bomber, but not bothered to ensure that it can drop bombs on intended targets with any degree of accuracy? Because they couldn't give a toss, perhaps? Because they don't give a bugger who they blow to bits - military personal, civilians, women and kids, puppy dogs - who cares?

If a member of the club of western civilisations has a bomb go astray (as some do from time to time), the ABC and its ilk are all over it. How dare we bomb civilians! It must have been deliberate, showing how depraved our military and our governments are! How stupid is the military for calling laser bombs 'smart bombs', for they are not smart at all! Why, they are dumber than George Bush!

(As an aside, how will the press react when say a Marine pilot drops a thousand pounder on an Afghan wedding party now that Obama is the commander in chief. No reaction at all is my guess - I bet that by a process of magic, not a single civilian will be accidentally bombed for the next 4 years - at least none that the press will bother to tell us about).

The west has not developed smart bombs to spare civilians, although that has been a nice side effect. They were developed to save pilots and aircraft (I mean "warplanes"). The fewer sorties required to take out the target, the less chance someone will be shot down. I don't view smart bombs as particularly moral weapons - but even in benign environments (ie, where there is almost no chance our warplanes will be shot down), we still choose to very carefully drop laser or satellite guided bombs, because I don't think we particularly like the idea of "napalm sticking to kids".

Our enemies don't make that distinction. They don't give a toss. In fact, they'd rather go after the soft targets instead - they deliberately target the women and children.

I wish the ABC would wake up one day and realise that. At present, they are on the side of the monsters.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

The ABC does believe it's ok to bomb civilians

Today was the first time this year that I have listened to JJJ - I found myself out of podcasts for once, and was forced to resort to the radio. Not long after I switched over, on came the news.

The newsreader rather breathlessly reported that the Tamil Tigers had carried out a "daring air raid" on Colombo using light air craft to bomb the capital. The ABC also reported that 2 people on the ground were killed, but did not elaborate.

The "daring" part is still up on the ABC website:

Two light planes flown by Tamil Tiger rebels have made a daring bombing raid on Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo, killing two people and wounding at least 40.

Note the language. Let me parse this article for you.

Note that the bombing rade is "daring" and the aircraft are "light planes". If you type the words "gaza and warplanes" into the ABC site search engine, you get 17 matches and 231 partial matches - if the Juice are dropping bombs, they are using "warplanes". If the Tamils are dropping bombs, they are using "light planes".

Why not call them "warplanes", since they are indeed planes that are used to make war? Warplanes sound quite martial, whilst light planes sounds more like Jetstar, or the Flying Doctor - happy, peaceful, innocent people who just happen to be kamikaze pilots on a one way mission with high explosives.

Similarly, the Juice do not make "daring raids". They make "attacks" and they "bomb" and they "pound" and they make "deadly air strikes". A search of the ABC using the words "gaza and daring returns 0 documents. Zero. Clearly, the Juice are not "daring".

To me, "daring raids" sounds quite supportive, and it's certainly softer language than the usual "killing and smiting" that we get when the Juice lift off.

The Tigers also killed two people on the ground, but the ABC hasn't bothered to find out if they are civilians, or children clutching teddy bears. If they are Sri Lankan citizens, they just don't seem to care. There is no outrage from the ABC that the Tigers have bombed and killed civlians, and that they have attacked civilian areas (apparently the tax office is on fire - hardly a high profile military target).

Again, a quick search of the ABC using the words "gaza and civilians" returns 86 hits - and that is from a "war" that lasted only a week.

I almost drove off the road when I listened to this story, because the announcer was almost gloating.

I don't get what is going on in the heads of some ABC staffers. When the enemies of freedom and common descency attack and kill people, it's great. When the defenders of western civilisation lift a finger, it's the end of the world.

When did self-loathing become the ABC mission statement?

Intellectuals and capitalism

I saw this quote yesterday, and was so taken by it, I copied it. However, I can't remember where I copied it from, so please don't accuse me of nicking someone else's work without attribution (although I have tidied up the spelling):

I am reminded of the influential US philosopher Robert Nosick who in an article published in 1998 posed the question "Why do Intellectuals oppose capitalism" . The answer according to Nosick was that intellectual expected to be the most highly valued people in a society, those with most prestige and power.

But capitalism does not reward its intellectuals as they have nothing of value to sell in the marketplace.

It gets mightily up the nose of intellectuals that popular artists such as Kylie Minogue for example can earn millions of dollars per year, while intellectuals like Kevin Rudd can only earn public service salaries.

Their response is to re-shape the world via socialism to enable the rewards to flow to them instead. It is not that intellectuals actually oppose a merit based reward system, its just that as they have nothing to offer a capitalist society then society itself must be reconstituted so that it does reward them.

Another viewpoint that I have heard is that socialists just want to spread misery. They don't want you to be happy, wallowing there in your lounge chair whilst you watch some pap on your plasma TV and have your fancies tickled. They want you to be sweating over some impossible book, like Marx, being miserable but enlightened. Have you ever seen an intellectual laugh? Doubt it - they're much too serious for that.

I'll go with the misery idea.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Aboriginal employment and safety policies are mutually incompatible

I've just had a few beers, and the odd loud conversation with an old buddy, so I will try to type this with a minimum of spelling errors and grammatical atrocities.

Loudmouth (as I will call him, since he woke the kids up, and the neighbours) let on that many of our "progressive" mining companies have decided to spread the largess of the mineral boom around by creating employment programs for blackfellas up north. (Given the plunging prices for most minerals, we'll see how long these things last once the real world returns to the mining sector - or the Chinese buy up all our overextended miners).

The aim is 10% - I'm not entirely sure what 10% means. It might mean having 10% of the mining workforce being Aboriginal, or maybe getting the Aboriginal employment rate up to 10%. It's been a while since I've had a beer or three, so things like that are a bit hazy.

The companies are having a bastard of a time reaching that number and staying there. A big factor is the modern safety culture (which I have experienced first hand). LTI's (lost time injuries) are a huge no-no. An enormous amount of time and money has been spent ensuring that the modern miner doesn't blow himself (or his mates) up, or roll an expensive haul pack off an access road. If you ask me, it's working. Unlike the Chinese, we tend not to kill many miners these days. The mean streets of Five Wog on a Friday night are probably more dangerous than even our most unsafe mines, which are full of high explosive, lots of rock, heavy machinery and hundred tonne trucks trundling to and fro.

The modern safety culture though is all about policies, procedures and forms. There is a policy and a MSDS (material safety data sheet) for everything. You cannot work in a modern safety environment unless you can read and write - and read and write to graduate level. The mines are no longer employing people that left school at 15 - you need more education than that to safely drive a truck. Even completing high school is not enough - you need to have gone on to complete several years of higher education (even if that consisted of finger painting at TAFE).

You need to be able to demonstrate that you can read and comprehend instructions, that you have the smarts to figure things out for yourself, and you can write a report if you identify a safety risk or hazard. Boneheads need not apply.

There are not many blackfellas up north who have completed 3 years of Uni, let alone 2 years of TAFE - let alone continued schooling after age 15. As a result, new recruits have to be put through a 12 week "ready for work" program, which starts with someone going door to door and waking them up in the morning. Lesson number 1 is that when you have a job, you need to turn up each day on time - like at the start of a shift. They're paid $2200 a week from the start of the course - the same as a qualified haulpack driver for instance.

I won't go into all we talked about, but I think that the mining companies have started to realise that it's all too hard. No company is going to put a borderline employee in charge of a 200 tonne haulpack. Many of the blackfellas they've taken on board simply have no grasp of a safety culture - none whatsoever. They are a clear and present danger to all concerned.

So what they've ended up doing is parking lots of aboriginal women in the offices, where they are given make-work jobs, and that gets them up to the magic 10%.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

You can create a target. You can create a bureaucratic program. You can issue a press release full of good news and good intentions. But it's a lot harder to change the reality on the ground.

Child proof caps are going to kill someone before long

I really want to meet the chimp-spanking dickhead who designed the "child proof" spout for a squirty bottle of RoundUp. I needed to bring death to some weeds tonight, which meant figuring out the child proof protective measures. The end result was that I had to spend a few minutes in the laundry scrubbing spilled RoundUp off every square inch of exposed skin. I'm glad I wasn't actually looking at the business end when it decided to let loose with a huge stream of chemical warfare.

I swear, these bloody safety measures will be the death of all of us one day.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

John "stroganoff" Murphy takes his last bite at the trough

This has not been widely announced, but our local MP, John "stroganoff" Murphy has "stood down" from his post of parliamentary secretary for trade.

The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, praised Mr Murphy's "tireless appetite, his dedication to the work of the trencherman and his good humour and good table manners" and gave his unequivocal support for Mr Murphy to recontest the annual inner-west stroganoff eating competition.

Senator Arbib replaces another Sydney MP, John Murphy, who stood down yesterday from the post of parliamentary secretary for trade for family reasons.

If you ask me, Arbib stabbed Murphy in the back with a catering fork.

Half a mill for an office is pretty steep

Another sign that our state government is in a death spiral was reporting in the Silly today with the news that a minister is spending $500,000 on an office refit. That's not refitting the offices of all the ministers - just one minister (and presumably his staff).

Now the Silly might be gilding the lily quite substantially here - I once participated in a very nice refit that was good, but not over the top, that cost half a million per floor. And that included new kitchens and bathrooms, carpet, ceiling tiles, lighting and all the phone and computer cabling. There were about 80 staff per floor, and all got new chairs, cubicles, office credenzas, pot plants and so on.

We even got new rubbish bins.

That was some years ago, and prices have presumably gone up a bit, but that was viewed by all and sundry as a very good place to work. There were no offices in this refit - just workstations and lots of meeting rooms - so I guess that helped to keep the cost down. The quality of workstation was nice - but nowhere near as fancy as those installed by the Human Rights Commission, which I'm told installed the most expensive workstations on the market in their old office in Piccadilly.

Now it could be that the reporter from the silly has no idea about how the world works, which would not surprise me, and it could be that the good minister is in fact refitting part or all of a floor for a bus full of staff - in that case, spending half a million would not be completely out of the question, particularly if they are including say the cost of a new phone system and security, or a new air conditioning setup. I did one refit where we had to triple the amount of power coming into the building, and that really bumped up the cost. It's typical of government projects that if they have an old building with say a crappy air conditioning system, instead of putting in a separate project for new air con, they just load it into a refit project like this one.

On the other hand, the minister might be building himself a Taj Mahal. I've seen that too - a refit just for a CEO (with an ego the size of a planet and a massive over-estimation of his self worth) that went into the hundreds of thousands - just for one very, very large office with all the mod cons.

It would be nice if the Silly could actually provide some facts - the number of square feet or metres being refitted, the number of staff the new office will house, the scope of the items being refitted etc - instead of just throwing up a cheap headline. I understand that the Fairfax offices were refitted not so long ago. These journalists that are throwing barbs at the minister were probably harassing management during the refit to provide them with Herman Miller Aeron chairs, which retail for $US1321 each. (and they can be accessorised with a $434 aluminium finish). Or the $US2068 work stools.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Cycling reduces impulse shopping

At least that was the gist of an idea that was being discussed on the Counterpoint podcast this week. A study of shopping habits was undertaken in Holland, where huge numbers of people walk or cycle to the shops. They tend to shop much more often than car-borne shoppers, but buy fewer items on each occasion.

If all you have is two panniers on your bike for carrying the shopping home, you won't buy more than will fit into the panniers. If you have a car with a cavernous boot, the temptation is there is buy lots of unnecessary impulse purchases since there is no "dead arm" penalty for carrying them home.

I walk to the shops most of the time, and the "dead arm" penalty is what I get about 3/4 of the way home when I have 10 kilos of shopping bags hanging from each hand - the numbness starts in the fingers and slowly works its way up the arm, until one has to stop and take a breather.

Anyway, impulsiveness is a function of transportation option. People also tend to be more impulsive if they are shopping with someone else.

The guy being interviewed made a good point that studies that talk about impulse shopping always inflate the percentage of impulse purchases - mainly because quite a few of them are funded by the Point of Purchase Institute (I think that is what it was called), and they have a vested interest in promoting the idea of people impulse buying chocolate or chewing gum or magazines at the checkout. His studies had shown that the number of people impulse buying was much lower than is generally thought.

There is also a difference between "category impulse shopping" and non-category impulse shopping - I am not sure if I have the terms right. Category impulse shopping is where you go to the shops with the aim of buying cereal, but you don't choose what variety to buy until you are standing in the cereal aisle. You know you want to buy something from that category, but you don't know specifically what you will buy.

Non-category impulse shopping is where you buy something totally out of the blue - like a set of textas.

Category impulse shopping is fairly common, but non-category impulse shopping is not. To inflate the numbers, marketers will lump the two together and proclaim that we are a nation of impulse shoppers, when really, we aren't.

All I can advise is this - write up a shopping list before you go.

Graph showing last time the US govt created 4 million jobs

I love the graphs at Historyshots - and this one show how to create millions of jobs, and the time required to do so.

Be sure to take the time to browse through all 22 graphs.

Wooden shampoo

wooden shampoo:

noun - The act of being beat over the head by a billy club

...then the cop said to me, "do that again and you will get the wooden shampoo!"


Gotta love that phrase.

Incompetent taxi drivers

Sydney is home to some shocking taxi drivers. I'd have to say that the majority of my taxi rides are experiences that I would prefer not to repeat. The Silver Service taxis are generally very good, but the run of the mill drivers are, quite frankly, nuts.

I had one a few years ago that continued driving at night with no lights - his low beams were out, but his high beam was ok, so he drove around constantly flashing his high beam to see where he was going. I was pretty drunk, so I didn't want to bail before he dropped me home (and I was too drunk to adequately assess the risk of being in a speeding cab at night with no lights), but I did ring the Department of Transport and slurringly report his plate as soon as I staggered in the front door. The driver showed no concern at blinding other drivers with his high beam, and hooning up darkened streets with no lights at all.

Most have the mentality of couriers, who are generally mad. They treat the passenger as an object to be carted from A to B at warp speed, with little regard for the road rules and other road users. Years ago, I listened to a speech made by the CEO of Sydney Buses. He was talking about recruiting bus drivers. He said that traditionally, they recruited truckies, because they had lots of experience at driving heavy vehicles.

However, he went on to say that they made really lousy bus drivers, because they could not make the mental switch from carting sheep to carting people - they viewed their passengers as dumb livestock that could be thrown around in the back without regard for their welfare or comfort. Many taxi drivers seem to suffer from this same state of mind.

Which is another good reason to ride a bike.

Anyway, I had to refuel the beast tonight, and the cheapest diesel around here is the taxi petrol station over in Rozelle/Balmain. I managed to squeeze in next to the diesel bowser, earning me lots of dirty looks from the taxi drivers queuing for the LPG pumps. They were definitely giving me the look of "this is our petrol station - bugger off". I really got the feeling that I was trespassing on their territory.

The reason I had to squeeze in is due to the mammothly incompetent manner in which the drivers had queued up and parked at the pumps. Instead of forming an orderly, straight line to the pumps, they were all over the place. Taxis were not parked parallel to the pumps - they were flung in at an angle of maybe 15 degrees, which almost blocked the next lane (the lane I came in on).

The drivers were their own worst enemies - others pulled up to buy a kebab from the kebab caravan, and they abandoned their cabs right in the spot where departing vehicles had to drive through.

You really have to wonder about all that. If they can't even park their cabs in a competent and polite manner, what are they like out on the road? It spoke volumes about their driving skills, and their attitude to other drivers.

Great talk by Bill Gates

Hate him or hate him, Bill is a very interesting character. This 20 minute talk from TED is worth sitting in front of for 20 minutes. The first part is all about eradicating malaria, and he has nice things to say about DDT (shock, horror) and the importance of doing things properly - rather than in a half-arsed manner.

The second half is about excellence in teaching. He makes some very interesting points.

Teachers do not really improve after 3 years in the job. That surprised me, but then I thought about it - I have worked with a lot of managers, and you can usually tell within the first month or so whether they have the "right stuff" or not. Some don't, but they are never yanked and put back into a position where they are more suitable. I suppose teachers are the same - how many headmasters would have the guts to say to a newbie teacher that has just spent a year at Uni learning how to be a teacher that they are rubbish, and should find a new career? That number would be pretty low if you ask me. Most would persevere, hoping as eternal optimists that the crap will get better as they gain more experience.

The other is the enormous gulf in outcomes between the top and bottom quartiles of teachers, and the enormous resistance against measuring teacher performance. I know that such a thing is riven with controversy, but it's clear that some are better than others - and almost everyone knows it - but very few people want to confront the problem of getting rid of poor performers. I know I always had that problem as a manager - the system would not allow me to get rid of mine, so I had to live with them. That drove me nuts, but I don't know how I would have handled working at a company where I was forced to sack the bottom 5% or 10% of performers each year - that may well have been a tougher proposition.

Enough of my gabbling. Watch Bill in action.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Siftables - amazing stuff

Another amazing video from TED. I don't see the kids getting a set of these anytime soon though. Pencils and paper and wooden blocks are as far as we stretch, especially since Monkey would have these deconstructed into little broken bits in a day or two.

Crappiest generation of spoiled idiots

This is so true, and so good.

Via Barefoot Meg.

"We live in an amazing, amazing world, and it's wasted on the crappiest generation of spoiled idiots."

A good flogging never harmed anyone

God, you know you've reached a certain age when you start attending P&C meetings. I went to one a while ago - I bailed at the 2 hour mark because it looked like it was going to drag on for 3 hours, and I don't have the stomach for meetings that last more than 45 minutes generally.

About 20 parents turned up for this particular yak-fest. I was trying to gauge them by their dress, demeanour and hairstyles when we were invited to stand up and introduce ourselves. I quickly pegged that we had two enviro-fruitloops (the hand-knitted jumpers had already given them away, but the opening of their mouths instantly confirmed that initial impression) and 18 fairly normal people.

Halfway through the meeting, the subject of discipline came up. The Head made lots of soothing remarks about some sort of assertive rights-based something or other, when a crusty bloke down the end blurted out, "Bring back the cane!" The greenie in front of me nearly keeled over in shock, especially when heads up and down the line bobbed up and down in agreement. Another chimed in with, "A good flogging never hurt anyone", and that's when the mutterings of approval started.

The poor old Head, who is very new-school, just stood there in open mouthed amazement that she was looking after the offspring of such hairy-backed throwbacks and rednecks. The subject was quickly changed to something else - environmental policy I believe. That started a discussion about killing weeds with RoundUp, and again the greenie in front of me almost fainted - how dare we use chemicals at a school! The greenie was ignored as the other parents talked about how much we should budget for RoundUp, and whether a tankerload was sufficient.

The saying that "A good flogging never hurt anyone" is complete bunkum of course. The thing about floggings is that they are supposed to hurt. They are supposed to hurt so much, you'd never again consider doing the stupid thing that warranted the flogging in the first place. Having been on the recieving end of six of the best in my time, I know what a powerful behaviour modifier the cane can be - and clearly all the parents around me knew that too.

I wonder if we will see a return to floggings in my lifetime. A backlash is always possible. The majority opinion tonight was crystal clear.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Worst case of intellectual property theft

How hard is it to steal the idea of an Egg McMuffin? Do you need to be Dr Evil in order to turn out a counterfeit McMuffin that actually has similar properties to the real thing? Like hold-togetherness and taste?

One of the companies that I am enslaved to has a cafe on site. Not that it's got the ambiance of a French cafe - all the workers are disgruntled, overweight women in their 50's, and they are as friendly and customer focused as East German Border Guards.

They sell two types of food before 11am - those that are lumps of sugar encrusted with more sugar, and your more traditional fat, lard, salt and protein combination. Kransky sausages that have shrivelled to half their original size whilst baking in the bain-marie overnight are a crowd favourite. The only other thing for sale is a blatant McMuffin rip-off. Except that they have utterly failed to reproduce the key quality of the original McMuffin - you can guarantee that none of it will end up on your expensive business shirt and tie. Can you imagine how annoying it is to start the day with a crisply laundered and ironed 100% cotton shirt, matched with an expensive silk tie, only to have egg yolk drip onto both?

If there is one thing McDonald's does well, it is the fact that almost all their food is drip-free. Sure, that results in ketchup so thick that it can double for sealing cracks in your bathroom, but you don't see many aggro people walking out of Maccas trying to rub a stain off their clothes.

The great McMuffin ripoff has resulted in a glutinous breakfast item that is the most wretched example of intellectual property theft that I can imagine. They stole the idea, but not the cheese. They obviously haven't studied the essential properties of the McMuffin to the extent that I have, and I can tell you that the secret is the cheese. It is a loathsome yellow slab of stuff that is as far removed from cows as I am from iguanas, but it performs the cardinal role of binding the ingredients together. It looks like glue and tastes like glue because it is glue. I've never sat down in McDonald's, opened my newspaper and taken a bite of a McMuffin and suddenly discovered that 80% of my breakfast has slid out from between the toasted thingys and ended up sitting on page 1 of the newspaper. McDonald's have invested a lot of time and effort into inventing a glue that looks and tastes something like cheese, and they've been very successful.

The hilarious thing is where this cafe is located. A multi-billion dollar multi-national behemoth inhabits this particular building, and they sell billions of dollars of goods and services to governments around the world - and their food department can't even reverse engineer something as simple as breakfast. Is it any wonder that so many government projects end up being years over due, way over budget and never deliver what was originally asked for?

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Should bicycles be registered?

Every time Andrew Bolt or the Daily Telegraph run any sort of story that mentions a bicycle, the anti-bike nutters come out in force. A persistent thread to their lunatic rantings is that bicycles should be forced to pay registration and insurance like cars - so that they contribute to road funding - and only once they do that, should they be entitled to use the roads. The argument is always made that "My registration charges pay for the roads - you don't pay rego, so you cyclists should get off the roads".

I guess we should wind the clock back at least 100 years and ask why the state insists that all vehicles are registered, because that might provide some hints as to whether bikes should be registered or not.

Consider what the roads were like in 1909. The Model T Ford was just 1 year old, and at that time, had not been produced in sufficient numbers to drive down prices. At that time, the famous production line process had not been sorted out, so it was turned out in quite limited numbers. In essence, in 1909, the car was still the plaything of the rich, requiring a chauffeur to take care of all the dirty work.

The standard 4-seat open tourer of 1909 cost US$850 (about £180 at the time, equivalent to $20,300/£9,000 today),[21] when competing cars often cost $2,000-$3,000 (equivalent to $48,000-$72,000 today)

I imagine the second hand car market was also quite limited - still in its infancy perhaps. Governments were quite happy to start taxing this new-fangled device via a registration tax because it was a tax on the wealthy, rather than the working man. The worker walked, caught a cheap workman's train, or rode a bike.

Sales started to lift off just as WWI started, and the war made all governments hungry for revenue. I'd have to go and look up some of my history books, but I'm sure the result would be that heavier taxes were slapped on cars to fund the war effort - not to fund better roads.

I know that various politicians of all stripes have justified new or increased motoring taxes by saying that the extra money will be spent on road works, but that is almost always a lie. Motoring is simply a docile cow that can be milked with ease.

If you want proof that registration charges are not used to fund road maintenance, simply read the latest RTA annual report. The financial statements tell the whole story.

(e) Administered Activities
The RTA administers, but does not control, the collection of various fees, fines and levies on behalf of the Crown Entity. Monies collected on behalf of the Crown Transactions Entity are not recognised as the RTA’s revenues but are separately disclosed in the Program Statement – Expenses and Revenues. The RTA is accountable for the transactions relating to those administered activities but does not have the discretion, for example, to deploy the resources for the achievement of its own objectives.

Transactions and balances relating to the administered activities are not recognised as the authority’s revenue, expenses, assets and liabilities, but are disclosed in the accompanying schedules as “Administered Revenue and Administered Liabilities”.
What this says is that the RTA collects your car registration money and then gives it straight to Treasury. Treasury then puts it all into one big bucket, and uses that bucket to pay for schools, hospitals, Police etc and pet political projects.

Administered revenues

Consolidated Fund
– Taxes, Fees and Fines $403,547,00
– Other $631,167,000
Total Administered Revenues $1,034,714,00
The "consolidate fund" is the dead giveaway - that is a Treasury term for where it consolidates all revenues from various sources - property taxes, payroll taxes, stamp duty, speeding fines and car registration charges.

The RTA does make a bit of money from selling fancy number plates that I presume it can keep to spend as it likes, but it is a drop in the ocean:

Sale of Goods
Number Plates $72,749,000

So where does the RTA get its money from?

Government Contributions
Recurrent Appropriation $1,429,710,000
Capital Appropriation $1,828,911,000
Total Government Contributions $3,258,621,000
Treasury doles out a bit over $3 billion each year to the RTA from general revenue. The "administered revenue", which covers all "taxes, fees, fines and other" comes to just over $1 billion, or about 1/3 of all RTA income. I have no idea how much registration fees bring in, but I can tell you this - my current registration fee is $52 and the motor vehicle tax is $341 - which I think is calculated on engine displacement or power. The total is $393.

A total of 5,204,316 "vehicles" were registered in NSW last year - that includes cars, motorbikes, trucks, buses, light and heavy plant and trailers. I can't figure out where all the money is going, because if we assume an average rego cost of $400, those 5 million vehicle owners should be paying over $2 billion in fees and taxes just to register them.

That number would probably be a lot higher, since heavy trucks pay through the nose in registration fees. I'm sure I could find the dollar figure if I wanted, but I can't be bothered. Let's just assume that most anti-bike road ragers drive cars, and they pay a registration charge similar to mine. There are 3,443,036 cars, 4WD's and people movers in NSW. At $400 per car or people mover, they'd be paying $1.38 billion in registration charges - still under half what it costs to run the RTA each year.

Before we go on, let's look at how the RTA spends that money:

– Employee Related $501,856,000
– Other Operating Expenses $175,891,000
Maintenance $774,408,000
Depreciation and Amortisation $785,639,000
Grants and Subsidies $40,906,000
Finance costs $51,352,000

Total Expenses excluding losses $2,330,052,000

I know some people like to think that all that $3 billion in revenue must be spent on tar and concrete, but it's not. From what I can tell, at most, $1 billion is actually spent on road works. The RTA reported a surplus in 2008 of $1.3 billion. It also "spent" $785 million on depreciation - which is a bigger cost than maintanance, and a bigger cost than wages, salaries, contractors and superannuation. Wear and tear on our roads and bridges and culverts and earthworks is the biggest expense.

What do all these numbers tell us?

I can tell you that they confuse the hell out of me. You've got money coming in from registrations (but we don't know how much), and it goes straight to Treasury. Treasury then mixes up that money with the money from all other sources and doles it back out.

What seems to be the case though is that registration charges on cars comes nowhere near paying for road maintenance - car owners pay $1.38 billion in rego, and the RTA spends $2.3 billion on the road network.

Truck drivers will chime in now and say that they pay massive registration fees, and that is true. If anything, the 98,000 heavy trucks and prime movers are heavily subsidising the 5.1 million "other" vehicles on the roads - although a 72 tonne semi does hundreds of times more damage to the pavement than a Kia or a motorbike. If anything, truckies should be telling whinging car drivers to bugger off and get out of their way because they are paying much higher road charges.

Why do trucks pay more?

Partly, it is because governments know they can afford to - trucks are businesses, and businesses can be milked more heavily than families. The other reason is the extra damage they do to our roads. So if we are happy that trucks should pay heaps for doing lots of damage, we should also be happy with the idea that bikes pay nothing in road charges, since they do no damage to concrete or tarmac roads.

As for "milking" cyclists for tax revenue, it's worth remembering that many cyclists are kids (riding to school or sport), and a 13 year old kid generally doesn't earn much in the way of income. We don't tax kids in the main - we tax adults, and adult activities, because adults tend to be the people that own real property, or have an income worth taxing.

We could also talk about fuel excise all night, but that goes into consolidated revenue as well and is mixed up into a great big bucket. It is not hypothecated revenue.

Insurance. Let's talk about insurance. Another argument the anti-bike crowd make is that cyclists have no insurance.

That is a lie.

As a member of Bicycle NSW, I automatically get:

  • Australian Cyclist magazine - 6 issues
  • $20m Public liability insurance - real must have!
  • Personal accident insurance
  • Great member discounts and prizes
  • Social rides calendar

Join for only $90 or $135 per household, kids included!

I pay the family rate, so we are all covered by the same basic insurance that a car driver with a green slip has. If I crash into the back of a Bentley (which I almost did one day), I have some coverage.

Not everyone joins an organisation like Bicycle NSW of course, but I think the money is well spent. In fact, the numbers are paltry - only around 9,000 members at present - but they are growing, and insurance is available and taken up by serious cyclists.

Now let's talk about number plates themselves. Why are cars, trucks, trailers, buses and motorbikes required to show a set of plates, yet bikes are not?

Imagine what the roads would be like with no number plates. You are in a supermarket carpark and you see a Lexus bump into a Falcon and scratch the paint, and the Lexus then buggers off without stopping. You go to write a note to leave under the windscreen wiper of the Falcon - what do you say? "A bronze Lexus scratched your car"? How useful is that?

Cars have an identifying number plate so that if two of them crash, the cars involved can be identified for insurance reasons and so on. They have them so that when you speed past a radar trap, you can be fined. If you overstay in a parking spot, a traffic warden can write you a ticket.

The reasons can be boiled down to two - insurance and policing.

Now then, consider the difference in outcomes if I fail to take a corner in my 4WD and end up in your front yard, and if I fail to take a corner on my bike and end up in your front yard.

In the first case, my 4WD will probably end up embedded in your bedroom, having taken out your fence, various trees and plants, a gnome or two and your bedroom wall. The damage bill will be in the tens of thousands of dollars. Even if I manage to reverse out and shoot through, my number plate will allow the Police to find me, and thus your insurance company.

In the second case, my bike will hit your fence, and I will be catapulted over it, probably to land on a gnome, breaking several ribs. At most, you will have a scuff mark on your fence, a flattened gnome and a moaning victim on your lawn. The ambo's will probably do more damage when they stomp across your flower bed to pick me up.

Now consider vehicle on vehicle crashes. Out of all the instances in 2008 when a bike hit a car, how many resulted in the car being undriveable? Actually, I know of one - when Junior tore down a driveway and took out a Hyundai, writing it off. But it is pretty rare for a cyclist to mangle a car. In his case, although he wrote the car off, he also wrote himself off, and the bike. He was in no fit state to leap back on his bike and tear off, leaving a frustrated driver behind wondering who to blame the crash on. He was carted off in an ambulance for emergency surgery.

When a car and bicycle collide, the cyclist never gets to run away in general. Most often, they are lying on the pavement waiting for an ambulance to arrive. Identification is not an issue.

What about speeding?

Well, when bicycles are consistently able to do 60km/h in a 50 zone, ore 130km/h in a 110 zone, I'll endorse the idea of number plates for bikes, so that the cops can fine them for speeding. However, given that most cyclists roll along at 20-25km/h, I don't see this as an issue. Even the super fit, super fast pack riders rarely exceed 50km/h, even when they are in a hurry.

And parking tickets?

How many bicycles per year are parked in such a way to warrant a parking ticket? I'd guess that if a bike was parked really, really badly, the traffic wardens would just cut the lock and impound it. Parking tickets for bikes is rarely an issue in most locations.

Yes, there is a problem with bikes zooming through red lights and stop signs, and I hate seeing cyclists doing it. I know it infuriates other law abiding motorists, which is why I don't do it. However, even if we did put number plates on bikes, how many fines do you think would be issued per year? Fines could only be levied in two circumstances - if a red light camera catches the bike, or if a cop sees it happening and pulls the cyclist over and writes a ticket.

In the case of a traffic camera, smart cyclists would simply not zip through the red light. In the case of the second, it happens already - cops write tickets for cyclists if they catch them breaking the law. A number plate is not required - what they are after is the drivers licence of the cyclist (which is not much use if the cyclist if 14 years old). The only way to stop cyclists from zooming through red lights is to put more Police on the roads - but the same applies to motorists.

Phew. I think I have come to the end of my argument.

Oops. Not quite.

Let's talk about the motorist argument of "I pay my taxes, so I have a right to use this road, and you don't".

If I walk into a shop tomorrow and buy a $3,000 bike, I will be paying $270 in GST. Each year, I spend about $1,000 on maintenance and accessories - again, paying $90 in GST.

There is a car around the corner on sale for $1,700. We need a 2nd car, so this is worth considering. It would do a maximum of 50km per week, if that - essentially, we just need it to drop the kids up the road at day care.

It's an economical car, so at 2,500km per year, it will use less than 250 litres of fuel. I think the current excise is 38 cents per litre, plus GST. So we'd pay $95 in petrol excise per year.

In essence, buying and running a new bike would contribute more into the tax coffers than running a second car (excluding rego costs).

And as for this whole "cyclists pay no tax" crap argument, I offer this:

In 2008, I paid $72,000 in income tax. It was a very good year.

In 2007, I paid $34,000 - and that is pretty much the level I have paid for 5 or 6 years.

Since 2004, when I started cycling, I estimate I have paid $240,000 in income tax alone. I'm not even going to bother adding up all the GST, fuel excise and other taxes that I have paid on top of that. I reckon I have contributed more to road funding on my own than every bike hating dickhead that spews their bile on Daily Telegraph blogs and forums.

What sort of loonies ride in the rain?

The radar picture for Sydney was not as green as yesterday - with the green being rain. It rained all day yesterday - a constant "English" drizzle that varied between "I won't bother with an umbrella" to "where are my gumboots?"

I took advantage of a gap in the rain to go for an hour-long spin this morning, which is pathetic, but the best I could do.

Another picture of the bike path construction works on The Bay in Drummoyne. One lane of the road has been closed for 2-3 weeks now, and it looks like it will be closed for another month at least. When talking about the costs of building these paths, I forgot to include the cost of a donga for a site office and the rental of portable dunnies.

Those yellow caps, which look like flowers, are plastic caps on the top of reinforcing bars that will form support pylons for the new bike path. I didn't count the number of pylons, but I'd guess they must be pouring at least 50 of them.

Here's a warning sign telling drivers not to park their car on the bike path - the graphic shows how the path is jacked out over the cliff at this point.

If I had been going just a bit slower, I could have taken a photo showing how the path is jacked out over the "cliff" at this point, and supported on pylons - but I was going too quick, and took a pathetic photo. If you look under the path where it curves, you can see that there's nothing there.

The next few photos show how the path has been extended in stages. This is the easiest stage, where the land is flat and there was plenty of verge to build a wide path on. Notice how the combined pedestrian/bike path is easily as wide as a car lane in toto. On a sunny day, these paths are crowded - you need a path that wide to accomodate the hordes of people that exercise around here.

One stage joins onto another - for some reason, the design changed between one stage and another, and we go from a pink path for pedestrians and asphalt for bikes to asphalt for both. I like the different colours - it makes it easier for most people to figure out that one path is for one mode and one path is for another mode. Except that a small percentage of the population are complete morons, and it never passes their tiny little minds that if they are on a bike they should stick to the bike path and if they walking then they should stick to the walking path.

Interlude - I spotted this rowing eight seemingly adrift in the Bay - except that it turned out to be moored. I've never seen a rowing shell moored in open water - you either put them on trestles on the beach, or you row them. You don't park them in the water like a sail boat.

Yet another stage of the path. This time, the designers decided to separate the bike and pedestrian paths with a nature strip. Again, most people are sensible enough to realise that the paths are separated because each one is for a different function or mode - one for two wheels, and one for two feet. However, as usual, there are morons that don't get it, or they just decide to ignore social convention, and be a pain in the arse for everyone else - cyclists and pedestrians alike.

Yet another stage - here the separate paths join into a single mixed-mode pink path. I hate this bit of path - the mangrove trees on the left block visibility and hang over the path, potentially whacking anyone walking or riding on the left in the face, and it's too narrow to pass two people walking abreast - and I'm not just talking about cyclists passing pedestrians - I am talking about joggers passing pedestrians or dog walkers (the dog counting as a second person) or fast moving walkers trying to get past dawdling pram pushers. The faster pedestrians often hop onto the road, without looking behind them, and come close to getting cleaned up by cars tearing around the corner.

Another interlude - notice the bus. This is the only one I saw this morning that was not plastered with a big sign saying something like, "This is a clean, green bus that is contributing to reducing climate change". Whatever.

The message was pretty clear - if you care about climate change, you should be riding on this bus.

However, how many people do you reckon have made the switch from cars to buses because they want to cut their CO2 output? Would I be wrong if I attempted to count all of them on one hand? Out of the millions of car drivers in NSW, have any made the switch to buses because of that slogan?

I hate this kind of feel-good pap. People are exhorted to make the change, but none ever do. If people really cared about climate change - I mean if they really, really cared, they'd be pouring onto the buses in record numbers. Yes, bus passenger numbers swelled late last year, but that was because of increasing petrol prices. I'll be interested to see if passenger numbers have stayed up following the higher petrol prices, or whether they have since fallen back.

I'm sure this sort of bus slogan makes some people feel good, but it shits me to tears.

Health bureaucrats paid to do nothing

The SMH, as usual, seems to know stuff all. It published this story today about health bureaucrats being paid to do nothing, and it seems to have no idea at all about current government policy.

AT LEAST 17 health bureaucrats in western NSW are being paid up to $130,000 a year to do nothing because they were sidelined when the structure of the area health service changed four years ago.

The news of their annual wages bill, which could top $2 million, comes weeks after it was revealed the Greater Western Area Health Service was mired in debt, owing more than $60 million to creditors across the state.

The government has tried several times to have voluntary redundancy scrapped and to replace it with forced redundancy if it decides to abolish jobs in the state sector. The unions have generally blocked it at every turn.

So if your position gets abolished thanks to a restructure, as has happened in this case, you get put on the unattached list, and you sit around doing nothing and drawing a full pay cheque. It is not the fault of the bureaucracy - it is the fault of a gutless government drawing up rules that say you can't get rid of someone if you no longer need them.

Past redundancy packages have been pretty generous. They can include:

  • 3 months pay if you go quietly, and go now
  • 3-4 weeks pay for each year of service, with no limit on the size of the package
  • Another month or two of pay, simply because you are being made redundant
  • Don't forget your long service leave
I made a bloke redundant during my time. I had to - his whole area went. He was 62 at the time, and close to retirement. The sensible thing to do would have been to park him in a corner somewhere and let him count paperclips until retirement, but instead, here is what he got:

  • 12 weeks for going quietly
  • 40 years service x 4 weeks
  • 12 weeks long service leave
  • 8 weeks as the base redundancy package
In other words, we paid him 192 weeks salary - nearly 4 years worth - in one lump. I think there might have been another bonus in there because of his age. Since a redundancy payment is taxed at a concessional rate of something like 5% or 10%, it's actually like receiving 6 or 7 years of normal after-tax income in one hit.

He was so happy, he nearly kissed me. Him and his wife bought a caravan, and a 2nd hand 4WD and they took off on an extended around Australia holiday, which will probably last 5 years or so.

To cap it off, this bloke had undergone numerous heart surgeries, including a transplant, and he was not that healthy. If we'd kept him for another year, he probably would have dropped dead in the office. To cap it off, he was a member of the old State Superannuation scheme, which means he paid bugger all in, and will get paid a certain amount out, regardless of the state of the stock market etc.

I don't begrudge signing off on that redundancy at all - the government was silly enough to write the policy, and they were silly enough to push out very unhealthy old buggers who were about to retire. I guess you could call it a form of stimulus.

In my view, any public servant paid over $100,000 should be on a contract of some sort - the idea being that you can terminate the contract at will. I'm not saying that they shouldn't be given some sort of payout, but they shouldn't be allowed to just sit around as unsackable koalas (koala - protected species). Remember, even though these managers are paid up to $130,000 each, they will all be members of a union, and the union will fight tooth and nail to obstruct getting rid of them.

It's really quite perverse when unions start defending what used to be called "fat cat" managers, and doing their best to ensure that they get the largest possible payout from the taxpayer. Just for fun, let's do a calculation on a manager earning $130,000 with 15 years service:

  • 12 weeks pay for going immediately
  • 15 years x 4 weeks for redundancy
  • 8 weeks redundancy base payment
  • 14 weeks long service leave
That adds up to 94 weeks, or 94/52 x 130,000 = $235,000, with most of that taxed at 5% or 10% (the long service leave is taxed at normal rates).

If you are earning $130,000, you are in the top tax bracket, so you are probably losing 40% of your salary in tax, giving you an after tax income normally of $78,000.

Let's assume that after tax, the payout for this bloke is $190,000. That adds up to nearly 2.5 years of his usual after tax income.

Not bad, hey? And just remember, the unions will defend the idea of getting that sort of payout to the death. All paid for by your taxes.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Shock horror - the arsonist will be declared a looney

I hear they've caught a bloke in Victoria and suspect he's been setting a few fires. The hunt is on for anyone else with firelighting tendencies, and the locals sound like they are going to lynch anyone found with a box of matches.

I predict here and now that anyone charged with arson will quickly be declared to be suffering from some form of mental illness. The "everyone is suffering from some form of mental illness" crowd, henceforth known as the "mental-forming industry", will be able to diagnose the arsonist from a thin sheaf of press clippings and a blurry photo in a newspaper. He'll have "issues", and a history of some sort of childhood problems. Blah blah blah.

Frankly, I don't think you are nuts if you like lighting fires. I like lighting fires. Everyone I know likes lighting fires. When you consider that until the invention of electric or gas lighting and the piano, the only night time entertainment man had was watching a fire. Consider a fire as the caveman's TV. Stories used to be told around the fire. Primitive tribes still have ceremonies where grown men cover themselves in mud and feathers and dance around a fire. I have only seem about five minutes of "Survivor", but the end of each episode always seems to involve something to do with fire.

If we didn't like fire, we wouldn't have fireplaces, regardless of whether they are still burning wood or have been converted to gas. We like candles. We like burning torches. A bonfire on the beach, and a few cartons of beer, is the perfect teenage idea of a good night out.

Fires are good. Fires are fun. Fires are dramatic. Fire turns marshmallows into gooey edible things. Fires cause unpunctured cans of baked beans to explode. Fires really cause empty shaving cream cans to explode.

However, there is a time and a place for fire, and a stinking hot day with high winds is not the time to light one, and a block knee deep in kindling is not the place. The arsonist should not be considered to be mental because they like fire - they should be considered mental because they clearly lack the sort of impulse control that stops the likes of you and me from tossing a match into dry grass when the temperature is off the charts.

Anyway, I'm sure we will be hearing from someone in the mental health crowd, saying that this person needs to be "understood", and all they really need is a big hug. Oh, and by the way, sending someone with mental health problems to prison is a really, really bad thing to do. So the judge should just let them go, so they can get "treatment".

Like I said, you heard it here first.