Whadda we want? "Different ancestors"
When do we want it? "A couple of hundred years or so back, when it would have made a difference"
Not the rallying cry of the century, is it? But that's what should be screamed up at the windows of Wall Street; it's what should be rattling the windows of the privileged around the world.
One of the dirty little secrets which isn't often aired about the upper echelons of the rich and powerful (particularly in the USA, where the myth that anyone can come from dirt poor to stinking rich in a generation is still a powerful memeplex, peddled by extremely powerful myth-building corporations) is that by and large, they got where they are now by building on the gains of their ancestors. They didn't get where they were from nothing. They didn't pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. They pulled themselves up using a rope braided from the bootstraps of many ancestors, over countless generations, on both sides of their families, and reinforced by the bootstraps of countless non-family members as well. In the ranks of the extremely powerful, there's often a certain degree of both metaphorical and literal kinship.
Another dirty little secret: the secret to getting rich quick is to get rich slowly, over three or four generations, and then explode on the scene, flashing the wealth in an obvious way. This isn't to say there aren't the occasional rapid accumulators - people whose financial, technological, scientific or marketing genius was in the right place at the right time, people whose cultural input hits the zeitgeist in the correct spot to send the jackpot rattling down - but they're as rare as the lottery millionaires or the ones who broke the banks in casinos. By and large, the ones who are at the top now are the ones whose ancestors have been accumulating steadily since the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth or nineteenth centuries.
( It's different for the rich )
(Whadda we want? "Different ancestors"
When do we want 'em? "A couple hundred years ago, when it would have made a difference!")
( It's different for the working-class )
Another dirty little secret of the rich and powerful: not many of them have had much exposure to people outside their social class in a context which isn't employment-related. So when they speak of the lives of ordinary people, it's usually from a position of profound ignorance. Marie Antoinette, when she said "let them eat cake" (or more accurately "well, why don't they eat cake instead?") was speaking from a similar position of ignorance - the ignorance of the very possibility of a reality where both bread and cake weren't in ready supply. So when they speak of how "simple" it is to make money, or stay debt-free, or whatever, it's because they really aren't aware of the full context of what's going on here. They've never had to learn that context, and for many of them, unless they absolutely have to face it, they never will learn that context.
They had the right ancestors, you see. Simple as that.
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Some Thoughts from a Non-Economist regarding the Global Financial Crisis (Ongoing).
I'm starting to suspect what's needed is a global "Jubilee Year" - in the Old Testament sense. A single date, where everyone's debts are zeroed out, where all transgressions are forgiven, and where everyone starts again with a clean slate.
The banks will, of course, scream blue bloody murder at the slightest hint of this notion being taken seriously.
I also think that the way debt is thought of has to be restructured as well. A loan has to stop being a business asset for the banks, something they can trade from one person to another. Instead, it has to be an arrangement between two parties, to be maintained between those two parties until the loan has been paid back. So instead of trading loans as assets, businesses will be required to retain them as a mutual loss on both sides until the debt is paid back in full. No matter how long that takes.
The banks will, of course, scream blue bloody murder at the slightest hint of this notion being taken seriously.
There also needs to be a recognition that high interest rates and freely offered credit are inherently inflationary. They effectively increase the money supply, but devalue the money which is circulating, making the money earned by working people effectively worth less. So credit and high interest have to be heavily regulated, rather than offered on an "open slather" policy.
The banks will, of course, scream blue bloody murder at the slightest hint of this notion being taken seriously.
I'm also thinking the old Hebrew and Muslim thinkers who put up the religious prohibitions on lending at interest were actually onto something. Possibly they'd seen what happened in other societies when such things are permitted to flourish without restriction - the way it acted as a temptation toward bullying and thuggery. "The love of money is the root of all evil" as the wise man said.
Further on the whole "love of money" thing, I also feel there should be an absolute ceiling on profits - particularly the sorts of multi-billion dollar profits which aren't re-invested in the company or the community. I mean really - what are these companies doing with that money? They're not spending it. They're not turning it into bullion and stacking it under the back patio. They're not filling a swimming pool with banknotes so their executives can play Scrooge McDuck (or maybe they are and we're not hearing about it?). No, it's just being accumulated for the sake of accumulation. So maybe there needs to be a ceiling on profits, too - a 10% profit is fair and equitable (that being 10% gross return on investment), but after that, it needs to be either re-invested in the company, or taxed heavily (with the taxes being paid each financial year or face punitive fines).
And if that one ever gets taken seriously, not only the banks, but the entire business community will go up in flames.
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Thoughts on The News.Corp Phone Hacking Scandal
Latest news in this ongoing disaster is that the newspaper imprint at the centre of the scandal, the News of the World, is being shut down.
Certainly, the paper has been haemorrhaging advertisers since the scandal started breaking, and as the breadth and depth of the depravity involved has been further exposed, the advertisers are running further and faster to put distance between themselves and the newspaper that published the majority of the stolen voicemail data. But I have to wonder: what about the rest of the News International/News Corporation stable?
It's worth noting that the executive who was the editor of The News Of The World at the time when most of the data theft occurred is still employed. She's now the Chief Executive of News International, and while she's offered to resign, that offer has been resisted - apparently she "knew nothing of the crimes allegedly committed when she was editor" (sourced from News of the World shuts amid hacking scandal). Which, to me, doesn't really sound like an outstanding endorsement of her managerial ability, to be honest. Either she didn't know about such things (in which case, what the hell was she doing in order to earn her salary?) or she did know and pretended she didn't (which leads me to wonder whether she'd do the same sort of thing when faced with evidence of an embezzlement), or she did know, and took steps to cover it up (which means she's criminally culpable too). She's still employed by News International.
That Ms Brooks is still considered a valuable employee by News International leads me to question the management and ethical practices of the entire damn corporation. The problem which was "resolved" by data theft didn't start in the newsroom of The News of The World. It started further up the corporate ladder, with the constant push on all the News Corporation properties to obtain ever-increasing profits, ever-growing circulation, ever-climbing advertising revenues.
Another thing which interests me is the way that the various News Corporation properties tend to pass a story around. For example, here in Australia, the Australian newspaper will report on a story which "broke" in the magazine New Idea (both of these are News Corporation properties), or they'll pass on a story which started off on Fox News in the USA, or in the Sun over in the UK. So there's the potential for the scandal to go far further than just this one newspaper. If we examine stories propagated across the News Corporation stable of properties throughout the period in which one News Corporation property was buying information obtained through data theft, how many other stories are tainted with this same brush? How far did the rot spread? How far up did the rot go? Did it go all the way to the top?
(It's worth noting that the Australian head of News Limited has officially denied that such a thing could happen over here:
Today, News Limited chief executive officer John Hartigan told the company's Australian journalists "the behaviour that has been uncovered at the News of the World is an affront to all of us who value the integrity and credibility of good journalism, the reputation of the company and our own reputations as professionals."
"Phone hacking is the antithesis of everything we stand for. It is a terrible slur on our craft," he said in a statement to staff posted online.
"I am confident that the practices that have been uncovered in the UK do not exist in Australia, at News or any other respectable media outlet." - sourced from Murdoch accused of tabloid closure 'stunt'
If, like me, you're a fan of Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister, you know never to believe anything until it's been officially denied.)
[I feel I should mention at this point that I have absolutely no monetary interest in seeing the Murdoch family go down. However, I do feel a certain moral and personal interest in the challenging of their ideology that what people are interested in is solely the cheap, the tawdry, the nasty and the unfriendly. The Murdoch family's News Corporation is a big part of the global kyriarchal bully culture, one which glorifies the petty, nasty side of the human psyche to the point where they present this as the only damn option there is. I don't want to read, watch or hear nasty comments about other people, so I don't purchase their products. Now, if only there were a viable alternative.]
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Random thoughts about buying online
I do a certain amount of online shopping, because it's convenient for me. As someone who's living in Western Australia, and who has previously spent some time living in the Eastern States, I know perfectly well there are whole heaps of things which never make it across the Nullarbor to the west side of the country. In addition, having worked retail, I know there's not really much scope for ordering things in - if I do this, I'm likely to have to pay extra for the inconvenience to the retailer.
So I buy things I can't find in the stores here online from places in NSW and Victoria, and get them mailed to me.
I do a certain amount of online shopping because it's more comfortable for me. I don't know whether anyone's been looking these days, but a lot of bricks-and-mortar stores appear to have embraced the notion that the more auditory and visual clutter they put in the way of people looking for product, the better. I find this overloads me and leaves me feeling exhausted - I'm more likely to shop in a store which doesn't have loads of banners, or doesn't store items on shelves apparently at random than I am to stop in at some of the "big box" retailers which do. I also don't appreciate mall shopping, for much the same reason. I prefer the comparative quiet of the local shopping centre to the noise of the nearest big mall.
So I buy things in online stores, because I can find what I'm looking for without being distracted and overloaded.
I do a certain amount of online shopping because there are some things which just aren't available from Australian retailers. I'm a fan of yaoi manga, and I've also shopped overseas looking for things like obscure British historical drama series which hadn't been broadcast on Australian TV (to my knowledge) and more obscure films from one of my favourite actors. If I literally can't find it here in Australia (because for one reason or another it doesn't get shipped here) I'll look around online and see what's available.
So I buy things online because that's the only place I can find some of them.
I do a certain amount of online shopping because it's where I can get decent value for my money. If I can get something for approximately half the price from the US than the equivalent item here in Australia, I'm going to buy it from the US. The proof of the difference in prices has been around on my major retail purchase (books) for most of my life. I have books dating back to the seventies where the UK price is 1 UK pound, while the Australian price is $2 - and the difference in prices has increased over the years, to the point where Aussies are sometimes paying more than twice the price of the original product. Why does a translation into English of Ouran High Host Club cost $12 here in Australia, but only $7 in the US? Can't be the distance, because the blasted thing is translated in Singapore. Maybe it's a relic of the old marketing arrangements, or maybe it's something else. Either way, it's annoying and frustrating for me as a consumer.
So I buy things online because sometimes it's cheaper, even factoring currency conversions and the fees for same charged by my bank.
I prefer to do a certain amount of online shopping overseas because I can find what I'm looking for, buy it cheaper, and also get it shipped to me sooner than the corresponding Australian mob can be bothered to manage. Oh, and the service is better - online retailers appear to actually want to keep their customers, which is a nice change from the majority of the big box retailers here, who have the attitude of "take it or leave it" when it comes to selling things.
We're a big country here - the Australian land mass is the size of the continental United States. We're also unevenly distributed across this landmass. But our retail giants seem to have decided that the One True Way of shopping is to go to bricks and mortar stores in mega malls, and purchase from these. If we can find what we're looking for. If we can afford it. If we can spare the time, the energy and the mental fortitude to do so. Online shopping is a godsend for people with energy-management issues (such as depressives like myself, whose get-up-and-go has already got up and left) or for people with mobility issues who may indeed have actual difficulties entering bricks-and-mortar store fronts. Online shopping is a help for people with social issues (for example agoraphobia, social phobia, shyness etc) because you don't have to face people in order to get your purchases done. Online shopping is a great help for folks who are living in rural or remote areas, because it means they don't have to travel hours or even days to reach the nearest supplier of whatever-it-is they're after.
Unfortunately, some of the big retailers here in Australia are currently complaining about the way that purchases online under $1000 aren't charged GST (our goods and services tax, currently set at 10% of the price of the goods). They're complaining it's eating into their margins, and taking jobs away from Australians. Which is interesting, since they're part of the reason why the Australian manufacturing sector collapsed in a heap (can't compete with the cheaper imports from South-East Asia) or relocated offshore. It's also interesting, because at present, online purchases under $1000 make up approximately 2% of the overall Australian retail spend. Further interest comes from the evidence of massive mark-ups which occur simply because a product is being purchased in Australia by an Australian - 100% isn't unusual, higher mark-ups have been mentioned as well.
For some reason, the average Australian online shopper appears to believe the big box retailers might just be having a bit of a lend of us, and trying to protect their oligopoly market.
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Why I Don't Come Out As Mentally Unwell In Public
Marcus Einfeld has bipolar, court hears
If you read the article, you'll discover the lawyers for this particular former judge have brought up the possibility that he has a long-term, previously undiagnosed bipolar mood disorder, and are offering this as a reason why his two year minimum sentence should be altered.
From the article: Einfeld is serving a minimum two-year jail term after pleading guilty to perverting the course of justice and making a false statement under oath to avoid a speeding fine.
The 70-year-old claimed that an American academic was driving his car when it was caught speeding, despite knowing she died the previous month.
I don't have bipolar disorder myself. What I do have is a chronic mental illness, which so far hasn't prompted me to do anything illegal, or to consider myself above the law. Strangely enough, there are a lot of mentally unwell people out there (and out here, come to that) who go through their entire damn lives without once coming to the attention of the police as anything other than victims of crime. But when mental illness is mentioned in the media, it's generally in the context of someone claiming a previously undiagnosed chronic mental illness which apparently severely affected them only at the time of the crime they're being charged with, and never before or since.
Now, it may be that Mr Einfeld was under the affect of either a manic period, or maybe a depressive episode, when he said something damn stupid in order to try and avoid a flippin' speeding fine. Or maybe he was an ordinary enough bloke who just didn't want to have to cop the fine, and chose to make a stupid lie to the police about who was driving his car at the time it was speeding. Having made this stupid lie, he then stuck by it, and wound up getting the book thrown at him, particularly since he was a flippin' Federal Court Judge and therefore should have known better than to try it in the first bloody place. But either way, the mania or the depression didn't make him do something so bloody stupid.
If Mr Einfeld has had bipolar mood disorder for a long period of time (and has coped with it admirably, one presumes, since he's now seventy and nobody apparently noticed until this psychiatrist he's talking to now raised the option) and has been dealing with his demons in solitude, that's a tragedy. I know depression is enough of a hell on its own, and I have every sympathy for the man. But being mentally unwell isn't an excuse for illegal behaviour, and it shouldn't be claimed as such, or reported that way.
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Murdoch warns Google: it's time to pay
News Corporation Chairman Rupert Murdoch has launched a stinging attack on Google and other on-line entities for stealing content.
At a conference of World Media Executives at Beijing's Great Hall of the People, Rupert Murdoch has taken aim at search engines like Google as internet parasites.
According to the News Corporation Chairman, the so-called "aggregators" on the internet steal content from tradition media organisations and, he says, the time has come for them to pay for it.
"If we do not take advantage of the current movement toward paid-for content, it will be the content creators - the people in this hall - who will pay the ultimate price and the content kleptomaniacs will triumph," he said.
Let's see - "the current movement toward paid-for content" is being generated mostly by News Corporation, which, if I recall correctly, is the corporate media entity largely owned by Mr Murdoch's family. News Corporation also controls large shares of the media markets in Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and several other countries, the most notorious branches of which are the Murdoch tabloid newspapers (such as the UK "Sun" and approximately half of the major metropolitan daily newspapers in Australia) and the Fox News cable channel in the United States (commonly nicknamed "Faux News", because of the lack of resemblance between life as reported by their so-called "journalists" and the consensus reality of the majority of human beings). Do I sense perhaps the petulant foot-stampings of an old man who is terrified the global media empire he's spent a lifetime building is being threatened by the content aggregators, who collect into one space not only the Murdoch empire's view of the world, but also all those other views as expressed by people who aren't part of the News Corporation conglomerate?
After all, if people can choose to see multiple pictures of the same event (or multiple views from many different sources) they might just start to realise things aren't the simple black-and-white over-simplifications of Mr Murdoch's beloved format. If people can pick and choose from dozens of news sources in a single page, they might start asking questions about some of the articles from News Limited. Questions like "why is this news?" (for example, why are we being constantly told in the Murdoch press about the private lives of soi-distant "celebrities"; why do we never hear about "causes" without a so-called famous face to attach to them; why are the bedroom games of the British royal family such an all-consuming matter etc) or "why is this such a scandal?" (Famous star comes out as gay; female celebrity gains or loses weight; celebrity couple divorces) or even "why aren't we hearing about X?" (media conglomeration; media gatekeeping; corporate censorship; corporate abuses of power; non-capitalist economic theory; challenges to right-wing prejudices; shall I continue?). The news aggregators offer a view of a bigger picture, rather than the small-minded, small-world images Mr Murdoch wants to keep selling us. They offer a picture of a complex world, one where people aren't just one thing or another, but might be both at the same time, or even something completely different.
The news aggregators threaten Mr Murdoch's livelihood, just by offering a diversity of links to a variety of stories. They take away his control over the shaping of opinion, and threaten his ability to offer up a world where everyone is just like him: white, wealthy, upper-middle class, educated, heterosexual, cisgender, Christian, Anglo-Celtic and male. What the news aggregators threaten isn't the rights of people to create content, but rather the assumed right of Mr Murdoch and his social equivalents to dictate how the world looks to the rest of us. They threaten Mr Murdoch's privilege - and how dare they do that?
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I Need Help.
Amanda "Brocky" Stachewicz had everything: a loving family with children, a great career as a doctor and a home in the western suburbs. The former St Hilda's schoolgirl got top marks for everything and was beautiful inside and out.
But at her funeral at her old school in March, mourners were stunned to hear about how she felt before she died.
"I'm tired and I don't want to suffer any more," Brocky wrote before she committed suicide.
Her schoolmate Karen Heagney is running in November's New York marathon to remember her friend and do something for mental illness.
"Depression is a hidden disease," Karen said this week, as she limbered up for a training session at Perry Lakes. "If you suffer from a physical disease it's visible and tangible and people ask how you're going. With depression often no one knows."
This is an excerpt from an article which appeared in our free local paper this week. It was one of the things which pushed me over the edge into absolute screaming hysterical fury today, and got me breaking down.
( More under the fold )
 Mosman Cottesloe Post, Vol 36 No 37; September 19 2009.
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