Letting kids drink alcohol

From the department of prohibition-still-doesn't-work:
Over dinner recently, Anna Peele recalls one of the first times she drank alcohol. "I was like 14 or 15," Peele says. "I ordered a beer and they served me."

She had just finished her freshman year of high school and was traveling in Greece with family friends. "We would just have wine with dinner," Peele says. "In Greece it's so not a big deal."

While that experience would cause some American parents to worry, Peele's parents weren't upset.

In fact, starting in middle school, her parents allowed her and her siblings to have an occasional sip of beer or wine. By the time she was in high school, Peele was drinking beer and wine regularly at family functions and social events. But it was always in moderation, Peele says. She says her parents' attitude toward alcohol made it seem less mysterious. "It wasn't some forbidden fruit," Peele says. "I didn't have to go out to a field with my friends and have 18 beers."

Experts say binge drinking continues to be a growing problem across the country. According to a recent report from the U.S. surgeon general, there are nearly 11 million underage drinkers in the United States. Nearly 7.2 million are considered binge drinkers, meaning they drank more than five drinks in one sitting.

In this age of "just say no," some people believe it is time for Americans to reconsider how they teach kids about alcohol. Peele's father is at the top of the list.

"We taught them to drink in a civilized fashion, like a civilized human being," says Stanton Peele, psychologist and author of "Addiction-Proof Your Child."
America's draconian alcohol laws have failed to prevent binge drinking and alcoholism. I find it incredible that Americans can get married and serve in the armed forces when they are 18, but are unable to legally purchase or consume alcohol until they are 21. I also find it incredible that so many dry counties continue to exist.

Psalm 104.14-15 says:
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart.


  1. Writing detailed comment (300 words?) on a Christian blog site. Takes me 15 minutes to write properly.
  2. Finished comment. Entered the security code and pressed "publish".
  3. "Wrong security code" says the next screen. "Press the back button on your browser"
  4. Press back button.
  5. My comment (300 words) is gone.

Price capping = queues

From the department of basic-economics-101:
The swarm of prospective tenants was attracted by the apartment block's affordable housing zoning, which means the rent is capped at $295 - considerably less than the rent on many one-bedroom flats of similar quality in the area.

It also means that the agent cannot conduct a rent auction and give the tenancy to the highest bidder.

The agent in charge of the inspection, Santos Sulfaro, said that as many as 150 people had lined up to view the property during the half-hour viewing period - a remarkable number, even in the accommodation-starved Sydney market.

"Normally 25 is a large group, but that was incredible," Mr Sulfaro said.

"I had over 500 phone calls in seven days. I've never seen queues like that before - people are getting pretty desperate."
The Soviet Union used price capping a lot, a process that caused lots of queues for bread.

Personally I believe that it would be better for lower income earners to given a rent subsidy by the government if they rent a flat/house in a rich area, thus allowing them to compete with the market price. So rather than "zone" a flat or house, you "zone" a person or family.

This is better for society, too, since poor families who live in rich areas are more likely to develop positive attitudes towards work and education.


Good news for the Anglican Church

From the department of Rugby-developed-two-codes:
The Anglican Church of Australia has cleared the way for women to become diocesan bishops.

The church's highest legal authority, the Appellate Tribunal, has ruled that there is nothing in the church's constitution to prevent the consecration of a woman priest as a bishop.

The majority ruling only applies to diocesan bishops and not assistant bishops.

Anglican Church Primate Dr Phillip Aspinall says it could still be at least six months before a woman is consecrated as a bishop.

Dr Aspinall says it is a significant decision although each diocese will still decide whether they have a woman as a bishop.
As a former Anglican and someone who did not and still does not agree with the ordination of women let alone letting them become Bishops, I would have to say that this decision pleases me mightily.

The Anglican church of today has been split for some time now. Schism occurred not suddenly but gradually over many decades. The only thing that unites Anglicans today is its organisational structure and the formal ties between various dioceses.

In the grand scheme of things, letting women become Bishops is actually quite a minor problem. The ecclesiastical office of Bishop and the entire Episcopal structure of the Anglican church is not something that can be defended biblically, which means that I have significant concerns even with men being ordained bishops. Since I believe in Sola Scriptura and take 1 Timothy 2.12-15 to be a command for the church to follow when selecting those who teach and lead, I therefore see the ordination of women as either Priest of Bishop to be problematic. But, to me, breaking this sort of command is hardly a cause to disfellowship someone or some church.

What this decision will do, however, is highlight the fact that schism has already taken place. As a former Sydney Anglican, I came to the city of Newcastle looking for a solid evangelical church. I became a Presbyterian initially because there was no evangelical churches to be found within the Anglican diocese here.

It is better for the Anglican church to split up into its relevant groupings than it is to remain together. I want the Sydney Diocese to plant churches all over Australia and especially here in Newcastle. In return I am more than happy to allow the Newcastle Diocese the right to plant Anglo-Catholic or theologically liberal churches in Sydney.

There is no chance whatsoever that the disparate groups in Anglicanism can be reconciled. If Liberal Anglicans wish to preach a Christ who is not God then let them do so... just let us Evangelicals preach what we believe also. We won't interfere with you if you won't interfere with us.

Rugby split way back in the early 20th century. Out of this split came Rugby Union and Rugby League. The rules of the game were so different that the two games could not occupy the same organisational space, but were able to survive unimpeded once a formal split was recognised.

The Anglican church is similar. There are three different games of football being played under the umbrella of the Anglican church today (Liberalism, Evangelicalism and Anglo-Catholicism) and none of them are happy with the way rules and conventions are being flouted or ignored. The best way forward is a formal split. Everybody wins.

9/11 survivor hoax

From the department of crisis=opportunity:
As a matter of history, Ms. Head’s account made her one of only 19 survivors who had been at or above the point of impact when the planes hit. As a matter of emotion, her story deeply moved audiences like college students to whom she spoke and visitors at ground zero, where she has long led tours for the Tribute W.T.C. Visitor Center for visitors including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and former Gov. George E. Pataki.

“What I witnessed there I will never forget,” she told a gathering at Baruch College at a memorial event in 2006. “It was a lot of death and destruction, but I also saw hope.”

Much of Ms. Head’s account was posted on the Web site of the World Trade Center Survivors’ Network, a nonprofit organization for which she served as president and as point person for corporate donations.

But no part of her story, it turns out, has been verified.

The family and friends of the man to whom she claimed to be engaged say they have never heard of Tania Head and view the relationship she describes with the man, who truly died in the north tower, as an impossibility.

A spokeswoman for Merrill Lynch & Company, where she told people she worked at the time of the terror attack, said the company had no record of employing a Tania Head.

And few people, it seems, who embraced the gripping immediacy and pain of her account ever asked the name of the man whose ring she had returned, or that of the hospital where she was treated, or the identities of the people she met with in the south tower on the morning of 9/11.

Fight of the year

James Cromwell


Peter Postlethwaite

Inflation still rising in Australia

From the department of this-is-not-looking-good-at-all:
Inflation in Australia accelerated to the top of the central bank's comfort zone in September, a private survey suggested today, keeping the door open for yet another rise in interest rates.

The TD Securities-Melbourne Institute monthly inflation gauge rose 0.2 percent in September, following sizable increases of 0.5 percent in August and 0.6 percent in July.

Annual inflation picked up to 3.0 percent, the top of the Reserve Bank of Australia's (RBA) 2 to 3 percent target band.

Based on the survey, it was possible headline consumer inflation could rise 1.3 percent in the third quarter, even more than the second quarter's 1.2 percent jump, said University of Melbourne economist Don Harding.

Such a large increase could unsettle the RBA, which had already raised interest rates to a decade high of 6.5 percent in August to restrain price pressures.
Let me add up some worrying facts:

  1. High inflation is solved by raising interest rates (the responsibility of the Reserve Bank)
  2. Increasing interest rates will always slow an economy down.
  3. Increasing interest rates in an economy that is already slowing down will harm the economy.
  4. Letting inflation go out of control will do even more harm to the economy.

What does this equal? The Australian economy appears as though it is about to hit the wall. Still, I'd rather be here than in America: the United States has the potential to fall much further in comparison.

Terrorism vs Global Warming

From the department of I-never-knew-there-was-a-choice:
Prime Minister John Howard says terrorism is a more immediate security threat than climate change, but both are major issues facing Australia.

Defence Minister Brendan Nelson has rejected Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty's view that global warming is the greatest challenge to Australia's national security, instead naming terrorism as the key threat.

Mr Howard told Southern Cross Radio he does not automatically agree with Mr Keelty's assessment of the scale of threat posed by climate change.

"They're both big issues," he said.

"I think terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism are far more immediate threats to Australia than the mass movement of people in China as a result of water storage and water shortage.

"But both of them are important, and I don't think that it's a question of an either or.

"They're both big challenges and they're both things that we should worry about."
I find this line of argument from Howard and the coalition quite offensive.

First of all, there is no "choice" between engaging one and not the other. Both threats need to be handled correctly.

Secondly, the Howard government's concern for terrorist attacks led us into an illegal and immoral invasion of a sovereign nation which has made the world even more threatened by terrorism.

Thirdly, the Howard government has only just recently decided that climate change is actually happening, having moved from scepticism to acceptance faster than you can say "election soon".

What this tells me is quite clear - the Howard government has been reactive, rather than proactive, on both issues, and have failed to address either of them constructively.

Housing recession hitting Australia

From the department of I-told-you-so:
Dwelling starts nationally were steady at 150,993 during the year but that was again below the estimate of underlying demand of about 175,000 dwellings, and the statistics from NSW were dire.

The number of dwelling starts in the Premier State slid by 8.5 per cent to just 29,315, the fourth successive annual fall, and one that left starts 40 per cent below their level in 2003.

There were 32,952 starts in NSW and ACT combined, compared with 34,345 last year, 41,505 in 2005 and between 51,000 and 52,000 in 2002, 2003 and 2004. You have to go back to 1987 to find another year where starts were below 35,000, and that is the only other sub-55,000 year since 1966.
Wow. It means that Australia is as badly exposed to this problem as the US and UK. Now we'll see whether or not our economic fundamentals are good enough to withstand a recession.


Recession watch

The Wilshire 5000 has declined 2.3% since high on July 13 2007.

The Euro was worth US$1.3788 on July 13 2007. Today it is worth US$1.4132.

If you adjust the Wilshire 5000 according to the fall in the value of the US Dollar, then it has declined 4.2% in relation to the Euro.

US Durable goods orders have fallen the highest in seven months

The Case-Schiller index - a measure of real house prices in the United States - is forming a bell curve (graph here).

Oil hovering around $80 still.

Decline in House prices is the largest in sixteen years (4.5% decline in house prices in July compared to year previously)

Bush makes surprise visit to work

In an unexpected move that shocked White House staff and stunned the nation, President George W. Bush arrived unannounced at the Oval Office Monday.

Bush, who flew in from his home in Texas, was greeted by security forces upon landing outside the White House, and quickly escorted through the building's back entrance. Wearing a special suit-and-tie uniform intended to boost morale and show support for men and women serving in the Beltway, Bush entered the East Room at about 3:30 p.m. and addressed a bewildered but enthusiastic crowd of staff members.

"Am I late?" Bush joked to the group of approximately 200, who were led to believe they would be attending a ceremony to honor Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters. Bush's entrance received a standing ovation.

"It is incredible to see firsthand what you brave men and women do every day," Bush said to rousing applause. "You are all heroes."

Zimbabwe encourages poverty again

From the department of I'm-wondering-whether- Mugabe-is-deliberately-trying-to-destroy-his-country:
The Zimbabwean parliament has passed a bill to move majority control of foreign-owned companies operating in the country to black Zimbabweans.

The goal is to ensure at least a 51% shareholding by indigenous black people in the majority of businesses.

The bill completes a process that began with the controversial seizure of white-owned farms starting in 1999.

Zimbabwe is currently experiencing the world's highest inflation and shortages of food, fuel and foreign currency.

The bill still has to go to the upper house - the Senate - for final approval. It already has the support of President Robert Mugabe's government.

If passed in the Senate, the practical effect of the bill may, however, be severely limited, says the BBC's Peter Biles in Johannesburg.

Many foreign companies in Zimbabwe are already operating at a low level, with reduced turnover resulting from the seven-year economic crisis.


New York Times on Twenty20 cricket

From the department of the-condescending-yanks- may-actually-notice-this-time:
Where gentleman players once distinguished themselves in white trousers and knit vests, Twenty20 was accompanied by cheerleaders wearing what resembled sports bras. Restraint was out. Music was in. The games, 27 in all, involving 12 countries, each took about three hours, in sharp contrast to the customary five-day test match.

Think of Twenty20 as cricket on Red Bull. Or as the historian Mukul Kesavan put it, “kamikaze cricket.”

“The whole point is to go for it, and keep going for it,” said Mr. Kesavan, whose history of Indian cricket, “Men in White,” was published this year. “The emphasis is as much on athleticism as skill, and where, therefore, there’s a premium on youth and fitness and abandon.”

The final paired India against its old rival and brought out a display of not only wild abandon but also patriotism, with flags flying in the sunshine and many offices in both India and Pakistan clearing out unusually early; the match was broadcast in the evening here.

The average age on the 11-man Indian lineup was about 23, and on the Pakistani team just under 25. That reflected two disproportionately young nations: the median age in India is about 24, and in Pakistan, 19.
If the ICC puts its money where its mouth should be, a Twenty20 tournament could quite easily be held in the United States at some point in the future.

Reform, not revolution, is what works

With Myanmar now having political protests, it is tempting to yet again side with democratic revolutionaries as they aim to change their government for the good of their people.

We all watched with gladness the destruction of the Berlin Wall and the death of Communism in Russia, as well as with horror as the Chinese put down their own fledgling democratic movement. Moreover, even the most anti-Iraq War individual secretly felt pleasure at the toppling of Saddam's statue in 2003.

But allow me to go out on a limb and say that I think in many cases these revolutions have often done more harm than good. When Communism collapsed in Russia, the resulting power vacuum caused the nation's economy to severely contract. The result was terrible levels of poverty and hardship endured by post-communist Russia. It is only now, some 16 years later, that Russia's standard of living seems equivalent to the Soviet Union in its prime.

I remember when Ferdinand Marcos was kicked out by the 1986 EDSA Revolution in The Philippines. I remember the joy on the faces of ordinary Filipinos as they rejoiced in the elevation of Corazon Aquino as the new president. Yet since then the nation has hardly progressed much. Their economy has grown, to be sure, but the standard of living amongst ordinary citizens remains too low.

Whenever a regime is overthrown - either by its own people or by an outside force - the collapse in the rule of law can be so great that the nation ends up worse off than it was before. This is what the French Revolution taught us, and what the current situation in Iraq tells us.

China, for all its wrongdoings in 1989, has reformed its economy to the point where its people are richer and better off than at any time in their history. Despite their comparative lack of freedom, ordinary Chinese people have benefited from their pro-market undemocratic government. This does not mean that China shouldn't change - on the contrary, China desperately needs to embrace democratic reform if it is to avoid its own past mistakes. Yet I would argue very strongly that such change needs to be undertaken gradually and that we westerners, who have a fetish for sudden revolutionary change, need to "cut them some slack" when it comes to political reform.

The worst thing to happen in Myanmar at the moment is not a bloody clampdown by the government but a revolution against them. If history is to be our guide, then any successful overthrow of this undemocratic government by its people will undoubtedly result in a greater suffering of the people than any potential "putting down" of the revolution by the government.

This is not to defend the government of Myanmar, but to ensure that we in the West who desperately want a free and democratic Myanmar have a realistic level of support for the people of that country. Slow reform, in which economic and political changes are made slowly and carefully, should be the main goal of Westerners at the moment. Moreover, this would mean explicitly discouraging the Myanmar protesters from revolutionary activity.

Mrs Rudd and her overseas investments

From the department of If- Labor-are-a-bunch-of-communists-then- Mrs-Rudd-is-a-hypocrite:
THERESE REIN, the wife of the Labor leader, Kevin Rudd, may be selling her Australian employment services operations but business is booming in Britain.

WorkDirections UK, a subsidiary of Ms Rein's Ingeus group, has just won government contracts worth £85 million ($198 million) to help disabled people get back into the workforce.

But the deal, which is expected to double WorkDirections UK's workforce, has attracted the ire of that country's public sector trade unions. They are concerned the deal does not require WorkDirections UK to retain existing government employees delivering disability employment services in the six regions covered by the new contracts.
This, to me, is no problem at all. Some may see it as a conflict of interest. Others, like the "intelligent" Tim Blair, may see it as hypocritical since the only people who associate themselves with the Labor Party are Marxists that are hell bent on world revolution.

The fact that a business owner and entrepreneur is so closely associated with the Labor Party shows, beyond reasonable doubt, that the ALP is hardly likely to be anti-business.

Excel 2007 multiplication bug

From the department of 1 + 1 = 3:
The example that first came to light is =850*77.1 — which gives a result of 100,000 instead of the correct 65,535. It seems that any formula that should evaluate to 65,535 will act strangely.
So. Microsoft can't write software to do basic mathematics. Why am I not surprised?

Hubris Warning! Hubris Warning!

Good news for Newcastle Coal

From the department of reducing-greenhouse-emissions-by-default:
Rio Tinto Group and other coal producers using Newcastle port, the world's biggest coal-export harbor, will have loading quotas cut by 2.2 million metric tons in the fourth quarter to ease port congestion.

The two coal terminals operated by Port Waratah Coal Services Ltd., will reduce exporters' loading limits for a second time in six months, General Manager Graham Davidson said in an e-mail. The terminals will manage an estimated 84.5 million tons of coal this year, less than its capacity of 90.5 million tons.

Producers will be asked to make voluntary cuts, failing which the reductions will be imposed based on their current allocations, Davidson said by phone yesterday. In March, coal producers had their export quota cut by 3.3 million tons after the move was approved by coal producers, he said.
To meet demand, Port Waratah is planning to expand coal- export capacity at Newcastle to 113 million tons a year in the fourth quarter of 2009 from 102 million tons and a rival group, Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group expects to start up a separate terminal in the second half of 2009.


Good news on global warming

From the department of popular-consensus-is-also-important:
Large majorities in many countries now believe human activity is causing global warming, a BBC World Service poll suggests.

A sizable majority of people agreed that major steps needed to be taken soon to address global warming.

More than 22,000 people were surveyed in 21 countries and the results show a great deal of agreement on the issue.

The survey is published a day after 150 countries met at the United Nations to discuss climate change.

An average of 79% of respondents to the BBC survey agreed that "human activity, including industry and transportation, is a significant cause of climate change".
70% of Australians surveyed believed that it was "necessary that major steps be taken very soon" to fix the situation. So much for Tim Blair and his hot air.

But will politicians have the will to make unpopular changes like increased taxes on electricity and petrol? Or investing in alternative energy technology?

Irrigators running out of water

From the department of water-water-everywhere-so- let's-all-have-a-drink:
The New South Wales Government says irrigators in the Murray-Darling Basin only have enough water to last them about another six weeks.

The state Water Minister, Phil Koperberg, is visiting the region today to discuss the options available to irrigators.

Mr Koperberg says the price of water in the area is now up to 10 times higher than it was this time last year.

"This is one of the manifestations of the way in which water is traded these days," he said.

"As a consequence, because of the dire shortage, it's once again a case of supply and demand.

"The water price is exceedingly high this morning."

He says irrigators' livelihoods are "rapidly disappearing".

"So once again, for the fourth time, I'm heading down there today because I want to hear from the irrigators themselves to see what their views are to see what they believe governments might avail themselves of to assist," he said.

"It's a question of just working through this crisis at the moment."
The good news at this present moment in time is that the La Nina indicators are very good, which means that there is a chance that the drought will break soon with above-average rainfall. The bad news is that, generally speaking, this is the "dry season" for south-eastern Australia.

I still think there is merit in building a desal plant, preferably near Adelaide, which would pump irrigation-quality water inland to be used in dry area farming (wheat). The cost of building the plant and pumping the water would be charged to the farmers, who would then factor in the price of the water into their grain costs. Having spoken to some farmers in Griffith last year, I can confidently say that farmers would be happy to pay such a cost for water if they can be guaranteed supply and a regular crop.

Moreover, the Desal plant could be powered by wind and/or solar and the farmers would be forced to use water-saving irrigation techniques to prevent salinity problems. Some of the water could also be used to create forests in the desert to help mitigate global warming.

DVD Menus

Is there anyone out there like me who are sick to death of DVD title menus? They take ages to go through before you can actually press play.

What I want is a DVD you just put in and the main menu appears instantly. Why is that so hard?

Mediterranean to become saltier?

It seems that climate change may turn the Mediterranean into a defacto endorheic basin, which means that the sea may become saltier:
Climate change is affecting Europe faster than the rest of the world and rising temperatures could transform the Mediterranean into a salty and stagnant sea, Italian experts said Wednesday.

Warmer waters and increased salinity could doom many of the sea's plant and animal species and ravage the fishing industry, warned participants at a two-day climate change conference that brought together some 2,000 scientists and officials in Rome.

"Europe and the Mediterranean are warming up faster than the rest of the world," said climatologist Filippo Giorgi. "It's a climate change hot spot, one of the areas where we actually see the change happening."

Scientists still don't know why the region is more sensitive to climate change, but Giorgi said that in the next decades, temperature increases hitting Europe during the summer months could be 40 percent to 50 percent higher than elsewhere.
Whenever a body of water has more inflow than outflow (due to increased evaporation) then it is only natural that higher salinity results. The Black Sea is saltier than the Mediterranean precisely because it is endorheic.

One advantage that the Mediterranean has is that it has two places where seawater enters - Gibraltar and Suez. This means that, due to the Suez canal, things may not become as bad as they could possibly get. Moreover, since the water entering the Mediterranean travels in one direction, it could be possible to create a hydro-power scheme along the Suez.

UK Government revenue dropping

From the department of America-sneezes:
Both key measures of the UK's public finances were further in deficit than expected in August, latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures show.

The government's preferred measure, of public sector net borrowing, was £9.1bn, against £6.7bn a year earlier.

The public sector net cash requirement was in deficit by £5bn, compared with £3.7bn in August 2006.

The figures could be a headache for Chancellor Alistair Darling, still dealing with the Northern Rock crisis.

The figures showed a sharp drop in corporation tax receipts, which almost halved to £704m from £1.28bn in August 2006, and a modest fall in VAT receipts.

However, the deficits follow record surpluses in July, meaning the government's overall borrowing target of £34bn for the full financial year may still be achievable.

August is traditionally a deficit month for the public finances and July tends to be a month of surpluses.

"The public finance data for August were substantially worse than expected, adding to Chancellor Alistair Darling's current woes," said Howard Archer at Global Insight.

"Public finances could be significantly hit over the coming months if the current financial market turmoil increasingly weighs down on economic activity," he added.

And David Page at Investec said: "On both measures the public finances were very disappointing."
This issue is a little bit more serious than the government getting a bit less money. What it indicates is that Britain's corporations have given substantially less in tax than what they were giving a while ago. Such a drop off in corporate tax revenue indicates that there is something amiss in the British economy, such as a recession.


The treaty of Tripoli

In 1796-1797, the US government ratified a treaty with foreign governments in Tripoli and Barbary. This treaty was signed by president John Adams and ratified by the Senate. What is interesting is article 11, which states:
As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
So was the US constitution based upon the Christian religion? Since the constitution was framed only recently when this treaty was written, it appears that it was not.

More discussion here.

Text of the treaty here.

The MAD solution

Here's something just reported from the BBC about Iran:
The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has said that Iran is not heading for armed conflict with the United States.

In an American television interview, he said Iran was not on a path of war with the US and that Iran had no need of nuclear weapons.

He is due to address the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday.

The US is leading moves to impose further sanctions on Iran because of its nuclear development programme.

"It's wrong to think that Iran and the US are walking towards war. Who says so? Why should we go to war? There is no war in the offing," the Iranian leader said in the interview with CBS television.

He also denied Iran had nuclear arms ambitions.

"You have to appreciate we don't need a nuclear bomb. We don't need that. What need do we have for a bomb?" Mr Ahmadinejad asked.

"In political relations right now, the nuclear bomb is of no use."
I personally think that neither Iran nor North Korea have the technological know-how or economic strength to create a nuclear weapon. But even if they do, they would have problems delivering it to their target, not to mention that the natural response to a nuclear attack on a neighbour would be nuclear attack on their own soil.

Owning your own nuke is, however, a great leveller when it comes to international military power. Iran and North Korea cannot threaten major world powers with their conventional armies but they certainly can with a nuke or two.

The theory behind this is called Mutual assured destruction, or MAD for short. It was MAD that, more or less, kept both America and Russia from nuking each other between 1950 and 1990. Even if one superpower had less nukes than the other, any pre-emptive nuclear attack from one superpower would still result in a substantial nuclear response. Put simply, if you choose to destroy your enemy, he had enough nukes to destroy you at the same time.

North Korea and Iran may or may not have nukes. But even if they do, there is little chance that they would use them aggressively. Iran could, I suppose, choose to use their nukes against Israel and North Korea could use their nukes against Japan - but we know that if they do then the response would be swift and complete. American nukes would rain down on either North Korea or Iran for their attack. North Korea and Iran know this and, if they had nukes, they would know that such an action on their part would be suicidal.

Yet MAD grants protection to a nuclear Iran or North Korea. If America chooses to attack either nation there is always a chance that these nations would use their nukes to defend themselves - either through launching an attack against a neighbour (such as Israel or Japan) or upon invading enemy forces (such as a US Carrier group in the Persian gulf or US troops north of the 38th parallel).

In other words, if Iran or North Korea gain nuclear weapons, they will essentially guarantee their own safety against outside aggression. They are unlikely to use such weapons in an aggressive war - or even develop them enough to sell to terrorists.


Prosperity Islam?

How about this from Cricinfo:
Mushtaq Ahmed, who took 13 wickets in the match and whose 90 wickets in the season were again instrumental in Sussex's success, said: "I had an extra pray and asked Allah to give us another Championship. If you give 100% then Allah will always favour you.

"The people here are so kind and lovely. It's a family club and I'd like to thank them. But you have to give 100% and the players cheer each other up and are united - when people are not doing well we back them up. You have to stay together when there are ups and downs. It's a very special moment for Sussex but we've had to work hard for our win."


Maddox and Disney

From the department of Maddox-is-always-right-always:
I hate it how companies like Disney produce a stream of non-stop garbage that gives children unrealistic ideals from a very young age, so that when those ideals aren't met, they grow up to be resentfull and bitter. I hate things that are soft. Everything should be sharp and painful. I think that Disney movies should all end with everyone dying in them for a change. If stupid little kids cry about it, TOUGH. The world doesn't need another tree hugging sissy-marie. I think Disney should make a movie where the group of kids from "The Sound of Music" go on a field trip and get in a car wreck in which everyone dies. The End. That's how life is sometimes. Everyone dies. That's what kids should learn. Not that they can be a stereotypical little arab peasent boy that can acquire all gold in the world, a kingdom and a princess (aladdin).



They've ruled the world for hundreds of years. They control the great nations, the governments, the money, and the largest businesses. They are the ruling class of mankind...and boy do they bitch. They live in constant fear of becoming a minority, but by the way they complain and carry on it would be easy to assume they were already in shackles and subjugated beneath the oppressive heel of the Black Gay Atheist World Order Government.


White American Christian Males.

This photoshopped image has been shamelessly stolen from Something Awful.

Iran and terrorism

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran, has decided that he will not "insist" on a visit to the WTC site. Yet, as a comment on a NY Times blog site says, "Why does anyone - even a visiting president of any nation, one we like or don't like - need permission to go to a public place?"

It is a measure of the success of terrorism and of the right-wing noise machine that has meant that most Americans now see Iran as a grave threat to them and to world peace.

I'm not arguing that Iran is somehow the paragon of all virtue and peace and love - of course they're not. Yet Iran is nowhere near as dangerous or as threatening as some people - read George W. Bush - make them out to be.

Consider the following facts:

  • Iran has never invaded any other nations. Admittedly Iran tried to take over Iraq back during the Iran-Iraq war but that was in repsonse to Iraq invading them first. In all other respects Iran has been peaceful, both after the 1979 revolution and in the decades before it. Unlike Saddam and Iraq, they have no history of aggression towards their neighbours.
  • Iran's beef with America goes back over 50 years. In 1953 the CIA engineered a coup that overthrew a democratically elected Iranian government and replaced it with a corrupt dictatorship. In 1979 Iranian nationalists and fundamentalists were responsible for the Shah's overthrow in their own revolution. Since the CIA used the US embassy in Tehran as a staging and co-ordination point during the 1953 coup, the new Fundamentalist government in 1979 took over the embassy. The resulting hostage crisis was regrettable, but, in the context of 1953, understandable. Iran wanted to prevent any US influence in their new nation.
  • Ali Khameni, Iran's Supreme leader (pictured), is the official head of the armed forces. Any stupid or inflammatory comments that president Ahmadinejad made about destroying Israel need to be understood in that context. Ahmadinejad, for all his fiery rhetoric, has no power at all to use the Iranian military against another nation. Moreover, Ali Khameni publicly denounced the 9/11 attacks soon after they occurred, saying "Mass killings of human beings are catastrophic acts which are condemned... wherever they may happen and whoever the perpetrators and the victims may be". Sympathy towards America by ordinary Iranians resulted in candlelit vigils in memory of those who died on 9/11.
  • Ahmadinejad succeeded Mohammad Khatami, who was Iranian president during the 9/11 attacks. In response to the terrorist attacks, Khatami said "On behalf of the Iranian government and the nation, I condemn the hijacking attempts and terrorist attacks on public centers in American cities which have killed a large number of innocent people. My deep sympathy goes out to the American nation, particularly those who have suffered from the attacks and also the families of the victims. Terrorism is doomed and the international community should stem it and take effective measures in a bid to eradicate it."
  • Iran also has a large and influential reformist movement that has reacted against fundamentalism and likes women's heads uncovered and their rock music loud and heavy. Within this Islamic fundamentalist state there is a growing and important force of secularism that wants nothing but peace.
  • Lastly, Iran is dominated by Shi'a Islam. While a minority in international Islam, Shi'ites are the majority in Iran. To fundamentalists who adhere to Sunni Islam, Shi'ites are essentially heretics. It makes no sense that Sunnis like Osama Bin Laden and Sunni terrorist groups like Al Qaeda would wish to support the Iranian government.

What to conclude therefore? As I said, Iran is not all peacefulness and light. No doubt there are some within the government or within the population who wish to bring terror to the world. Yet the evidence of history shows that Iran is much less threatening to the world - and to America - than what many might think. They have a history of non-aggression; various top politicians have publicly denounced terrorism; they offer deep sympathy to America in response to 9/11; they have acted peacefully towards religious minorities in their own midst, most notably Jews; they have a growing reformist movement that wishes dialogue and peace with America and other western nations.

I say Ahmadinejad should lay the wreath. It is to America's shame that they would not accord to him the courtesy of other world leaders.

© 2007 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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Bad Egg?

When Anna and I go out shopping, we always purchase either barn-laid eggs or free range. We know they cost more than eggs from battery hens, but we feel that we cannot condone the suffering that battery hens go through to give us eggs.

It's not that we're PETA-loving vegetarians. On the contrary, we are both omnivorous and love eating meat. This means, of course, that we're fine about animals being bred for consumption. I don't want animals to suffer, however, in the lead-up to being slaughtered.

In the ACT, the RSPCA is lobbying territory ministers to ban battery hens and Tasmania is also considering it. There's no doubt that this would result in higher egg prices, lower egg production and less money to egg farmers, but, along with some level of government compensation to producers, any changes should be easily accepted by the population at large.

I would also like it if other forms of animal suffering could be lessened through legislation. Again, I'm a meat-eater but I'm happy to pay more for and/or eat less of meat and dairy products if it means that the animals that God gave us stewardship over can live happy lives before being killed and eaten by us.

George Michael won't test himself for AIDS

From the department of you've-gotta-have-faith:
Pop star George Michael has asked for an interview in which he discusses his fears of having HIV to be removed from a forthcoming BBC programme.

The BBC has confirmed the interview will no longer feature in the documentary, Stephen Fry: HIV and Me.

Michael's former partner, Anselmo Feleppa, died of an Aids-related illness in 1995.

"On reflection, he felt it was too close and too personal a journey," said a spokesman for the singer, 44.

He added: "It was too personal for Anselmo's family to revisit."

When the documentary was launched in July, the BBC revealed details of Michael's interview.

"George says he does not believe in tests," said producer Ross Wilson.

"He says he finds the wait for results too harrowing and that he hasn't had a test since at least 2004 due to his fears it might be positive."

The two-part programme will examine how HIV is spreading and show Fry taking an HIV test himself.

Michael is still set to appear in this year's festive edition of Catherine Tate's BBC comedy programme.

In June, he became the first singer to perform at the new Wembley Stadium, nearly seven years after the last concert at the London venue.

One day before the gig, he was sentenced to 100 hours of community service and banned from driving for two years after pleading guilty to driving while unfit.

The star blamed "tiredness and prescribed drugs" for the offence.


The cracks are widening

From the department of the-bridge-is-a-metaphor-for-the-US-dollar:
Saudi Arabia has refused to cut interest rates in lockstep with the US Federal Reserve for the first time, signalling that the oil-rich Gulf kingdom is preparing to break the dollar currency peg in a move that risks setting off a stampede out of the dollar across the Middle East.

"This is a very dangerous situation for the dollar," said Hans Redeker, currency chief at BNP Paribas.

"Saudi Arabia has $800bn (£400bn) in their future generation fund, and the entire region has $3,500bn under management. They face an inflationary threat and do not want to import an interest rate policy set for the recessionary conditions in the United States," he said.

The Saudi central bank said today that it would take "appropriate measures" to halt huge capital inflows into the country, but analysts say this policy is unsustainable and will inevitably lead to the collapse of the dollar peg.

As a close ally of the US, Riyadh has so far tried to stick to the peg, but the link is now destabilising its own economy.

The Fed's dramatic half point cut to 4.75pc yesterday has already caused a plunge in the world dollar index to a fifteen year low, touching with weakest level ever against the mighty euro at just under $1.40.

There is now a growing danger that global investors will start to shun the US bond markets. The latest US government data on foreign holdings released this week show a collapse in purchases of US bonds from $97bn to just $19bn in July, with outright net sales of US Treasuries.
The vibes I am getting from international newspapers and economics blogs is not good at all. Many people are worried about a major collapse of the US dollar, which will exacerbate and lengthen the recession that is certainly underway. This is one of those times where I hope my predictions of doom and gloom are wrong and based upon incorrect assumptions.

Adam's Bridge

From the department of the-increasingly-absurd:
The chief minister of India's southern state of Tamil Nadu is sticking to his controversial statement questioning the existence of Hindu God Ram.

M Karunanidhi also said there was no proof that Lord Ram had constructed a bridge where a new shipping canal is planned between India and Sri Lanka.

Hard-line Hindu groups say the chief minister's statement is blasphemous.

On Tuesday Hindu activists angered by the comments set fire to a Tamil Nadu bus, killing two people, police said.

Enraged Hindu hardliners in the city of Bangalore, in neighbouring Karnataka state, also attacked the home of Mr Karunanidhi's daughter, Selvi.

Hindu scripture says the area between India and Sri Lanka - now known as Adam's Bridge - was built millions of years ago by Lord Ram, supported by an army of monkeys.

But scientists and archaeologists say Adam's Bridge, or Ram Setu, is a natural formation of sand and limestone. Hard-line Hindu groups say a proposed canal project between India and Sri Lanka will destroy the bridge.
Adam's Bridge is a series of islands and reefs that, when sea levels were lower, formed a land bridge between Sri Lanka and India. Unfortunately they constitute a barrier to shipping, since the reefs are so shallow, which means that shipping has to go around Sri Lanka rather than between Sri Lanka and the Indian mainland. The current problem is due to the fact that the Indian government wants to dredge a channel so shipping can go through... and the followers of Rama are angry that this would destroy their god's bridge (which is obviously not a bridge any longer).

Personally, I think one solution would be to build a road and rail bridge linking the two nations as well as having a shipping channel. Building a real bridge on a mythical bridge is not going to be blasphemy, surely?

Belgium is a myth

From the department of the-EU-is-obviously-not- run-by-the-antichrist-if-this-is-going-on:
Willy is Flemish and proud of it. His native language is Dutch but like many Belgians he also speaks French and English. When he goes into Brussels on business, he complains, they call him a racist if he speaks in his own tongue.

He says French-speaking nurses wouldn't help his Dutch-speaking boy in hospital recently. And his comatose 80-year-old neighbour who was rushed to hospital? Same story. His wife didn't speak French and the doctors wouldn't speak Dutch. And if Willy - "don't use my full name, I've got a business to run here" - needs to go to court, that too will be in Brussels and the judges will speak French.

"The Flemish have shut up for too long. But now it's come to the point where we're not stupid any more. This country's sick. It's dying. Not right away. But it's terminal. Little by little, it's over. We will separate in the end."

A whiff of the Balkans is wafting through the heart of the EU. Belgium, a kingdom created by the great powers 177 years ago to keep the Dutch in their place and as a buffer between France and Germany, is falling apart.

It has always been a battlefield. From Waterloo to Passchendaele and the Ardennes, the superpowers of their day brought their wars to Belgium. Now Belgium is under attack from within.

"There's no Belgian sentiment," says Filip Dewinter, the leader of the Vlaams Belang party of extreme Flemish nationalists. "There's no Belgian language. There's no Belgian nation. There's no Belgian anything."
I find this very interesting because, while the EU is committed to supranationalism, there is obviously a lot of regionalism going on that still fights for a form of independence. I don't think the Flanderseses the people in Flanders want to secede from the EU, but they obviously wish to secede from Belgium. The same can be said for the Basques in southern France and northern Spain, not to mention the fact that Solvenia, once a part of the former Yugoslavia, is now a separate nation and is part of the EU while other former Yugoslavian states (Croatia, Serbia, etc) are not. Any split in Belgium, however, is rather touchy since Brussels is the seat of the European Parliament and much of its bureaucracy.

Man, 72, refused alcohol over age

From the department of what-the-heck:
Supermarket staff refused to sell alcohol to a white-haired 72-year-old man - because he would not confirm he was over 21.

Check-out staff at Morrisons in West Kirby, Wirral, demanded Tony Ralls prove he was old enough to buy his two bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Mr Ralls asked to see the manager who put the wine back on the shelf.

The grandfather-of-three said he had refused to confirm he was over 21 as it was a "stupid question."

Mr Ralls, a retired insurance firm regional manager, said he expected the store manager to resolve the situation but he was disappointed.

"I felt like saying 'What do I look like? Are you a fool?'

"He picks up the wine and, in the manner of a child taking home his ball, says 'Well, we won't serve you'."


A humane way to help Iraq

Put aside, if it is possible, the morality and legality of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, as well as the confusion as to what to do next (ie should America stay or leave?). Rather, let's focus on a rather important fact:

There are at least 4.2 million Iraqis refugees.

Each one of those 4.2 million has his or her own story to tell. They are fleeing the violence and the death. They have endured hell and they want out.

Of those 4.2 million, 2.2 million have actually left the country. The rest are "internally displaced", which means they have fled one place and are in another. Most of those would probably want to leave to.

The scale of this human tragedy is terrible. A refugee has no income, no means of supporting themselves or their family, and has limited access to food, shelter and health care. Refugees often live in appalling conditions and mortality rates amongst both children and adults are terrible.

It is time that these refugees had a place to move to. Those places are Australia, Britain and the United States - the three nations involved in the 2003 invasion.

4.2 million can break down quite easily amongst these three nations. If we break up the 4.2 million Iraqis into each of these three nations (adjusted according to size), then you'll get these figures:
  • Australia (pop. 20 million): 220,000 Iraqis
  • Britain (pop. 61 million): 670,000 Iraqis
  • USA (pop. 301 million): 3,310,000 Iraqis
It would be nice for other industrialised nations to take on refugees (some already are) but the bulk should be to these three nations since they share the responsibility of Iraq's present status.

This photoshopped image has been shamelessly stolen from Something Awful.

Impact event leads to 600 people sick

From the department of The-Andromeda-Strain was-Michael-Crichton's-only-decent-novel:
Some 600 people in Peru have required treatment after an object from space - said to be a meteorite - plummeted to Earth in a remote area, officials say.

They say the object left a deep crater after crashing down over the weekend near the town of Carancas in the Andes.

People who have visited scene have been complaining of headaches, vomiting and nausea after inhaling gases.

A team of scientists is on its way to the site to collect samples and verify whether it was indeed a meteorite.
It's unlikely to be an extraterrestrial pathogen - more likely to be gases released from the earth's surface as a result of the impact.

Collingwood fined

From the department of the-Gatting-precendent-means-he-should-be-sacked:
England captain Paul Collingwood has been fined £1000 after admitting drinking at a lap-dancing bar in Cape Town on Saturday, the night before England's crucial Super Eight match against South Africa. He was handed the fine by a panel that included England coach Peter Moores, chairman of selectors David Graveney and ECB chief executive David Collier.

"Paul Collingwood has been levied with a suitable fine," a terse ECB media release said. "The matter is now closed."

"It's obviously unacceptable," Collingwood admitted. "I'm England captain and going to these places isn't the thing to do. You learn from these lessons and hopefully it won't happen again."

A more attractive offer

Exactly one month ago I came to the conclusion that oil is likely to go over $100 per barrel. My reasoning was based upon the actions of the Federal Reserve Bank at the time cutting the discount rate, which implied to the market most strongly that the official rate would be cut. Well, it happened - the rate has been slashed by 50 basis points from 5.25% to 4.75%.

The market, predictably, went wild. It's always amusing to see the graphs of market reactions to certain news and last night's Wilshire 5000 went from zero to hero in the space of 15 minutes. Encouraged by the cut, and seeing in it a decisive action by the Fed, the market invested an extra $432.36 billion into shares (based on the rise in the Wilshire 5000)

But, given the gushing and excitement of the sharemarket, one could easily forget to check out other important market barometers.

Perhaps the most important is the US Dollar. While the sharemarket jumped up the Dollar fell down. It went from €0.72 to €0.7157, a fall of 0.6%, admittedly not huge but, then again, most landslides begin with a few pebbles.

When Ben Bernanke informed the market of his desire to print more money in the form of lower interest rates, he did so in a foreign exchange (forex) environment that has become increasingly hostile to the US Dollar. Like all markets, the forex market operates by supply and demand. By increasing the money supply Bernanke essentially told the forex market that money will be cheaper. With demand not increasing, the only thing the forex market could do was to downgrade the currency. This has been happening for some time now, but when the Fed lowered rates it was a signal that more is to come - which means that the forex market can continue to devalue the dollar.

Of course, one of the results of a dollar losing value is the increased price of imports. This has an inflationary effect, which means that the rate cut is inflationary in nature. Given the fact that inflationary pressure have beset the US economy for some 12 months now, the Fed's actions in lowering rates risks increasing inflation (the deflationary effects of a downturn notwithstanding). If the forex market continues to punish the US dollar, the Fed may be in the unenviable position of having to choose between runaway inflation or raising interest rates during a recession.

The second market barometer worth noting is the price of oil. Oil is priced in US Dollars and this price depends upon a combination of supply and demand influences as well as the price of the dollar. In other words, the price of oil does not fall whenever the dollar falls - it increases in value if the dollar falls. And, surprise, surprise, the price of oil spiked after Bernanke's announcement and is now hovering around $81 per barrel.

As the US economy begins its slow winding down, international investors are increasingly beginning to see better offers in younger, more attractive economies. Once a virile peacock, the US economy is increasingly turning into a bitter old rooster. The Subprime meltdown is the beginning of the end of America's most favoured status amongst the world's economies, and the result will be a protracted, painful recession and economic realignment. By cutting rates, the Fed has chosen to make it easy today and harder tomorrow.


Why Bernanke shouldn't blink

Imagine this situation: You have a friend who spends money like it is going out of fashion. All he does is buy things or invests them in crazy schemes. But in order to fund his spendthrift ways he needs to borrow money from his family and from friends like you.

One day your friend comes up to you. He is in a parlous state. He has lost all his money on failed investments. He owes so much money that some of his belongings have been repossessed already.

You shake your head at his story but you can't help but feel as though your friend is entirely to blame for his situation. You knew the warning signs were there and you're miffed at the fact that the ten thousand dollars he owes you may never come back.

You also know what he should do. He should cut his spending and live more frugally. He should divert most if not all of his remaining income into paying off his debt. You know that this process will be hard for him, but before you can say anything he asks you: "So, are you going to lend me money to cover my costs? Come ON man!".

What would you do?

By the time you read this, Ben Bernanke may have publicly announced a cut in official interest rates. To me, this is the complete opposite of what should happen. If you haven't worked out my anecdote already, the spendthrift friend is the market, who is reeling from the Subprime meltdown. You, of course, represent the Federal Reserve bank.

I'm a great believer that economics is actually simpler than what most folks think. I believe that the anecdote I have shared is true both in its micro and macro form - the best way to make people treat their money properly is by treating it seriously. This is as true for the poverty-stricken underemployed worker in Michigan as it is for the Wall Street stockbrokers who command eight figure salaries.

To cut interest rates would, in this case, be the same as lending your spendthrift and near-bankrupt friend more money. The Subprime meltdown, which is likely to plunge America and much of the world into recession, is a result of market failure. Easy money and easy credit have distorted the market's ability to spend and invest wisely.

But the market is, of course, demanding that Bernanke cut rates. "Come ON man!" they are saying to him "we'll be ruined if you don't cough up!".

It seems to me that the market's argument is that the cause of the problem is its solution. If easy money and easy credit have caused the market to go haywire, then the solution is more easy money and more easy credit. To me, this makes as much sense as a heroin addict arguing that the best way for him to get off drugs is to have another hit of heroin.

But in the anecdote you have the chance to say to your friend "No! I am not going to help you in this. The best thing for you to do is stop spending like it is going out of style and to stop investing money in crazy things! You have to cut your spending and live frugally until you pay off your debts!".

If Bernanke and the Federal Reserve wish to act in the best interests of America and make the best decision then they will decide to, at the very least, keep rates where they are. This may not be popular, but it will be the right thing to do. The market needs to learn restraint and the best way to do it at the moment is through frugality and austerity.

Bernanke has two choices: He can be a Greenspan or he can be a Volcker. If he chooses to be another Alan Greenspan he will cut rates, bask in the glory of sharemarket highs and then, in his retirement, be reviled for being part of America's poverty. If he chooses to be a Paul Volcker he will, like Volcker did in 1980-81, refuse to blink as he acted for the good of America's economy. Volcker's actions were instrumental in bringing about a protracted recession, but were also responsible for bringing about sanity into the world economy for some years afterwards.

If Bernanke wants to be as courageous as Volcker then he will keep rates as they are or even raise them. By doing this he will, no doubt, help bring about a global downturn over the next 18 months... but at least he would have done the right thing and helped bring America's (and the world's) economy back into balance.

Bernanke gave a 50 basis point blink.

© 2007 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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New York Times now free online

From the department of common sense:
The New York Times will stop charging for access to parts of its Web site, effective at midnight tonight.

The move comes two years to the day after The Times began the subscription program, TimesSelect, which has charged $49.95 a year, or $7.95 a month, for online access to the work of its columnists and to the newspaper’s archives. TimesSelect has been free to print subscribers to The Times and to some students and educators.

In addition to opening the entire site to all readers, The Times will also make available its archives from 1987 to the present without charge, as well as those from 1851 to 1922, which are in the public domain. There will be charges for some material from the period 1923 to 1986, and some will be free.
The New York Times
has, in recent years, been subject to a number of journalistic controversies, including the plagiarism of Jayson Blair and the role of reporter Judith Miller in the Plame Affair. Despite this, it is perhaps the best known Newspaper of Record in the USA. That it has chosen to ditch the fee-paying TimesSelect and open up its articles freely on the web will give the newspaper an added boost. It certainly won't solve the problem of falling sales (as people stop buying the paper and, instead, read it for free on the internet) but it will free up important historical information.

Still, I can't see newspapers surviving in the current climate. There will always be a need to sell physical newspapers but, as time goes by, that number will drop. As a result, there will be a merger and consolidation of a number of different news sources, which will be a good thing.

Alcohol and Violence in NSW

From the department of the-importance-of-prevention:
New South Wales Police Force welcome the findings of a landmark study that reveals the startling financial cost to alcohol-related incidents - the state’s biggest single crime factor.

The survey estimated that 8.2% of all police officer time is spent dealing with alcohol-related issues. That represents a cost of $50 million a year, or the equivalent of employing 1,000 full time constables.
From a purely economic viewpoint, it is obvious that measures to prevent alcohol induced violence need to increase. $50 million per year is $50 million too much. If the NSW government could spend $10 million more per year advertising safe and responsible drinking, the effect will (hopefully) be a reduction in the cost of alcohol induced violence.

Zimbabwe "close to collapse"

From the department of it-has-already-collapsed:
Zimbabwe is closer to complete collapse than ever, and the regional initiative to find a negotiated political solution must be fully supported, a report says.

The International Crisis Group, based in Brussels, says Southern African countries are the only ones with a chance of making a difference.

South Africa's president is trying to mediate between Zimbabwe's governing Zanu-PF party and the opposition.

But the independent think tank says this regional initiative is fragile.

It points out that some Southern African leaders remain supporters of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and there is a risk they will accept cosmetic changes that further entrench the status quo.
At what point will someone (important) say "Zimbabwe has already collapsed. How are we going to pick up the pieces?"


Fantasy author Robert Jordan is dead

From the department of all-those-fans-must-be-annoyed:
It is with great sadness that I tell you that the Dragon is gone. RJ left us today at 2:45 PM. He fought a valiant fight against this most horrid disease. In the end, he left peacefully and in no pain. In the years he had fought this, he taught me much about living and about facing death. He never waivered in his faith, nor questioned our God’s timing. I could not possibly be more proud of anyone. I am eternally grateful for the time that I had with him on this earth and look forward to our reunion, though as I told him this afternoon, not yet. I love you bubba.
My wife and I began reading the Wheel of Time fantasy series back in the early 1990s. After about the 5th book, I realised that Jordan was deliberately patting out the storyline. Eventually we both got absolutely sick of the series because it just went on and on and on...

Now it won't get finished. It's sad that Jordan is dead but, really, the Wheel of Time was just too annoying to keep reading.

Howard spends $400 million

From the department of everyone-knows-an-election-is-coming:
Prime Minister John Howard has announced more than $400 million in new funding for drought-affected farmers.

Mr Howard has extended exceptional circumstances funding until September next year for 38 drought-declared areas in southern Australia.

He says extra money has also been set aside for a large part of Tasmania, as well as Western Australia.

"We are expecting to receive from the Tasmanian and Western Australian Governments respectively applications for exceptional circumstances declarations," Mr Howard said.

"I'm making the interim declaration so that some of the assistance can begin to flow from those areas immediately."

The new IR laws... continued

I just learned this little piece of information from my wife, who is a Social worker at Centrelink. Centrelink is the place where Australians go to if they need to be assessed for welfare, including unemployment benefits.

One of the requirements for a person to get unemployment benefits is an assessment of their recent work history. If a person was working and quit their job for no good reason (for example, because they didn't like it, or because it interfered with their social life) then the person would not be able to receive unemployment benefits for 8 weeks. Additionally, if the person is unemployed because they were sacked by their employer for failing to do the job properly, the 8 week waiting period would still apply.

The problem with the new IR laws is that it has made it easier for employers to fire staff. Previous unfair dismissal laws made it harder for bosses to fire staff, but these days it is easier. The result is that more workers are being fired than before.

And here's the problem - these newly unemployed people are turning up to Centrelink and asking for unemployment benefits. But because they were sacked and because the employer states that it was the employee's fault, these people are not receiving unemployment benefits.

Moreover, the Federal government has set a benchmark for Centrelink to follow - that a certain percentage of unemployment claims MUST be knocked back. Rewards are given to Centrelink offices and employees for having high rates of knockbacks.

So, in summary:
  • It is easier for employers to fire staff.
  • It is difficult for fired staff to then get unemployment benefits.
  • Centrelink is rewarded for preventing people from getting on unemployment benefits.
Winner: Bosses and Federal Government.
Losers: Workers.

Now you can see why people have turned so viciously against the Federal Government.


The question is now being asked

If you check out some of my selected articles on the left column, you'll see one titled No Inflation. I wrote this back in 2005 as a result of a few years of thinking on the subject. Essentially it is an argument which points out that, since money's worth is only as a means to exchange goods and services, then it functions as a way to determine the worth of something. When an economy is beset by inflation or deflation, then the economy's ability to determine the worth of goods and services is compromised.

My argument is that, by ensuring that the value of money remains neutral - neither inflating in price nor deflating in price - then the economy is best able to use money to its full advantage.

In order to force a situation in which zero inflation exists - absolute price stability - then central banks like the US Federal Reserve or the Australian Reserve Bank need to adjust interest rates accordingly. In this case, interest rates would go up and economic activity would stall for a while as prices adjust to absolute stability.

The current thinking is that the best balance is to have a little inflation. Modern central banks believe that inflation should exist in a band of between 1-3%. Yet even this, I would argue, is dicey.

In the last month we have seen the result of the Subprime Meltdown - a cascading amount of home owners in the United States are unable to afford their mortgages and are foreclosing. A recent article in the New York Times indicates that recent employment statistics, along with bond market statistics, have swung strongly towards a recession.

The housing bubble that caused this subprime meltdown is a classic asset-price bubble. The worrying aspect of asset-price bubbles is that they do not translate into inflation figures until well after they start. Simply put, there is now direct evidence that exposes the limitations of current monetary policy. The Federal Reserve Bank, in hindsight, should have acted earlier to prevent both the housing bubble as well as the Dot-com bubble before it. Yet no mechanism existed to warn the Fed to act - inflation was not high enough to warrant action. But the reason why no mechanism existed was because it was assumed that a little inflation was a good thing.

I'm saying all this because I have just read an article in The Economist about how the current financial crisis is affecting Canada. The final paragraph of this article is telling:
He (the governor of the Bank of Canada) acknowledged that the Bank of Canada may itself have played a role in stoking the excesses by not raising interest rates enough. “One can see in retrospect that we should have been driving those rates harder than we did, because in reality credit conditions were being eased by increased securitisation and movement of stuff off balance [sheet],” he says. That is an admission that most officials would make only when they are safely in retirement. If the failure to tighten was an error, it was surely one committed by many other central banks besides Canada's.
In other words, the question is now being asked - would it have been better for monetary policy to be tighter? Hopefully someone, somewhere, will realise that absolute price stability is probably the best answer.