31 May, 2009

Multitasking? Bah! Humbug!

When the character of Charles Emerson Winchester was introduced in MASH to replace Frank Burns as the uptight major and butt of BJ (himself a similar-enough-but-different-enough replacement for Trapper John) and Hawkeye’s jokes, he introduced himself to the outfit and to the audience with the lines, “I do one thing at a time, I do it very well, and then I move on.”

Such a line would have been intended to indicate what an insufferably arrogant Bostonian snob he was supposed to be. But I'm beginning to think there was a lot of wisdom in Winchester's creed.

“Multitasking” is a word that was originally used to describe a computer operating system's ability to run more than one program at a time without crashing. It’s now also used to describe how people should be expected to work - and I’m beginning to think it's unhealthy.

As I write this, it’s 4:50 on a Sunday afternoon. I’ve just been trying to reinstall Windows on a friend’s laptop but to no avail as the CD drive in it appears to be cactus. Had it worked, I would have left that running with occasional glances to check on its progress while I did the other things I had planned to do today and in which I am behind schedule. I've already typed up a calendar for Mum and shifted some rocks in the garden for Dad, and those were already delayed by the call about the aforementioned laptop. I’m about to deliver the laptop back to its owner and when I get home, I will begin preparation for a class I have on Wednesday morning. I have to do that today since all my time on Monday and Tuesday is already allocated to admin work, brochure design, classes, a committee meeting and several other jobs I still have hanging over my head so if I don't do it today, I won’t be prepared at all. And there's a friend I've been meaning to visit for over a week. As a result, neither job is really getting the attention it deserves. It's not that I can’t excel at any of these things but it’s the lack of being able to satisfactorily finish one job before starting another that leads to immense frustration and, I think, is detrimental to the quality of all the jobs.

I can imagine there are a few parents out there reading this and scoffing that they should have it so good. And you should. Respect to you. But perhaps Charles had it right all along. Perhaps the best work is done by being able to do one thing at a time, do it very well, and then move on. As distractible as I am, I'd love to be able to be that way.

22 May, 2009

Dick Cheney, STFU

Dear Dick,

The irony of you suddenly wanting to join the public discourse is lost on no-one. But you seem to have forgotten (assuming you ever knew) something pretty basic about American democracy – and since you're so out of touch with the rest of America, it's perhaps appropriate that it takes an Australian to explain it to you.

You see, Dick, America actually has a long and proud tradition of ex-veeps who want to continue to influence public policy. Do you know what they do? They run for president. That's what you do when you're an outgoing VP who still wants to run things. Sometimes they win, like George Bush Snr, sometimes they lose, like Hubert Humphrey, sometimes they lose then win, like Richard Nixon, and sometimes they win then lose, like Al Gore. But the one thing all these former VPs have in common is that they put their policies to the people and accepted the people's (or court's, as the case may be) decision.

But you were too good for that, weren't you Dick? Having spent eight years running a de-facto presidency out of the vice president's office, submitting yourself to the will of the people would have been awfully undignified for you, wouldn't it? However, something happened while you were off being all aloof. Your mob lost. You lost before they even had the election. While all the other Republican candidates (apart from Ron Paul) were bickering over which one had the biggest man-crush on Jack Bauer, the nomination went to the one Republican who had the courage and decency to stand up and say that torture is wrong and is not what America is about. Republicans did that. Your own people turned away from you and chose a man who not only stood up to you, but also happens to know more about torture than you, Mitt “double Guantamo” Romney, Mike Chuckabee and Rudy 9iu11iani put together. And thanks mostly to your poisoning of the Republican brand, he lost in the general election.

Now I know you're not entirely sure what this has to do with you so I'll explain further. It means nobody cares what you think about anything. You may get polite applause from other residents of the political scrapheap at the AEI but that doesn't count for anything because you lost!

But you know what, Dick? If you really feel less safe now (and you're one of the very few with good reason to) then why don't you go and live in a country where they still allow torture? See how you like their freedom. Of course, you were part of the mob that claimed that to criticise the president was unpatriotic and even treasonous. So Dick, why do you hate America? Why do you hate freedom?
I think I know why. There have been two previous vice presidents who were indicted for treason.
Wanna make it three?

Let's be honest, Dick. We all know what this media blitz is really about. You've always been a champion of the doctrine of pre-emption – that attack is the best form of defence – and you've got a lot to defend yourself over. Having lost so comprehensively, even to the point where your own party wouldn't have a bar of you even during the election, you're now in a position where the law applies to you too. It's a thought that clearly has you scared that you might end up spending a lot of time with Jack Abramoff. But even Abramoff never had the balls to try the “Hey, it worked!” defence.

Mind you, you have achieved one great thing recently – something many thought to be utterly impossible. As with everything you and your puppet ever attempted, it's all to do with unintended consequences, but it's an amazing achievement nonetheless. With your Quixotic attempts to justify your legacy and undermine your elected government, you have actually managed to make George W Bush look statesmanlike by comparison.

14 May, 2009

Beer, Smokes Up

Of all the headlines surrounding this week's budget, that's one we didn't see, and Malcolm Turnbull doesn't like it. While he makes a good point about the dangers of plunging into debt, he struggles for credibility because he is the embodiment of the culture that got us into this mess. You see, Malcolm Turnbull is a merchant banker. And you can take that any way you like. He's also a part of the government that threw incentives at people to go and get 30 year mortgages. I'm not entirely sure why that's good, but the country taking out a ten-year mortgage of sorts is bad.

The centre-point of Turnbull's reply to the second Rudd/Swan budget is his opposition to Labor's plan to save money by means-testing the private health insurance rebate which was put in place by the previous Liberal government. It's a scheme that some have argued is just middle class welfare and it could even be argued that the rebate never really existed since health insurance premiums went up by the same amount as the rebate the week after the rebate came into effect. (Yes, Australian politics does sometimes play like a sit-com.)

Turnbull's alternative to the means test – in fact the only alternative he offered in the entire speech – is a 12.5% increase in cigarette taxes. That's the big idea from the investment expert in his first budget reply as leader of the party of sound economic management – the single most clichéd budget ploy ever.

Here's how he put it:
“So there's a tough choice for a weak Prime Minister: Raise $1.9 billion by making health more expensive and putting more pressure on the public hospital system, or by adding about three cents more to the price of a cigarette and taking pressure off the public health system.”

The problem is that this is no choice at all. The projected revenue raised from any increase in tobacco tax assumes consistent sales of cigarettes. That can't possibly take the pressure off the public health system. If the tax hike encouraged or forced people to give up, then it wouldn't raise the revenue. You can't have it both ways. If I can work that out, who needs a merchant banker?

I have no sympathy for smokers having to pay more for their habit and never have. And I have had on-and-off flings with the daemon weed so I'm not without empathy. But the success of anti-smoking campaigns means that bunging a few more cents on the price of a gasper is not the easy way to make a lazy couple of billion that it used to be. More importantly, if any government of any persuasion is serious about promoting health and discouraging smoking, then it's time to stop looking to smokers as national benefactors. The “sin tax” has always been an easy way for governments to look like they are combatting a problem they can't ban, while at the same time necessitating such behaviour in order to make their budgets work. Yes, Malcolm Turnbull is so concerned about reducing pressure on the public health system that he's going to take another $1.9 billion in taxes off smokers (not to mention the amount they already pay) and hope that enough of them keep smoking enough to pay the extra taxes.

The Liberals are right to oppose Labor's knee-jerk alco-pop tax. But the idea of looking to an ever-diminishing population of smokers to save the economy makes a mockery of that opposition and of their claims to care about public health and their assertions of economic know-how.

03 May, 2009

The new TV season

And now for something not entirely the same - a little photo essay.

April in these parts is the time of year when all the televisions begin to bloom.
Here are a few I snapped a couple of seasons ago, growing wild by the side of the side of the road.

01 May, 2009

Panic Fatigue 2

or People Making Fun of Frightened New Yorkers, STFU

I made mention in the previous post of the idiotic flyover that terrorised New Yorkers this week. Apparently, the idea was to get some photos of Air Force One (although, since the president wasn't on board, it wasn't really Air Force One) flying low over Manhattan.
What could possibly go wrong?

One thing that has really pissed me off is the attitude of more than a few commenters on the story. In their view it's New Yorkers' fault for panicking and they all ought to harden up.

There is a perception, both within and outside the US, that it is a nation scared of its own shadow – but that's got nothing to do with the attacks of September 11th, it dates back to the McCarthy witch-hunts at least. And any country that gives time of day to the notion that public health cover is the road to Stalinism, or that government assistance to ordinary people burned by the financial crisis is somehow tyranny, leaves most of the rest of us scratching our heads.

And we all know how the previous administration used this innate fear and the fresh memory of terrorist attacks for political gain. Compare and contrast the number of “terror alerts” issued in 2004, the year Bush was up for re-election (none of which were ever substantiated), with the ones that came since. Whether they stopped pulling that trick because they got what they wanted, or to avoid panic fatigue setting in, is anyone's guess.

But just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not out to get you. New Yorkers know this better than most. So when they hear and see an airliner flying low over the city without any warning, what the hell are they supposed to think – especially after the last time that happened? Some keyboard crusaders actually suggested that witnesses should have recognised Air Force One when they saw it. Oh yeah? Can you describe the livery on the jet that hit the second tower? Can you tell us what airlines they were from without Googling it? Didn't think so. So shut up!

I know that getting upset about people on comments pages is about as pointless as complaining about the water content of rain but some things got beyond run-of-the-mill dickishness. It's pretty clear that these arseholes who are saying New Yorkers are a bunch of pussies for panicking, have never suffered anything more traumatic than being bitten by a virtual zombie on Facebook. If they had, they might have a bit more empathy with people who are legitimately traumatised and had a very good reason for fearing for their lives. They don't need therapy, they just need some compassion and consideration. The kind of consideration that makes you think twice before buzzing them with a low-flying 747 without any warning.

I'm the first to call bullshit on opportunistic cretins who chant “NINEELEVEN” as an excuse for anything from invading Iraq to torture to racism. But equally I can't abide smarmy little prats saying that people who were there, and saw the horrors of that day should just get over it. You wouldn't yell BANG! behind a war veteran and then laugh at him for being startled, would you? So show some respect and shut up!