Attila the Pun
Monday, February 28, 2005
Have some issues? Get some tissues

Today's twentysomething whine comes from Brigid Flanagan, a 23 year old International Relations Masters student.

This is where I stand. I am 23. I am a woman. I am highly educated. I am confident. I know my potential and my ultimate abilities. I believe I have got a lot to give.

Good for you, but not a situation screaming out for an op-ed piece I would have thought.

Like a great deal of my mates, I have been financially independent of my parents since leaving school. Juggling the demands of two jobs and full-time study is a reality I live with every day.

That aint easy, no argument there.

Knowing that my forebears fought hard for the eight-hour day, I resent working within a casualised workforce where nothing is guaranteed and a great deal is expected.

You have chosen to do an undergraduate degree, then chosen to do a masters, knowing that university has odd lecture hours. How can you then complain that you are forced to work casual hours? What sort of employer would (or should) take on an employee that can only work three hour shifts, or has to work after business hours? If you want to work 9-5, get a job with those hours.

My sister once worked a Friday night shift that finished at 11pm and had to be back at work by 7am the next morning.

With respect, but boo-hoo. If thats the worst you can come up with, then we are going nowhere fast.

I had to hold back the giggles as an area manager told me off for failing to reach a weekly sales target. Reminding me of the "performance-based rosters", I could not exactly explain that I had been up until 3am every night that week completing an important assignment or that I cared about my sales target even less than she did my dedication to my education.

I can't imagine why any employer isn't falling overthemselves to give Brigid whatever shifts work best for her needs. She has basically admitted that she doesn't give a toss about her job, and is just using it to pay the bills while she finishes her degree. Nothing inherently wrong with that, as long as both sides are honest with each other, but don't come complaining when a job you don't care about decides they don't care much about you either.

I am lucky because my other job is good to me and because I still live at home with my parents. Some of my workmates are not that fortunate.

Huh? When you were bragging earlier, you said you were financially independent. Living with mum and dad does not count as financially independent.

Having completed four years of university study, I have a major HECS debt and with an annual income of less than $20,000, a credit card debt that has hit $4500.

A HECS debt you don't have to pay off until your income gets higher. And what kind of poor financial management led to a credit card debt of $4500? Any holidays in there? A car maybe?

My grandparents are continually shocked at my acceptance of personal debt. For their generation, being thrifty was an attribute needed to survive the challenges of the Depression and World War II. The reality is that I will probably be in debt for the rest of my life.

A key point here - acceptance of debt. I do not argue that students are living the high life, but nobody living at home and working two jobs (with a bachelor degree completed you should be able to find jobs that pay better than $10k a year - I did) needs $4500 on their credit card. Your grandparents probably refer to it as "living beyond your means". And whose fault is that?

I largely blame the baby boomers for the creation of this situation.

I should have guessed.

Given a free tertiary education and largely supported by Commonwealth scholarships during the Whitlam era, the baby boomers enjoyed the freedom and power of being young and educated. They entered the workforce buoyed by their involvement in student politics and have failed to pass this gift on to the next generation.

Fishbowl alert. Have a look at the statistics for the boomer generation. How many went to uni? And what percentage were involved in student politics? The current campus left may look on the whitlam era with devotion (no HECS, vietnam protests), but for the majority of boomers it was as irrelevent to them as current uni politics are to most people today. Also, you have a free degree at the moment - HECS won't have kicked in. So any current financial difficulties can't be blamed on HECS payments.

Politically, these baby boomers have voted in consecutive conservative governments that have passed significant industrial relations legislation, environmental policies and education reform that has significantly altered the society that I am about to enter.

I think we can see where this is going - bring on the boilerplate:

The result of last year's federal election has shown that the generational weight of the baby boomers has little thought for the generations to follow. The old-growth forest in Tasmania's Styx Valley could not be saved and the fight against Brendan Nelson's tertiary fee increases was lost. I am waiting for the industrial relation reforms to fly through the Senate when it is reconfigured in July.

Now back to the whining:

This summer just gone, Zach Braff's movie Garden State, seemed to have an enormous impact on the group of 20-somethings I keep close and call my friends. An incredibly powerful statement on the transient feeling among my generation, the movie explores the idea that beneath the veneer of confidence my generation projects, we are all just a little bit scared, a little bit insecure and a little bit lost.

And what your grandparents would say to that (in a moment of candour) would be "suck it up". People of the X and Y generations have been given unparalled freedom and choice. They can decide to stay at home with their parents till their mid-20's, doing undergraduate and postgraduate study when the mood takes them. Then they may decide to travel for awhile, then maybe even look for a job. And during all this, some want to complain about lack of direction and insecurity.

Want some direction? Find some. Don't sit around complaining and blaming it on the generation that is housing and feeding you.

But I guess that is life.

Yes, that is life. Judging by her opening paragraphs, Brigid sounds like she has had a good one so far, and good luck to her. Writing angst filled op-ed pieces about racking up credit card bills and the travesty of having to occasionally pulling a double shift and missing mum's casserole does a disservice to those who truly are doing it tough in life.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

It is quite the mystery over at Blair's place. One of the howler monkeys at Webdiary wrote this:

This all adds up to lunacy. I'm appalled that Howard thinks he can get away with this. My father fought to keep Australia democratic and this is how we've ended up.

By allowing this to happen we are all shamed. Little by little we see our freedoms eroded. And where will it end? It will end with jack boots and brown shirts. Right here in our living rooms. That and Howard taking complete control of every arm of the government. Herr Howard the Hater.

Is this what we want? Not me! Killing democracy to make one man more powerful than all of us put together so one man can rule Australia like Sukarno ran Malaysia. You'd have to be crazy if you think I'm going to knuckle under jack boots and fascists. Over my dead body.
Everyone said he'd do this. My father - God rest his soul - knew it would happen. And it has. Down with Herr Howard!

All standard stuff really. But as the sharp eyed reader Hanyu points out, if you set it out differently, things change:

This all adds up to lunacy.
I'm appalled that Howard thinks he can get away with this.
My father fought to keep Australia democratic and this is how we've ended up.
By allowing this to happen we are all shamed.
Little by little we see our freedoms eroded.
A nd where will it end?
I t will end with jack boots and brown shirts.
R ight here in our living rooms.
T hat and Howard taking complete control of every arm of the government.
H err Howard the H ater.
I s this what we want?
N ot me!
K illing democracy to make one man more powerful than all of us put together so one man can rule Australia like Sukarno ran Malaysia.
Y ou'd have to be crazy if you think I'm going to knuckle under jack boots and fascists.
O ver my dead body.
E veryone said he'd do this.
M y father - God rest his soul - knew it would happen.
A nd it has.
D own with Herr Howard!

Hanyu guessed the Bunyip or EvilPundit. Both have denied it. Blair himself hasn't spoken on it. Well done to whoever it was.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005
Brown from the waist down

Howard has announced that we will be sending a further contingent of 450 troops to Iraq. Their roles will include providing security for the Japanese troops stationed in the area and training Iraqi security forces.

The Japanese Government is happy at the announcement, as the Australians will be taking over the responsibility for the security of the Japanese engineers after the Dutch pull out. Britain is also happy, as they had previously agreed to take over this role. The deployment has also been approved by the interim Iraqi Government.

So who isn't happy? Bob Brown of course.

Senator Brown, in Perth for Senate hearings into the Iraq's wheat debts, said the move was both terrible and outrageous.

The troops are going to help protect other soldiers, as well as rebuilding roads and schools. This is "terrible" according to Brown.

"John Howard never told voters he would be sending 450 more troops to Iraq, never indicated that in the election campaign," he said.

"He effectively misled the Australian electorate on this issue and it is a huge mistake for Australia."

Thats because we hadn't been asked yet Bob. Howard also attacked Latham (he used to lead the Labor party) for his pledge to bring the troops home by Christmas. Hardly the actions of a man attempting to mislead the electorate about his intentions regarding troop deployment.

Senator Bartlett also had a crack, but is at least more sane:

"We understand there is a certain amount of 'You broke it, you fix it' for countries such as Australia that were part of the coalition of the willing," Senator Bartlett said.

"But we also ask the Government to get the bull out of the china shop and get all foreign troops out of Iraq as soon as possible, particularly any that are involved in any way in combat activities."

Couldn't agree more - the tricky part is when it will be "as soon as possible". I look forward to the day that all foreign troops leave Iraq as there is no longer any need for them. Regretably, that day isn't here yet. One of the things that will bring it closer is the training of Iraqi security forces, which is one of the jobs the diggers are going over to do.

Monday, February 21, 2005
Couldn't agree more

This ranks relatively highly on the radness scale.


You would like to think that a technology writer for a major newspaper would do more than repeat whatever press release comes their way. Unless it is an Apple product of course.

Enter the Apple iPod Shuffle.

No display, no radio, basically a thumb drive with mp3 compatability. Wait, its actually:

The iPod shuffle is a brilliantly simple, funky music player with mass brand appeal.

There is no type of display whatsoever, no menu system and no click wheel.

Stripping it of all but the most simple of functions, then charging a brand premium, is "brilliantly simple"? Brilliant from Apple's point of view maybe, but surely not from a reviewer.

In comparison, it costs only 20 per cent more than a memory card of the same capacity.

Don't know where you are shopping pal, but try 1Gb of Kingston flash memory for as little as $130.

If you're going for long trips without a notebook by your side, however, its smaller memory capacity and lack of standard power adaptor (its lithium-ion battery charges directly from a USB port and an external charger is a $48 accessory) means the larger iPods are still a better bet.

Yeah, or a different flash based player that doesn't try and gouge you another $50 for a charger.

For the average commuter, jogger, or gym-junkie the shuffle is about the coolest thing that's happened to portable music yet.

That line has got to have come straight from Apple headquarters.

Sunday, February 20, 2005
Swampy, redux

I, of course, would never support physical violence against another person, but this is pretty amusing.

Swampy, redux

I, of course, would never support physical violence against another person, but this is pretty amusing.

Saturday, February 19, 2005
Sod off swampy

This story is getting a fair bit of play in the blogosphere, and quite rightly so:

WHEN 35 Greenpeace protesters stormed the International Petroleum Exchange (IPE) yesterday they had planned the operation in great detail.
What they were not prepared for was the post-prandial aggression of oil traders who kicked and punched them back on to the pavement.

We bit off more than we could chew. They were just Cockney barrow boy spivs. Total thugs,” one protester said, rubbing his bruised skull. “I’ve never seen anyone less amenable to listening to our point of view.”

Another said: “I took on a Texan Swat team at Esso last year and they were angels compared with this lot.” Behind him, on the balcony of the pub opposite the IPE, a bleary-eyed trader, pint in hand, yelled: “Sod off, Swampy.”


Mr Beresford said: “They followed the guys into the lobby and kept kicking and punching them there. They literally kicked them on to the pavement.”

Last night Greenpeace said two protesters were in hospital, one with a suspected broken jaw, the other with concussion

I am surprised that this doesn't happen more often, particularly at logging protests. I guess they have gotten so used to having a heavy media and police presence at rallies that the idea that a bunch of pissed oil traders might go the knuckle never occurred to them.

Thursday, February 17, 2005
Compulsory freedom of choice

Sarah-Jane Collins is the NSW president of the National Union of Students. As such, she has a pretty vested interest in defending compulsory student unionism. As voluntary unionism has been attempted for the last 10 years, you think she would have had time to come up with some pretty compelling arguments to counter the Government's:

The federal Education Minister, Brendan Nelson, said this week: "It's a matter of principle in the 21st century that people should be free to join or to not join a [student] union."

Seems fair enough to me.

Nelson's argument is that universal membership of student associations contravenes the right to freedom of association, and that students should be given a choice as to whether or not they join.

Freedom of association being right up there with freedom of speech and freedom of religion in the pantheon of human rights.

The picture painted by the Government is one of exclusivity.

No, its one of freedom of association.

Student associations, the Coalition argues, take your money, invest it in fighting for communism, throw in some free beer and do nothing for students who are not interested in these things.

Thats not far from the truth, and the unions are their own worst enemy in the image they present, but it is not what the Government has argued. (as an aside, my student union spent a lot of money on promoting communism, but didn't give away any free beer as it would offend muslim students on campus)

So where are her arguments for compulsory unionism? You are removing a persons fundamental freedom, and imposing a financial burden on students, so you need some pretty powerful arguments to support it.

We may not see the advocates who push for change to university policy so that they are fairer and better for all students, nor do we notice the student representatives who argue for small but significant changes to practice on university committees and boards. And, unless we are in trouble with our studies, living arrangements or finances, we do not need the free legal advice, counselling and advocacy that student associations provide. Without crystal balls, how can we be sure that we will not need such services?

They are arguments as to why a student *should* join a union, not arguments as to why they *must* join a union.

Most of us sign up for and get involved in clubs and societies on our campuses, but few stop to think about the funding these clubs receive from student organisations, and how important it is to them.

You want to join a club, you pay to join it. That is how every other club (outside the precious uni campus) pays for itself.

The paper also outlines a process in place at most universities, by which those who do not want to join the students association can apply for (and are generally granted) an exemption.

So at "most" universities you can apply for an exemption and "generally" you are granted one? On what grounds? It is purely for those in financial difficulties, or can those ideologically opposed to compulsory unionism get an exemption as well? If you want to use it as a defence, you are going to need more detail than that.

The fight over voluntary unionism will be couched in terms of choice versus compulsion.

How else could you "couch" a fight which involves press ganging people into a union?

But what the Government will not mention is that students have already made their choice. In 1999 students came out in support of universal membership in large and determined numbers. In 1994, when the Western Australian Liberal government introduced voluntary unionism, students spent almost 10 years campaigning to have it reversed. The Gallop Government finally changed the legislation in 2003.

So if students are such a big fan of unionism, won't they all flock to join up under a voluntary regime? She doesn't even raise the free rider problem, which actually has some merit, and instead claims that students should be forced to join a union, because they are all in overwhelming support of it. If so, let them show it by joining out of choice.

The Government is trying to impose its ideology on the student body through voluntary unionism.

And you aren't imposing an ideology?

Over the years universities, their administrators and, overwhelmingly, students have rejected this policy. We will continue to say no and we will continue to fight for universal membership, because that is our choice.

bwhahaahah. It is students "choice" to be forced to do something? Did she even read this before submitting it? Also note the use of the word "universal" instead of "compulsory". Never let it be said that the left doesn't understand the power of attempting to control the language of a debate.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Say sorry to the trees!

Climate change (it used to be called global warming, till we had a few cold summers) is a serious topic, requiring serious consideration and discussion. Therefore it is pleasing to see that environmental groups are no longer resorting to stupid stunts in order to get their "message" across:

Protesters from environmental groups including Greenpeace and The Wilderness Society meanwhile gathered outside Parliament House in Sydney to call on New South Wales Premier Bob Carr to lead the green fight.

The protesters set up an ice sculpture and watched it melt with the help of a wind turbine to mark their opposition to the Federal Government's stand.

The ice scuplture is the earth right? And global warming is the wind turbine yes? So we should not switch to "green energy" sources like wind turbines, err, right?

Melbourne didn't want to be outdone in stupid though:

In Melbourne, about 60 protesters on the steps of the Victorian Parliament waved the flags of the 141 countries that had signed the Kyoto Protocol.

The protest started with a passionate kiss between two people dressed as a beaming US President George W. Bush and a larger-than-life Mr Howard wearing a sash, saying: "I'm with stupid".

Eight years of Howard, and over four of Bush, and thats *still* all they can come up with? Bush is stupid and Howard is his lackey? Jesus people, at least some of you must have been creative arts students at Uni, how about getting some new shtick?

Of course, it is unfair to paint the whole greenie movement with the same papermache brush. Lets go to the Vice-president of the Australian Conservation Foundation:

"Australians have to continue to pressure John Howard in particular to realise he has to say sorry to the environment," he said.

Thanks hippy.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005
Handy Tips

Too busy to blog? Easy - just quote Steyn doing his thang (registration required). Today the UN gets a well deserved serve:

And, of course, corrupt organisations rarely stop at just one kind. If you don't want to bulk up your pension by skimming the Oil-for-Food programme, don't worry, whatever your bag, the UN can find somewhere that suits - in West Africa, it's Sex-for-Food, with aid workers demanding sexual services from locals as young as four; in Cambodia, it's drug dealing; in Kenya, it's the refugee extortion racket; in the Balkans, sex slaves.

For those of us not blinded by knee jerk anti-Americanism, his next points seems self evident. Sadly, to many, it isnt:

Now how about this? The Third Infantry Division are raping nine-year olds in Ramadi. Ready, set, go! That thundering sound outside your window isn't the new IKEA sale, but the great herd of BBC/CNN/Independent/Guardian/New York Times/Le Monde/Sydney Morning Herald/Irish Times/Cork Examiner reporters stampeding to the Sunni Triangle. Whoa, hold up, lads, it's only hypothetical.

But think about it: the merest glimpse of a freaky West Virginia tramp leading an Abu Ghraib inmate around with girlie knickers on his head was enough to prompt calls for Rumsfeld's resignation, and for Ted Kennedy to charge that Saddam's torture chambers were now open "under new management", and for Robert Fisk to be driven into the kind of orgasmic frenzy unseen since his column on how much he enjoyed being beaten up by an Afghan mob: "Just look at the way US army reservist Lynndie England holds the leash of the naked, bearded Iraqi," wrote Fisk. "No sadistic movie could outdo the damage of this image. In September 2001, the planes smashed into the buildings; today, Lynndie smashes to pieces our entire morality with just one tug on the leash."

Who's straining at the leash here? Down, boy. But, if Lynndie's smashed to pieces our entire morality with just one tug, Bush's Zionist neocons getting it on with Congolese kindergarteners would have the Independent calling for US expulsion from the UN - no, wait, from Planet Earth: slice it off from Maine to Hawaii and use one of those new Euro-Airbuses to drag it out round the back of Uranus.

This is not to suggest that abuse of prisoners by American troops should go unreported, or is somehow okay because the UN does worse. It does point out the breathtaking double standard that is applied to the US vs the rest of the world. If you asked the average person in the street about Abu Ghraib, the vast majority would have seen the pictures, and know the story. But the oil-for-food scam? The systematic sexual abuse of African children by UN troops? If they aren't a blog reader, and most people aren't, then I bet they would give you a blank look.

What is even worse is those that refuse to hear anything bad about the UN. Sure, it allows Sudan to chair the human rights committee, sure, it turns a blind eye to war crimes committed by troops under its command, but the principle of having a UN is so important that things like that must be allowed to slide.

Monday, February 14, 2005
Fastest hunk o' junk

I could be wrong, but this may be the geekiest thing I have seen all year.

Modding your X-Box is geeky. Anything involving Star Wars is geeky. Modding your X-Box by fitting it inside a Millenium Falcon is so geeky that our meaurement instruments broke. Props for the landing lights and hyperdrive however.

Friday, February 11, 2005
Flat packed customers

I like Ikea, but I don't like it that much:

A MAN was stabbed and several people were crushed on Thursday when 6000 bargain-hunters flocked to the midnight sale of a new IKEA furniture store in north London, emergency services said.

Five people were taken to hospital, one with chest pains, while 22 people suffering from heat exhaustion and crush injuries were treated by ambulance crews.

Me wanty

I sometimes think that the whole "convergence" thing in electronics is 90% hype (internet fridges - I am talking to you"), but one device that it does suit is mobile phones.

Specifically mobile phones, mp3 players and (if you want to) digital cameras. PDA's I will leave to the side, as their increased need for a usable keyboard puts design constraints that lead to unwanted bulk.

A lot of phones have mp3 compatibility, and crappy sub-one megapixel cameras, but they are still ultimately phones, with the design philosophy that goes along with it.

What we need is something like this. Behold its beauty, its elegance, its geek-chic. It looks like a very sweet mp3 player, but also like a very nice camera phone. The rotating screen also rates very highly on the rad-o-meter.

Sure, it hasn't even been picked up by a manufacturer, and won't arrive for two years even if it is, but it sure do look purdy in the meantime...

Thursday, February 10, 2005
Friday reading

First up - an interview with Howard by Tony Wright:

On Keating:

The Bulletin: Prime Minister Paul Keating once said Asian leaders would never talk to you, never deal with you.

Prime Minister: Yeah, I remember that.

B: Did that pass through your mind?

PM: No, actually, it didn’t. I don’t think about him [Keating] very much.

On Iraq's election:

The vote – 60%, or whether it’s 65% or the high 50s, I don’t know exactly what the total is – for anyone to vote in those circumstances is quite extraordinary. I think it will change the debate on Iraq because you can’t really go behind the expression of the democratic will. What are the critics going to say? Are they going to say we shouldn’t have had a ballot? Are they going to say we should go back to Saddam?

On political correctness:

“I wouldn’t be presumptuous enough to talk about remaking the nation in my image,” he says. “But I do feel I have made a contribution to getting rid of political correctness. The nation is more confident and assertive and there is a greater sense of self-belief about our national identity. We don’t fuss about that stuff any more; we don’t have this endless seminar on our national identity anymore. I mean, we still debate certain issues and we’ll debate them until kingdom come, but I think the country is more sure-footed in its relations with the rest of the world.”

On Patriotism:

PM: I think Australians have become, in expression of their patriotism, both more confident and less inhibited. It’s not that the earlier generations weren’t patriotic – they were. But I think we find our own level with those things. I have never believed for a moment this country should be ashamed of where it came from or what it stood for. In the past, it’s made mistakes – of course it has, like any nation. It did go through a period 10 or 15 years ago when we were basically being told by certain people to apologise for our past; that if you didn’t believe in overthrowing a lot of things from your past, we weren’t being good, modern international citizens and I think there’s a lot about the past and the tradition of this country that you can draw on as a national leader. I just believe in the pursuit of Australia’s national interests. I believe Australians are an overwhelmingly warm-hearted decent people; they’re very capable, very adaptable and they have a great capacity in emergencies and disasters to pull together in a practical way.

Apart from the dyed in the wool Howard haters, is there much in that paragraph that a lot of Australians wouldnt agree with (people particularly enjoy having their national ego stroked)? Can you imagine Latham rattling off something like that and it not appear horribly staged? Beazley might be able to give it a go, but now he is trying to pull off the "Beazley - attack dog with plenty of ticker" act, I doubt he would give it a go.

On the UN:

I wouldn’t say the United Nations has failed over the tsunami – that would be unfair,” he says. “But what the tsunami has demonstrated very sharply is that we still live in a world of nation-states. It is nation-states, having the immediate capacity through their executive governments to send troops, to send aid and to send other assets to help stricken communities. If the world had said we don’t do anything about the tsunami until the UN has discussed it and so forth, we’d have been waiting weeks. Not because there is anything wrong with ... I’m not criticising the UN. It’s just by its very nature it doesn’t have an executive capacity.”

Nail. Hit. Head. If we had waited for the UN, we would have been waiting for weeks, and then the UN would have had to appeal to the US and Australia for men and equipment anyway. He is careful not to bag the UN, but you can tell how much respect, or otherwise, he has for it.

On tax reform:

“Oh, everybody believes in lower tax. Nothing wrong with that. I think we all do,” he says. “And if opportunities present themselves, we’ll reduce the tax burden. You’re preaching to the converted. When anything like that is addressed to Peter Costello or me, we both believe in it. I’d like to have further tax relief during this term. It depends on the economic or budget position.”

Proof is in the pudding John - pony up some more income tax reform (read "cuts") and your legacy is assured....

Next is an article in the spectator (free registration required) regarding health care. It is an item of faith among many that the US health system is horribly unfair, and that unless you are rich you have no chance of receiving adequate care. This is contrasted with the Australian (and British) nationalised system, where everybody is treated equally. Now compare the results (as measured by your chances of survival):

The answer is clear. If you are a woman with breast cancer in Britain, you have (or at least a few years ago you had, since all medical statistics are a few years old) a 46 per cent chance of dying from it. In America, your chances of dying are far lower — only 25 per cent. Britain has one of the worst survival rates in the advanced world and America has the best.

If you are a man and you are diagnosed as having cancer of the prostate in Britain, you are more likely to die of it than not. You have a 57 per cent chance of departing this life. But in America you are likely to live. Your chances of dying from the disease are only 19 per cent. Once again, Britain is at the bottom of the class and America at the top.

How about colon cancer? In Britain, 40 per cent survive for five years after diagnosis. In America, 60 per cent do. With cancer of the oesophagus, survival rates are low all round the world. In Britain, a mere 7 per cent of patients live for five years after diagnosis. In America, the survival rate is still low, but much better at 12 per cent.


In Britain 36 per cent of patients have to wait more than four months for non-emergency surgery. In the US a mere 5 per cent do. While in Britain the government celebrates if the waiting times get a bit lower, in America they don’t do waiting.

But isn't that just the rich?

‘Ah yes,’ comes the knowing response, ‘but what about the poor? The rich might get great care in America, but the good thing about the NHS is that everyone gets treated equally. The care is, in the hallowed phrase, “free at the point of delivery”.’

His response:

Before going into any detail, let us remember one thing: all those figures at the start about death rates from various forms of cancer were not just for the rich. They were for the whole population, poor included. That said, yes, it is true that American healthcare is expensive. It is true, too, that the financial burden on people is awesomely unequal; but not in the way you might expect. The seriously poor do not get the worst of it. They get treated for free.

It is the middle income to poor that cop it - too rich to get medicaid, too young to get medicare, too poor to afford insurance, and not covered by company health care. They can cop it in the neck:

The numbers are not large in relation to the whole population. We are talking about a minority of the American population — figures of 35–45 million are mentioned — which is not insured and which is not covered by Medicare or Medicaid. Of that minority only a small proportion will need fairly long-term hospital treatment. But financial disaster can happen and sometimes does. People lose their homes, their savings, everything. Half the bankruptcies in America are people who had previously been ill. In Britain the system might kill you. In America the system will keep you alive but might bankrupt you.

The US system is also a mish-mash of city run private hospitals, charity hospitals and for-profit private hospitals. Compare (here) to the British state run system:

But the curious thing is that the new, improved, simple state system of Britain does not work as well as the American muddle. You have a better chance of living to see another day in the American mishmash non-system with its sweet pills of charity, its dose of municipal care and large injection of rampant capitalist supply (even despite the blanket of over-regulation) than in the British system where the state does everything. It is not that America is good at running healthcare. It is just that British state-run healthcare is so amazingly, achingly, miserably and mortally incompetent.

Having had no experience with the US system, I admit to have unconsciously absorbed the "heathcare only for the rich" meme to a certain degree. It is interesting to read a counterpoint to that.

Another interesting article would be one comparing US v British dental care. Pretty much every American i have met (they have all presumably been mostly middle class) had almost perfect teeth. Compare this to a lot of Brits (also middle and upper middle class) whose teeth somtimes leave a lot to be desired. British teeth are actually a running gag in the US when they are playing on stereotypes. It seems that Australia's chompers fall somewhere in the middle. Any chance that state run dental care has a hand in this as well?

Wednesday, February 09, 2005
Grudging respect

It is a well known fact that iPods are the work of the devil, bought by poseurs who get sucked in by advertising and fail to do their market research on superior products.

Lego, however, rocks the house.

Therefore, this is pretty damn cool.

UPDATE - You will note that the PodBrix have sold out in about a day. All 300 of them. At $US17 a pop. Lego figures. Blogging will now be suspended while I dig out my Lego collection and a can of spray paint.

As a side note - the plural of Lego is Lego. It is *not* Legoes or Lego's or any other retarded version thereof. That is all.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005
oh, the humanity

For those of an automobile persuasion, this site is painful to view. As the name implies, it is a collection of crash photos involving exotic cars.

What happens when Jamiroqui's lead singer lets someone borrow his Lambo? There you go. (not that I can verify the veracity of that story of course)

I struggled to look at this one through the tears.


No Judge, no jury - straight to execution.

You are a tosser for buying a Porsche SUV anyway...

Don't worry about it mate - there must be at least 100 other Enzos in the entire world.

Lindsay Fox would be devastated.

And there is of course no amusement value whatsoever in the fact that this is a) a Volvo b) a police car and c) on fire...

Sorry, didn't see you there

They appear quite proud of themselves really.

Ballsy. Stupid, but ballsy.

Think you are a committed sports fan? Think your emotions are tied to the success or otherwise of your favourite team? Think again:

LONDON (Reuters) - A Welsh rugby fan cut off his own testicles to celebrate Wales beating England at rugby, the Daily Mirror has reported.

Geoff Huish, 26, was so convinced England would win Saturday's match he told fellow drinkers at a social club, "If Wales win I'll cut my balls off", the paper said on Tuesday.

Friends at the club in Caerphilly, south Wales, thought he was joking.

But after the game Huish went home, severed his testicles with a knife, and walked 200 metres back to the bar with the testicles to show the shocked drinkers what he had done.

The story goes on to say that he suffered from a history of mental problems. Reuters sensitively classifies the story under their "Oddly enough" banner.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Feeling a bit warlike this morning? Like rock music?

Try these military music videos. They are variable in quality, but I recommend "Bomb Saddam", featuring the excellent Outkast song "Bombs over Baghdad".

Wednesday, February 02, 2005
Da-da da-da da-dun

I have heard rumours that the Sydney Morning Herald used to be a serious newspaper, and that its editorial page was filled with serious columns. Now they are reduced to this:

The killer droids of our nightmares are advancing on the front line, writes David Ulin.

Anyone out there have nightmares of killer droids? No? Moving on then:

Last week, the US Army unveiled what may be the future of war: one-metre-tall robotic "soldiers" outfitted with tank tracks, night vision and mounted automatic weapons capable of firing more than 300 rounds at a burst.

Known as SWORDS (special weapons observation reconnaissance detection systems), these battle bots are on the leading edge of a new kind of warfare, in which troops will remain hidden (and, presumably, protected) while engaging the enemy by remote control.

Which is totally rad by the way.

The army intends to deploy 18 SWORDS units in Iraq, marking the first time robots have been used to fight and kill humans, one on one.

Oh, what about the unmanned drones fitted with Hellfire missles that have already been used in Iraq?

If you grew up on science fiction, the idea of robot soldiers strikes a chilling chord. Killer droids, after all, have long been speculative-universe staples, potent symbols of the dangers of technology, of what happens when machines go wrong.

I did grow up on science fiction, and the idea of robot soldiers strikes a totally rad chord, not a chilling one.

The fear resonates. Why else would SWORDS designers feel compelled to reassure us, as they did last week, that their robots are not autonomous terminators, but function only at the command of humans, who must identify targets via video before giving the electronic OK to shoot?

Because they knew there were people like you that would go all weak kneed at the thought of armed drones? And what happened to Robocop in your list of evil movie robots? The ED-209 featured in that film is said to be specifically designed for urban pacification and military operations. It then malfunctions and blows away an executive. Why no mention of that? My guess is that Ulin would see the death of a rebel leader (e.g. Terminator) as a tragedy, but the death of an "evil corporation employee as a minor matter...."

On a certain level, the developers of SWORDS make a valid argument: these are not smart weapons, but surrogates for soldiers in the field.

Hmm - the argument that using robots instead of soldiers will lead to less allied casualities in a war against terrorist is considered by Ulin to be "valid" only "on a certain level"

Yet something more disturbing is at work, a sense of wilful disassociation, as if, with enough distance, we might remove ourselves from what war is. Here, the military mimics Hollywood.

I am all for anything that removes our soldiers "from what war is". Why? Because for soldiers, "what war is" sometimes involves dying or being horribly injured. Removing them from that sounds like a great idea.

In Star Wars, storytellers relied on robot soldiers to take the blood out of the on-screen killing and render moral questions moot.

Sorry Ulin, you may have name dropped some top notch films earlier, but here either your pop culture ignorance is showing, or you are ignoring some key information to make a point.

The first three Star Wars films didnt rely on robot soldiers at all. Storm troopers might get around in body armour, but they are still human employees of the Empire inside that armour. In the new, crappy, movies, there is droid army, but it is up against flesh and blood (albeit digital) Gungans. There isn't much if any blood in them, but thats because Lucas wants to keep his movies' child friendly rating, not because he is attempting to render moral questions moot.

As an aside, the original, and arguably the only correct, usage of "moot" means to bring up a subject for discussion or debate. That isn't what Ulin means here.

It's no stretch to suggest that SWORDS, and other high-tech weapons being developed, will further sanitise our point of view. What can't be sanitised, however, is the robot's deadly efficiency; remove the human from the weapon, and problems such as recoil and breath control are eliminated, allowing the robot to hit a small target at 100 metres.

In one test, a SWORDS scored 70 out of 70 bull's-eyes.

Wait - only the Coalition own these, yes? And they are awesome shots? Whats the problem here?

Decades ago, the composer John Cage proposed a different battle strategy: take the heads of warring nations, give each a large sack of horse manure, lock them in a room, and let them fight it out. It's a quixotic notion, but at least it takes into account a human element, the idea that war cannot be waged without a price.

The price is being covered in horse manure? That s hardly a massive price to pay - people would go to war 24/7.

As for the SWORDS units, what does it say about us that this is how we use our creativity: to invent robots that offer more efficient ways to kill? How can we be so disconnected that we refer to people as "targets", whether they are enemies or civilians, too indistinct to identify through the garble of a video display? Surely we lose something by all this disengagement.

Apparently we should instead be using our creativity to write books titled "The Myth of Solid Ground: Earthquakes, Prediction, and the Fault Line between Reason and Faith." We refer to people as targets when they make themselves a target - by, gee, maybe butchering aid workers? Bombing schools?

And what if both sides had robots? What if war were decided by a nation's manufacturing capabilities - you run out of robots first, you lose. Surely he would welcome removing the human element from both sides of the battlefield?


More action figure goodness - the diary of captured soldier "Cody" has been discovered:

I've had to be strong all my life. It's hard to be a poor plastic kid in a video-game world, and even harder when you're an immigrant -- I was made in China. My mother was a Chinese novelty factory and my father was a petroleum by-products distributor who just played around with my mother and then disappeared. Nobody wanted a soldier toy in Clinton's nineties, so I made my way playing minimum-wage gigs like "Thug #3" in the Hudson Hawk action figure line. But after a shameful night of drinking nail polish remover and driving a Mattel remote-control car full of underage Jem sidekicks into a telephone pole, a judge gave me a choice: an Army enlistment, or a Goodwill box. I chose the former. The elite Action Figure corps took me for my menacing glower, sculpted abs, and gift for languages. After taking several crash language courses at the Army facility in Monterrey, I could speak all the major tongues. Monchichi. Teddy Bear. Cabbage Patch. Smurf.

Highly recommended

A real American hero

Oh no - a US soldier has been kidnapped in Iraq.

Here is a picture of him.

But wait - note anything suspicious? Try this.

Don't worry though, the US has a crack rescue team on the case.

The media is catching up now.

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