(White) Australia Day

Every year I approach the “Australia Day” holiday with a sense of agitation. I want to celebrate my country, but to hold the holiday as a marking of the British invasion of this country has long been of concern to me. (As an aside, in the lead up to this year’s event, Ang and I were considering ways that we could show solidarity with the first Australians on the day – sadly we weren’t that successful – suggestions welcome…).

With that in mind, I think Mick Dodson’s suggestion that the date be changed is a worthy one. If Australia Day is truly about celebrating inclusiveness and everything we love about this country, and we have any respect for our indigenous brothers and sisters, we should emphatically not be “celebrating” on this day.

Imagine if your ancestors were nearly wiped out by a colonial power, only to have the “national day of celebration” occur on the first day of that offensive? How would you feel?

The fact that Rudd isn’t even willing to have the conversation, likely due to the political ramifications of accepting to do so (it would be political suicide), is a sign of how deeply ingrained the racism, especially towards this nation’s original owners, is in this country. Why shouldn’t this be on the national agenda? It makes that word “Sorry” sound hollow…

This is an opportunity to step beyond the empty rhetoric and actually acknowledge what really happened when this country was “settled”. Sadly, it may take far too long before we see that step taken…

Anyways – News Limited is running a poll on whether or not the date should be changed – feel free to add your voice. At the moment it seems the crowd is oblivious to the problems with calling 26 January “Australia Day”.

Disproportionate force

Israel has reportedly lost 8 people in the current conflict, 3 of those civilians. Palestinian casualties amount to over 668 , make that 774, with civilian deaths at around 50% according to the UN.

The recent attacks on a school in Gaza raised the death toll by as many as 42 people, including 13 children.

I have yet to find any details of deaths related to the Hamas rocket attacks that supposedly justify Israel’s massive military offensive (though I’d be interested to learn more if anyone has links).

I was watching the 7:30 Report last night on the ABC and a UN representative responded to the school massacre. He passionately yet eloquently spoke against Israel’s attacks, calling for an immediate cessation to hostilities (on both sides) and called for international humanitarian law to be upheld (i.e. for Israel to cease attacks on civilian-populated areas and Hamas to not use human shields – which it should be added there is scant evidence of outside of IOF statements as far as I can tell). During the interview he used the words “disproportionate use of force”.

Given these statistics, I’d have to say I agree with his conclusion…

FBi Radio fundraiser on Thursday and Friday

Just a quick note to say that I’ll be joining a host of great musos this Thursday and Friday night at the Hopetoun Hotel, Surry Hills, to perform songs from Big Star for the nonzero records/FBi radio fundraiser show.

If you’re on Facebook, you can get more details on the event page.

On the Thursday night Fuzu (my band) is also playing a 40 minute set kicking off around 9:15pm. But if you can’t make that, we’re also playing a headline show the following Wednesday at the Hopetoun (Facebookers: details here).

Synapse sparks (08-Dec-2008 through 03-Jan-2009)

  • Why give music away for free? – Interesting discussion on the "give music away and make money elsewhere" meme. I've left a few comments in the thread – but worth a read if you're interested in the topic.
  • Tesco Develops Tool to Eco-Screen In-Store Materials – From the article: 'Retailers often think about the environmental impact of their buildings, but not the items inside the store, such as signage, shelving, service desks, and trolleys, said Tesco environmental design manager Richard Denton. “[We] didn’t want to stop at the door,” he said.' Good to see another big corporate looking into the impacts of their core business, not just their own operations.
  • Australian Government response to ALRC Review of sedition laws in Australia – December 2008 – The Government will be removing "sedition" from the Criminal Code. These laws could be used to prosecute legitimate dissent in Australia, so their removal is a big step forward for civil liberties.
  • Low emissions coal technology: news, views & facts – Propaganda from the coal industry about how much they're doing about CO2. So hollow it would be funny if people weren't likely to buy into the BS. There is no such thing as "clean coal" – even if sequestration works, it only delays the inevitable…
  • 350.org – 90-Second Animation For Global Day of Action – Cool animation/video/visualisation in support of a global day of action on global warming.

These links come from my Delicious feed.

Letter to Tanya Plibersek re: Carbon targets

I received a response from Tanya Plibersek to my previous letter re: clean feed just before I went away on holidays, and just after the Government announced their woefully inadequate targets for CO2 reduction.

Below the fold is my follow-up.

Continue reading

Greed is good

I spotted these just before Christmas, but didn’t get around to blogging them:

Millionaires factory keeps smiling minus the bonuses.

A $1 BILLION cut in the bonus pool split by Macquarie Group’s 13,800 staff, including the controversial multimillion-dollar rewards received by its senior executives, helped the investment bank deliver a better-than-expected half-year profit, it emerged yesterday.

The cut still allowed for $1.3 billion to be distributed as bonuses – an average of $94,000 per employee. Of course this would be split more unevenly in practice. Before the cuts, the average would have been$173,000 per employee. Hardly “minus the bonuses” as the headline suggests…

But then comes the news:

Macquarie Bank sacks 100 investment bankers.

MACQUARIE Group has sacked almost 100 investment bankers and advisers in a savage day of job cutting across the diversified bank.

…There were suggestions yesterday that Macquarie could end up cutting up to 1000 of its 13,000 employees around the world.

$1.3 billion in bonuses (which of course must be much smaller than the company’s profits) followed by 100 sackings. Seems the “greed is good” mentality is still alive and well.

The cash bonus mechanism rewards short-term thinking with sometimes obscene amounts of cash. Seems to me if the bonus schemes were more long-term focused (e.g. share options and other mechanisms), rewarding employees based on the long-term profitability and viability of the business, perhaps the rush to sub-prime investments would have been tempered with more cautious risk analysis.

The lull

Given how quiet I’ve been around these parts of late, I thought I might post a quick “what’s been happening” post.

  • Fuzu have finished recording and mixing our second EP – tentatively titled “The Point”. We’ll be mastering later this month, and hopefully completing the artwork shortly after. I’ll hopefully have a follow-up to my budget post soon reflecting the actual budget.
  • I’ve been working solidly on two big projects (one for Inspire Foundation, another for UNSW. This has taken up a big chunk of my time (as one might expect) – but I hope to be a little less frantic come February.
  • Thanks mostly to Timo Rissanen, further work has been done on refining the pattern’s for Arketype’s first range, which will be launched for Winter 2010 now, instead of Summer 09/10 (I’ve been a bit too busy with the ‘day job’ and have missed some deadlines). We Buy Your Kids are working on the graphic designs for the range – I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with given the logo treatment Sonny and Biddy, the duo behind WBYK, came up with (more on that front soon).
  • Holidays – I’ve taken 3 weeks off work to visit family in Queensland – which was a wonderful break (that’s not quite over yet…).

Recent reading

I’ve also been doing a lot of reading of more “popular science” accounts of network theory, prompted in part by an ABC doco on the topic, and also economics and the history of money. This was in part prompted when a friend of mine sent me this video on money.

After reading Peter Bernstein’s A Primer on Money, Banking, and Gold it seems that many of the claims in the video are reasonably accurate.

I also recently finished Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody which looks at some of the societal changes being spurred on by networks. Especially interesting to me is the notion of “reduced transaction cost” for organising collective action.

George Soros’ The New Paradigm for Financial Markets was also an interesting read, albeit a bit repetitive. What’s most interesting is that an über-capitalist such as Soros would have such disdain for the models and assumptions underpinning the industry that he profited so well from.

Critical Mass by Philip Ball is a great overview of what he describes as an emerging “physics of society”. The book covers network and game theory, and emphasises the extent to which power laws and “phase transitions” apply to social phenomena. It also weaves into its narrative the ideas of many economic and social thinkers in history – which was fascinating to me as someone who’s not overly familiar with many of their contributions (at least not directly/explicitly).

Continuing the theme I’m currently reading Duncan Watts’ Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age. It delves much deeper into “small world” networks (popularised by the “Kevin Bacon” game) which are covered more lightly in Critical Mass.

Retailers “doing it tough”. Again.

It seems every year, in the lead-up to Christmas, we hear about how “retailers are doing it tough” and that the Christmas period is crucial for retailers, so we, as consumers, had better “spend, spend, spend”.

This year was no different, except the “global financial crisis” had “hit retailers hard” and that, more than ever, we needed to spend, spend, spend. Never mind the fact that families might need the Rudd government’s handout for bills and savings – it was our duty to spend to save the economy.

Before the Christmas rush I commented to Ang (though I wish I had have blogged the prediction here) that by the time Christmas was over we’d hear that spending was up this year, if not to record levels. Why? Because I’ve noticed that this happens every year.

Last year it was the weight of growing interest rates denting consumers’ spending. This year, the economic crisis. I forget what it was the year before that.

I did entertain the thought that the financial “crisis” might, in fact, have an impact this year – but I posited that we’d still see a surge in spending all the same.

Well… the scare tactics appear to have worked.

According to the salesman at The Good Guys near my Mum’s home, large LCD TVs have been “walking out the door” (hardly an objective measure I know). And Gerry Harvey is surprised that sales had increased 8.7% over the same period last year.

Mr Rudd must be very pleased that his bonus is being spent so wisely…

Now, I am aware that retailers have experienced a significant decrease in spending over the past few months and that some, especially I suspect smaller operators, will actually be “doing it tough”.

I don’t know about you, but I just find the whole “it’s your duty to spend” line a little sickening and that the justifications for why we should are wearing a little thin when retailers continue to report record profits even after claiming that they’re “doing it tough”.

I’d like to see journalists, when reporting such statements, take a look at the profit figures across the previous year and put it all in a bit of perspective: “Despite the fact that David Jones posted a record profit last year, the best in it’s history, the retailer says its preparing for ‘tough times’.” (tough times = “net profit after tax … in line with previous guidance of five to 10% growth” – emphasis mine.)

I think it’s all very much a sign of our myopic focus on growth at all costs (hilariously captured by this YouTube video) as though the environment is just a never-ending source of resources and that permanent, endless growth is possible.

It’s quite simply not possible – the environment has limits that are already stretched by our current consumption habits. Sooner rather than later we’re going to have to face that fact.

Perhaps we should be looking for alternative models and starting to look at the economy from a different perspective? Models and perspectives that don’t rely on infinite, unsustainable growth fueled by private, debt-enabled spending – which, after all, got us into this mess in the first place.