Wednesday, April 30, 2003

This is going to be another “hit and run” post, not because I’ve gotta go out this time, but because my phone line (and therefore Internet connection) is fucked. Perhaps this is a case of Telstra’s taking targeted revenge on my Indian contractor postings, below. More likely, though, it’s just a shrug-o’the-shoulders fact-of-life in a country just waking up to its bankruptness (fiscal, not metaphorical). Thus, welcome to Oz 2003 – the next Argentina – “downsizing” from long-held first world perks (a point I’ll be blogging on in the near future).

This blog is going to be written off-line, using what I’ve gathered in my ten or so truncated dial-ups so far today. If my connection permits, I’ll post in (after looking them up) the missing URLs as soon as I’ve posted the main body. Otherwise, I’m giving up for the day.

Pan Pharmaceuticals – the Non-Executive Directors play “spotlight the scapegoat”

Only hardcore annual report reader types and corporate lawyers (and me) would have been likely to notice that the two directors coming to Pan’s defence on this evening’s TV news reports – Ross Brown and Colin Henson – were Non-Executive Directors (and you can bet that the third a final NED, Ken Baxter (a former Kennett senior apparatchik) would have been busy behind the scenes on this front too). In fact, all three get a word in in this late-afternoon news story:,4057,6359683%255E2,00.html

See also:

For those unclear about what a Non-Executive Director precisely is, my rough explanation is that they are 50 y.o.+ men (very occasionally women) who get multiple part-time such, well-paid, gigs on the boards of listed companies. NEDs don’t take any part in day-to-day management of the company; rather, they are “big picture” men only. It sounds like a rather cushy job – and it is, 99.9% of the time. The only real downside is their legal liability, if the company goes badly belly-up – here, NEDs share the same legal liability as their “hands-on”, executive director counterparts. Hence, the furious efforts of Mssrs Brown and Henson today to find someone else – preferably someone plausibly senior – to blame, even as every single executive director went to ground (my speculation is that the latter would have spent all today continuously washing their hands, a la Lady Macbeth).

The weakness of the NEDs 'rogue analyst' theory is that it lacks a plausible explanation of why a middle-ranking (I am assuming) employee would do such a thing, and most especially, why senior management presumably covered this fact up until today. (The NED's line, of course, is that they only this found out just before the rest of us; the “just before” timing necessary, to allow them to dual-purposefully inform us of the scandal in some detail, while absolving themselves of any personal responsibility for either its execution or subsequent management cover-up.

Anyway, you can compare the NEDs dog-eating-homework explanations in the above two URLs, and decide for yourself. For my money, I prefer the much simpler, more logical explanation given on the front page of today’s Australian about how production line staff were “bullied” into cutting quality control corners. This sounds plausible enough – as today’s AFR feature article* (No free URL) pointed out, Pan’s share price has been under intense downward pressure since June 2002. And everyone knows the unvarying, kneejerk response to this – costs must be cut, and production sustained or increased, no matter what. Plausible enough, but unfortunately for the houses, luxury cars etc of the NEDs that are NOT already in their respective spouses’ names, hardly what they want to hear – unless a senior-enough employee can be blamed, all directors will have to carry the can on this one.

On another major front, there is the strange story of Pan Pharmaceuticals' conviction and fine over selling unapproved evening primrose oil in 1995, later overturned on appeal, with a new trial ordered. According to today’s Age the new trial has not, and never will be held, as the defendant company in the case (Pan Laboratories – a company identical in all material respects to Pan Pharmaceuticals) was liquidated, and a new company – today’s Pan Pharmaceuticals – registered. In striking contrast, today’s Daily Telegraph claims that a new trial in respect of the unapproved evening primrose oil matter is still pending before the NSW Court of Appeal:,4057,6359745%255E2,00.html

Obviously, something to stay tuned on. Also, have a look at convicted insider trader Rene Rivkin’s breathless endorsement of Pan Pharmaceuticals stock (made only last week), up on the Crikey website.

* "Pan falls off pedestal" by Adam Shand, Neil Chenoweth, Katrina Nicholas and Bill Pheasant

Update 1 May 2003:

Re the story of Pan Pharmaceuticals' conviction and fine over selling unapproved evening primrose oil in 1995: today's Australian* (no URL) confirms the "phoenix" company story; thus adding more substance to the aura of shonkiness that is fast enveloping CEO Jim Selim.

* "Sins of drug pioneer's past now haunt the $200m present" by Jennifer Sexton

United States removing virtually all its forces from Saudi Arabia "by mutual agreement"

This is BIG news (although I must point out that I predicted it here a coupla weeks ago). Seems to be very recent - it isn't in today's print Age. Nor is it currently scrolling on That's all I can say right now - gotta run.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

SARS – Proof that Feng Shui is crap

Okay, that’s maybe being too flippant. However, the concept of SARS as nature’s revenge on those jostling to be buried between the tiger hill on the left and the dragon hill on the right seems as good an explanation as any for the epidemiology of this mysterious disease. With Vietnam today being pronounced free of the epidemic, it is clear that SARS is not (mainly) a disease that thrives and multiplies in third-world conditions. The Vietnam eradication – and Toronto’s current status as a first world hotspot for SARS – got me thinking that perhaps the virus is a cold-climate specialist. Consistent with this, its Chinese epicentre has, in mid-autumn, seemingly moved northwards to Beijing. However, later today, the World Health Organisation declared SARS to have peaked everywhere except China.

See also my post below, Wednesday, April 02, 2003, for a different “nature’s revenge” SARS speculation.

Monday, April 28, 2003

“Our thriving Labour Market”

Researching “Work for the Dole” today, I came across the above website. Even a cursory inspection reveals the site to be quite dated (latest stats: early 2001); I therefore make the suggestion to Tony Abbott that he either takes his nom-de-com seriously, or else abandons his (modest-enough) personal stakeholding and relic from the dotcom glory days.

Error One:

Tony Abbott’s claim:

Unemployed people aged over 35 can now contribute to important environmental projects across Australia through Green Reserve - an extension of the Work for the Dole program.

The first round of Green Reserve projects commenced in April 2001 and targets urban and regional areas of high unemployment, providing older job seekers with the opportunity to participate in activities that will provide great benefits to their local communities while meeting their mutual obligation requirements.



“Green Reserve” projects long since have ceased existence, and seem to have only ever been conjured up as an temporary effort to soft-sell the subsequent extension of Work for the Dole compulsion to 35-49 year olds (Note: for fear of alienating baby boomers, this extension was two tiered – 40-to-49 year olds only have to do half the hours of those younger, despite the middle-aged and older supposedly being the most intractable of all the unemployed).

Don’t worry though, Tony – I won’t seek to have you breached* over this. By lazily preserving your gnat’s-lifespan hype in situ, you’ve shown the rest of us your working process (and work ethics?). You’ve obviously copied something from Labor’s book – they used the same one/two trick in the lead-up to introducing $1,800 HECS loans in 1989. From 1987, the mainstream populace was softened-up with a $250 “administration fee” imposed upfront on all university students.

* “Breaching” is Centrelink speak for cancellation of one’s entire income, for a period of weeks or months.

Error Two:

Tony Abbott’s claim:

There are 56,300 fewer long term unemployed Australians now than there were five years ago. In March 1996 there were 197,600 long term unemployed. Today [2001] there are 141,300.



Tony Abbott is relying on ABS statistics to support his claim. Normally, such reliance (even on two year old stats) could be confidently made, and left at that. However, Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) figures, based on the Department of Family and Community Services, “Labour Market and Related Payments: A Monthly Profile” claim the true figure is almost triple – 393,100 in December 2002:

The statistical explanation for this disparity is that the ABS uses a rotating sample labour force survey (conducted monthly), while the ACOSS figures are based on Centrelink benefit claims for Newstart Allowance and Youth Allowance – “other” for unemployed people. ACOSS explains its reason for choosing the Centrelink figures thus: “This is a useful indicator of joblessness and hardship because only those people who lack significant wealth or savings receive unemployment benefits”. Conversely, it may be added, that the Centrelink long term unemployed figures – but not the ABS ones – include those who may be working occasionally and earning under the Centrelink payment cut-off amount. The ABS statistics are presumably much lower than the Centrelink ones because the long term unemployed are “laundered” through (very) part time or casual jobs – so getting “off” the ABS definition while remaining firmly “on” Centrelink benefits.

Both sets of figures concur that total unemployment in Australia is ~650,000. You may wonder, in that case, why I am pressing a difference that only concerns a subset – either less than a quarter or more than half – of this figure. I’ll let the answer here again come from the horse’s mouth:

"In putting forward their point of view ACOSS has have seriously overestimated the level of long-term unemployed and seriously understated this Government’s achievements in the area of employment," Mr Brough said.

Friday, April 25, 2003

What the cat dragged in

With ths blog's first birthday rapidly approaching, I thought a name change was in order. I have long been aware of the cryptic nature of the original name, "It's better to die on your feet than suck ...". If anyone is interested, the words following the ellipsis are "on your knees" (the ellipsis itself was necessary because the Blogger template wouldn't quite accept the whole phrase).

An explanation of the Voltaire-corrupting phrase was in my very first post:

There's a big difference in comedy between "sucking" and "dying". You die on your feet, but you suck on your knees. 28/5/2002 12:37:33 AM

I hopefully don't, and won’t need to explain the meaning of "What the cat dragged in". Also on the new blog-name shortlist, but ultimately runners up, were "What the cat dragged out" (too arch) and "The footy sock under the bed" (if not too lewd, then definitely too cryptic).

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Instant Fame (and Job) for self-described Talentless Job Hunter

Today’s post is basically a “novelty item” only one (hey, it’s a long weekend coming up), but I’ll start with a moderately interesting tangent to the story. I did a Google search for "angelika wedberg" six hours ago, and got nothing (well one, irrelevant hit). Doing the same search a few minutes ago, there were 99 hits.

I first heard of the said Angelika Wedberg in yesterday’s MX newspaper, a Melbourne tabloid freebie. MX doesn’t put its content online (so no links to it are possible), and with short, novelty-type stories in hardcopy-only form, only a tortuous paraphrasing effort would have enabled the story to be re-told here, without my breaching MX’s copyright.

But that’s all academic now. I think that this link pretty much explains itself, other than for me to note it as a special dedication to meika.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

‘Sweatshops’ update – Sex slaves and Telstra contractors,5744,6297654%255E2702,00.html
(URL valid for 23 April only),5744,6305208%255E2702,00.html
(URL valid to ~ 25 April only),5744,6313478%255E2702,00.html
(URL valid to ~ 27 April only),5746,ausletters1^^TEXT,00.html
(URL valid for 23 April only)

See also: Sex slavery and freedom of contract, below, Saturday, April 05, 2003

The Australian newspaper’s an investigative story on the trafficking of sex slaves has continued on over the last three weeks. While the authorities have barely budged in response (although this is more so in the case of the AFP than the Department of Immigration), letter-writers have been steadily adding further fuel to the story. In Monday 21 April’s Australian (no URL), one letter writer spoke of a “cover-up … [that is] beyond investigation on grounds of incompetence or worse”, and another of “corruption”. Good to see that other Australians are joining the dots on what is going on, and speaking up on an issue of fundamental human rights and open and accountable governance.

Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock gave one of his trademark weaselly performances on the Ten Network's “Meet the Press” on Sunday 20 April, deflecting responsibility for (star witness) Wing’s impending deportation onto the AFP, and citing a few irrelevant detection’n’deportation statistics, presumably mostly to do with Pommy backpacker overstayers getting booted home. (The same irrelevant stats crop up in a letter to today’s Australian by one Stewart Foster, of the Department of Immigration [bottommost of the above four URLs]). Foster’s letter certainly does nothing to dissuade me from the earlier [second of the above four URLs] ‘Keystone Cops” analogy for Immigration Department raids on brothels that the operators clearly have had prior notice of – there ought to be a Latin maxim coined, for general use but composed precisely of the phrase: “When the brothel was raided we found plenty of customers, but not a single worker”.

Meanwhile, the AFP appears to be simply stalling, saying only on 21 April that they would be interviewing star witness Wing the following day [third of the above four URLs].

Dumb statistics, brazenly flouted in the hope of quietening down a story, also feature in today’s development on the Telstra 'sweatshop' story (see yesterday):

Thus, according to Infosys spokesperson, Mr Rao:

“A global corporation employing in excess of 10,000 people, would be shut down if it paid ‘sweatshop wages’. Last year we attracted some 400,000 qualified applications to work for Infosys globally. We hired 4,000 people, so only one in 100 people gets the chance to work for Infosys. Do you think that would be the story if we were running a sweatshop?”

Unlike the Immigration Department’s simply ridiculous use of its successes with detecting overstaying Pommy backpackers to impute an all-around ring of quality to its efforts, however, the Infosys stats do in fact reveal a fair bit about what they were supposed to hush up:

1. Infosys is “a global corporation”. Translation: it pays differential wages (depending on the country) as an interim measure, while it scours the globe for a single, rock-bottom-wage employer nirvana.

2. In 2002, Infosys, which employs about 11,000 people, hired 4,000 people. Translation: unless Infosys is the only IT company in the world currently growing at 40% per annum, then Infosys definitely has a turnover problem

3. Only one in 100 job applicants gets picked to work for Infosys. Oh yeah? Apart from the multitude of local sins that such global averaging could hide, Mr Rao’s company appears positively promiscuous in its 1-in-100 acceptance rate – in mid-last year, a 1-in-600 acceptance rate was given for Australian white collar jobs, and this situation has almost certainly worsened since.

Indian contractors Update 29/4/03,7204,6349740%5E15317%5E%5Enbv%5E15306,00.html

For a sweatshop "denial", this latest set of quotes continues the set tone of high-querulousness:

"No good talent is available for that price [$21,840 a year] even in India."

"Most of Satyam's Australian-based staff [are] paid in Australian dollars"

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Telstra contract 'sweatshop',4057,6320073%255E14310,00.html,4057,6320258%255E15306,00.html

The above three URLs are in chronological order; the first is from this morning’s Herald-Sun, the middle appears to have been filed about midday, and the bottom one is ABC time-stamped at 4.01pm.

Between them, they paint a rather depressing picture – even just in the standard of journalism they display, for starters.

The Herald-Sun report breaking the story is admirably researched in some aspects. However, the article is rendered almost worthless by the persistent ambiguity it entertains, without ever resolving – are the outsourced “Indian” contractors working in Australia or not? The story is – or at least should be – very different, depending on the answer to this. The Herald-Sun story’s opening suggests that the “Indian” workers are working in Australia, but then there is a gaggle of third-party quotes, all taking about offshore outsourcing – i.e. Indian workers in India.

This ambiguity was still not resolved in the midday report (middle URL above) – which leaves Victorian Premier Steve Bracks’s offer of government support for Telstra “to bring the work back to Australia” either completely misinformed, or displaying a candid largesse for the looting of taxpayer funds, by subsiding local sweatshops.

By this afternoon, the only light the ABC could throw on the story was that one company was able to deny the $12,000 annual salary figure mentioned in the Herald-Sun story, at least inasmuch as it applies to the “Indian” workers working in Australia. Whether intended by the ABC or not, this denial comes across as cagey – the outsourcing company spokesperson denies only the exact Herald Sun story salary figure mentioned, and does it with an un-sic-ced malapropism, to boot:

"I categorically refute we have any person in Australia working in Australia for a $1,000 a month."

Monday, April 21, 2003

How to stop Iraq becoming the new Saudi Arabia?

I am possibly going to be the very last person in the world to switch from a pro- to an anti-Iraq war stance. Not because of anything specific and horrendous that has happened, or might still (at least in the mid-east, sans Saudi), but because of a general sense that things are not quite right for the rebuilding of a democratic Iraq, and probably never will be.

Clearly, since 11 September 2001, the US has had little choice but to withdraw militarily and economically (i.e. as a major oil buyer) from Saudi Arabia. The latter withdrawal may be academic anyway – after the US bases go, and without a common enemy for the Saudis to spuriously hate (the presence of US “islands” on Saudi soil has in no way interfered with domestic religion or politics), the red-hot hatred can only turn inward.

With Iraq now being openly mooted as a site for future US bases, the American post-war game plan is becoming clear. If a democratic Iraq cannot be successfully established, then the US will presumably tweak the country’s internal divisions enough for it to become Saudi Arabia II – a totalitarian kleptocracy, feeding its people a diet of anti-American rage, a rage that the US long silently endured (up until September 11 – or, now, its possible Iraqi-lead sequel) for reasons of simple economic expediency: a cheap and reliable oil supply.

Saudi resentment took decades to build up to the September 11 payback day. It is unlikely that the Iraqis, should they similarly become caught in, and between, a fascist state, pseudo-religious atavism, and American see-no-evil-ism will be as patient when it comes to similarly redressing their perceived wrongs.

For the US then, the only sustainable solution is to properly democraticise Iraq, however long this may take, and however much it may cost. Anything less, and its fuck-up in this war to end terrorism will be total.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Who are Australia’s working underclass?

Ending her article poised in that old, mid-Atlantic place of abstraction, Liz Porter fails to ask, much less find out, the home truth about Australia’s working poor.

My guess as to why – apart from the obvious fact that no journalist has yet gone undercover to write a definitive Australian account, for Liz to then highlight – is that Australia’s working poor have mutated into a non-traditional gender and age group: the male and young.

A recent article: Michael Cave, “Unskilled, unloved and underemployed”, Australian Financial Review 15 April 2003 (no free URL) gives out some stats in support of this. By combining this stat – that 42% percent of 25-44 yo Australian men live on less than $32,000 a year – with the unemployment rate, it can be seen that most of these poor are working, at least part-time. Indeed, Ian Watson (no relation), a researcher with the Australian Centre for Industrial Relations, Research and Training, says that “the most severely disadvantaged group are young men on casual or intermittent part-time work”.

Crunching this stat a bit further with Watson’s “young men” observation, it would seem almost certain that the 25-44 yo age spread contains a lopsided truth within – were it to be subdivided into deciles, I would guess that over half of 2001’s 25-34 year old men would have scraped by on less than $32,000, while the same would be true for about a third of the 35-44 yo group.

Sobering stuff – and despite the first word in the title of Michael Cave’s article, being in the young male underclass is not particularly a function of one’s educational level. As a graph within the article shows, the wage premium for having finished Year 12 (as opposed to Year 10 or below) is dramatically higher for the 35-44 yo group that the 25-34 yo one. For 25-34 yo graduates, the wage premium is probably flatter still.

Thursday, April 17, 2003

Journalist appalling to the UN, re Gutnick case
and Louise Milligan, "Gutnick defamer goes to UN", The Australian, 17/4/03; no URL

It would be comforting to think that the Australian media could at least competently report on issues that directly affect their own backyard. Louise Milligan's report in today's Australian so lacks a basic understanding of the nation's legal system, vis a vis international law, that she drops this bizarre clanger:

"Australia was not a party to the original High Court defamation case". Err, Louise, would that have been because Joe Gutnick (or Dow Jones, for that matter) was not a member state of the UN, either?

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Gary Sauer-Thompson’s blog on University reform (April 15, 2003) misses the mark almost totally. Everyone knows that taxpayer money, for tertiary education as a public good, dried up long ago (1987, to be precise). That this has far-reaching, negative consequences is also axiomatic, in my opinion – I therefore have no idea what Gary is thinking about when he links to a conference paper on teaching “civic education” in schools, to illustrate the conjoined erosion of the academic humanities, and public life and discourse more generally.

Teaching civics in schools – quite apart from the obvious risk of a content hijack by truculent conservatives – is dishonest quackery, making fast-food morsels out of a clinically-dead constitution: not just in the sense of the formal document, but in the utter absence of a disinterested politico-legal human sphere.

That is just one minor, tragic side of the State’s looting of the academy over the last two decades – even areas where boring boilerplate meets lofty ideals, such as constitutional law, have been effectively killed-off by the setting up of “Key Centres”, and the like. Every “Key Centre” – initially welcomed, innocently enough, as a handy alternative source of university funding in these straitened times – ends up corroding the academy as a whole by the special pleading that drives it, a force that oozes from its mission statement and out through every pore of its entire staff in their light-filled, neo-Corbusier offices.

Special pleading has mall-ified Australian universities. From the former cafeteria, now a quick-turnover yuppie food court, to the glistening shopfronts of dozens of newly gaudy, schticked-up academic tenants, the disinterested intellectual commons has gone.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Update on "Loot"

Since it's kinda a breach of blog-etiquette to have a totally link-free rant ("column"?) I recommend, for further reading on this topic:

BUT here's the twist, (and here the blog-etiquette gets very iffy), I'm really leading you to the comments , which of course have no independent URL, although etiquette-wise and if this were possible, it would probably be a breach to link straight to them, anyway. No offence to John Q's opinions, but I think that they are, or perhaps have since become, just generic, anti-war grist for mill-central. In contrast, in the comments pop-up, there's a spectrum of views. I particularly recommend those of Jack Strocchi - I don't know the guy at all, but I definitely wish he would blog more often. His back-channel postings are good, but I could easily read more of their kind.

The Looting of Baghdad

Western newspaper proprietors have been inundated over the past few days with a looting problem of their own – high-minded writers running off with precious column inches. The Op Ed, Letters and even the News sections have all been done over.

At first, this looting was thought to be the lower orders (otherwise known as young men), on an ill-educated rampage. It soon became clear, however, from the thoroughness of the job that the looters were rational capitalists after all – they generally knew what they were doing, and in particular, that their fat, 1,500-word booties would be immensely valuable, and easily monetised on the international black market.

Why didn’t the Americans stop them? Or, as the looters themselves wrote in their columns: “Why don’t you guys stop us – we’re doing this in front of your faces, don’t you even care?!”. The taunting didn’t stop there however, with one looter-columnist noting that the Americans were protecting the payroll offices (but no more) of the newspapers. This fact, spreading like wildfire, soon became a compulsory inclusion in all looters' columns.

“They’re protecting the payroll office – which must mean that they want it just for themselves”, the looter-columnists voiced unanimously, as they cashed their pay cheques – for first rights in print only – in disgust.

Meanwhile, experts worldwide are already trying to cut through to the looters hip pocket nerves, by appealing to the better side, or instincts of the international black market – asking them to shun any prose that contains the rare phrase “cradle of civilisation”. Some would say that the horse has bolted, on this front. Others, lead by the well-known collectors (and, according to some whispers, manufacturers too) of funerary-ornament prose, Phillip Adams and Christopher Pearson, protest that the pending black-market bonanza will ruin the value of their existing holdings.

One thing is clear: the looters are now on notice, and will be even more circumspect than usual in peddling their wares on the black market. Local police have warned that the most likely scenario for a secondary resale of the looted column inches will be at a dinner party, after several bottles of red have already gone down. “A cunning looter will offer their column up in oral form at first, disguising it as an ‘I told you so’ anti-Iraq-war anecdote”, the police spokesperson said. “Assuming that the dinner party guests have already self-righteously boycotted their own employer’s payroll offices, in protest against the Americans' outrageous conduct, their urgent need for cash, and alcohol-impaired judgments may cause them to speculatively purchase the print rights of the looted column from the anecdote-teller. After all, the guests will be given the impression that the host got away with it, easily”.

Monday, April 14, 2003

Pies, Short-Sold Jobs, and Mayonnaise in the Bisque

Yesterday went for a Sunday drive north of Melbourne. Stopped at Lancefield – population 1,141 – for a late lunch, but there was not a hot pie to be had in the whole town. Of the two open businesses that were possible candidates, the town café, although presenting a homely, unglamorous façade was a clear “no”, once its interior (complete with retro vinyl couch) and hand-chalked menu board were sighted. Food-wise, everything (which did not include any pies) came “with salad”. The place was packed; packed, like most inner Melbourne cafes these days, with baby boomers. We then tried the (and I think it was indeed the) town milk bar a few doors down. Promisingly enough, it had a pie warmer in situ – but it was empty (I knew that the next line in this script was the offer of a microwaved pie, so we left before that depressing offer could be voiced.)

Lancefield – the town of no pies, despite being a major trading hub for thousands of years. A further irony, discovered while walking back to the car, is that the town did, in fact, have a proper bakery until 24 December (I’m not sure of exactly which year, but the paper on which the sign in the former bakery window is hand-written on is white, rather than yellow). So if any aspiring entrepreneurs are reading this, my instincts are that Lancefield both needs, and could support, a bakery.

The old bakery, that closed down, was right between the milk bar and the baby boomer café, so don’t set up there; go for a greenfields site on the north-south road instead (“Main St”, not “High St”). And it’s not just a good business opportunity – think of it as your chance to do a small bit of social engineering, by pulling the rug from under the town’s current fey food fad. The locals will revert back from foccacias (“with salad”) to pies (with or without sauce), faster than you can say “atavistic country-folk” – I promise.


The call centre job (see last Thursday, 10 April) doesn’t look like it is going to happen, after all. Which doesn’t depress me too greatly, as I’ve learnt something new, albeit slight, out of the experience. A job “offer” from a multinational recruitment agency may be a form of short-selling contract. Say “yes”, and the deal suddenly becomes vague – when there’s the sense of an employer’s market for the crappiest-of-crap jobs (as here), then there’s mysteriously but absolutely no hurry; as with short-selling shares in a bear market, labour is best bought at the absolute last minute, to maximise both its cheapness and the middleman arbitrageur’s reward.


Onto an even grubbier topic, although one that doesn’t affect me personally, is PM John Howard’s repast manqué with the Australian Federation of Islamic Council on Saturday (12 April):,5744,6280603%255E2702,00.html

Even without his extra-thick glasses on, Howard would have immediately foreseen the security imperative of such a dinner (which event first broke in the news about two weeks ago). If the venue nominated by the hosts was unacceptable on security grounds, there was plenty of time for an alternative local one to be sourced, sussed and secured. By leaving it till the last minute, Howard has played wedge politics with an already factionalised community – a dangerous game, most surely.

And as for the Howard spokesman’s explanation – that the shift to the Sheraton on the Park hotel was needed due to the attendance of religious leaders such as Catholic Archbishop George Pell and government ministers, I hope and trust that the many gay [I am assuming] waiters and kitchen staff of the five star venue, put some local colour and flavour into the usually-anodyne bisques of the homophobic Pell and the white-bread PM.

Friday, April 11, 2003

This is not a stand-alone post, but a long "comment" (too long to go in the site's comment box) to a post from today at


“Overqualified” is either an outright canard, or a sexist presumption that applies only to men’s careers (take your pick). For that matter, “underqualified” (or not experienced enough; not having the right kind of experience; etc) is too. In fact, the two supposed extremes of qualification have an identical meaning in practice, IMHO.

Warning: I’m going to have to resort to some deeply unfashionable gender-casting to make my point.

My starting place is the maxim (one my Dad loves, BTW) that it is always easier to get a job by moving from another job. In other words, the mere fact of unemployment at the time of application is contra-indicative of one’s chances of obtaining any given job. I don’t doubt that this is the case, and that there is a body of theory, and stats to back it up – at least inasmuch as it applies to men.

For women, on the other hand, there appears to be abundant evidence that this contra-indication does not apply. I have never come across anything that suggests that a woman’s temporarily (but usually for a significant period, definitely more likely to be years than months) giving up paid work – usually for family reasons – contra-indicates employability per se. Of course, leaving the workforce for an extended period does undoubtedly flatten a woman’s career/earning-prospects, but this is precisely my point.

Women’s careers usually work horizontally, while men’s work careers vertically. Coming back to the concept of being over- or under-qualified, then – this has little application to women. If being formally underqualified – that is, lacking current or recent experience – was an objective criterion applied to hiring females, then logically the most chronic, long-term unemployed of all would be women seeking to return to the workforce, after an extended period away from it. (I am assuming here that daily family-raising etc, involves no greater skill-maintenance than the daily schedule of a typical long-term unemployed man. I can’t see why it would, other than for some obvious exceptions like a female child-care worker’s career. Further, given the “mutual obligation” requirements of the dole, there is considerable reason for deeming an unemployed male who has been out of the workforce for, say, ten years, to be objectively more “work-ready” (and so, “experienced”) than a female seeking to re-enter the workforce after ten years of family-raising.)

The verticality, on the other hand, of most men’s careers tends to preclude lateral – and most especially, downwards – re-entry into the workforce after time out of it. I think that this is deeply-ingrained sexism, that has negative impacts for both genders (for ambitious women, the punch comes as the “glass-ceiling syndrome”).

For men, though, this syndrome is hardly identified, much less given a wide currency in pop psychology. Male unemployment rates are higher than female ones among all age groups, again reinforcing what I would term the “glass-ladder” and the “glass-snake” syndrome. For men fortunate enough to be on the “glass-ladder” escalator, there is, of course, not really a “syndrome” at all. For those out of the workforce, however, the concepts of being over- or under-qualified are used to mask the reality of the “glass-snake”.

See also:

Thursday, April 10, 2003

the lull that follows battle; the silence of defeat

The next night was not one of struggle but of silence. In the tranquil death-chamber, beside the dead body now in everyday clothing – here, too, Rieux felt it brooding, that elemental peace which, when he was sitting many nights before on the terrace high above the plague, had followed the brief foray at the gates. Then, already it had brought to his mind the silence brooding over the beds in which he had let men die. There as here, it was the same solemn pause, the lull that follows battle; the silence of defeat. But the silence now enveloping his dead friend, so dense, so much akin to the nocturnal silence of the street and of the town set free at last, made Rieux cruelly aware that this defeat was final, the last disastrous battle that ends a war and makes peace itself an ill beyond all remedy.

- Albert Camus, The Plague (Part Five, Chapter Three); translated by Stuart Gilbert

The above quote could stand as an epitaph for just about any person, thing or occasion, but I like to think that it has only been saved from trite over-use (as a sort of greeting-card-quality stock recitation at eulogies) by its numinous beauty.

Of course, it seems particularly apposite today, as the Iraq war is simultaneously essentially over, and yet is inevitably still to claim its last, cruellest casualties, even as the euphoria waxes all round.

Call it synchronicity, but today also has brought a personal, bittersweet last-disastrous-battle/end-of-the-war dichotomy for me – although I’m not sure which is which. As a thirty something academic, without a job of any kind for the last five months, I’ve been offered work in a call centre. Not just any Australian call centre, either, but one that sits proudly and aggressively at the coalface of globalisation. Since 1999, half its inbound calls have gone to India to be serviced, and half to Melbourne.

I am baffled by the economic logic as to this. Upon some reflection, though, it seems the perfect place for a former academic to work – the job smells both of wanton privilege (at $30k, Australian operators make six times what their Indian, exact-same-job counterparts do), and also of volatile toxicity. Like all Australian universities at the moment, this call-centre is wedged in an epistemological no man’s land – like a sick joke that can’t properly decide whether it wants to be clinically taboo-breaking OR funny, and so ends up being neither.

The Nelson/“Crossroads” review into higher education – now complete, but only to be tabled as part of the May commonwealth budget – apparently will put more money into universities. In the meantime, one academic thinks that his peers have been "stunningly successful" as an industrial lobby group in recent years:,5744,6256603%255E12333,00.html
Concording with this view, a HR consultant explains the current palpable pessimism within the higher education sector as a hiccup, relating to staff shortages at either end – top overseas academics are unaffordable, being paid comparatively much more in the United States and Europe; meanwhile, there are apparently (unspecified) difficulties in filling junior lecturing positions:

Which is the battle, and which is the war? In the case of higher education, the “winners” are already crowing in self-proclamation and/or spin-doctoring, anticipating something, all with a euphoric zest that I can’t even understand, and never will.

Are they possibly just like me, only content to bask, and parade around in in the glory of their own six-fold times earnings, a win that can be celebrated, despite the unimaginable cruelty of its accomplishment and execution.

Victory can be relative (and usually only is), but Peace is absolute – Peace equals hideous defeat, worn in silence.

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Victoria’s Gaming Industry – Above the Law?,5478,6257537%255E2862,00.html

Policing cigarette smoking in a large, dark indoor area that is subdivided into narrow alleys may not be the easiest task. Perhaps because of this, the fine on the venue for failing to enforce the no-smoking ban in gaming venues is a relatively nominal $500. Presumably also, the offence is not one of strict liability, and only crystallises when the venue acts either in complicity with the punter (by knowingly allowing them to continue to smoke), or negligently (by reckless indifference to whether the punter may be smoking).

The Herald-Sun’s investigation suggests that the 90% of venues that are breaking the no-smoking law are doing so in a calculated, deliberate way – the “We didn’t notice it on that occasion, but we are really trying” quasi-excuse just doesn’t wash. Thus, given then gaming venues are knowingly breaking the law, what gives?

Certainly not the Victorian government, which managed, in the logic limbo stakes, to go even under Crown Casino CEO Gary O'Neill’s statement that “the fact that pokie industry revenue had fallen about 20 per cent since the bans were enforced showed people were adhering to the rules”. Quite.

According to a spokesman for Victorian Health Minister, Bronwyn Pike: "It's a concern that anybody is flouting the smoking bans but this is the first six months of the new regime". Errr, apart from the fact that such a (entirely unofficial) six-month honeymoon expired on 28 February this year, there is the matter of the legal assumption of the risk of recalcitrant or ignorant smokers by the gaming venues – the enforcement “buck” starts, and stops with the venues – and no body else. Except, it seems, the Victorian government – which by its craven passivity has single-handedly devalued the enforcement “buck” to about two cents worth.

Which is just what is supposed to happen to any ordinary Jo(e) who visits a casino or pokie barn, I guess. But as for those who pimp off gaming venue earnings, such as the Victorian government, I say: may the blood ever gargle forth from your froth-corrupted lungs.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Nauru – 35 years of feeding frenzy,5744,6251746%255E7583,00.html

When does national “independence” mean the substitution of colonial overlordship with something just as malign, if not more so? When you’re Nauru, that’s when. Despite Helen Hughes’s attempt to argue that this little 35 year old now needs to finally stand on its own two (diabetic and possibly amputated) feet, and then everything can start to get better, this is a morass that the West beneficially owns 100% of, IMHO.

From the very beginning of the independence process, the pattern was set – Westerners (usually Australians, especially in the first three decades) would fuck something up, which would then require further Western experts to “fix” (i.e. fuck-up further, etc). While this pattern of a vortex of incompetence is hardly unique to Nauru, the scale of the individual career-building that has taken place on Nauru’s broken back would resembles a wall-map “family tree” of Italian governments, post World War II. Almost anyone who was anyone, pre-~1990 (which was when the real shonks started to move in, the old hands will tell you) has had their hands in the Nauru cookie jar.

It all started incompetently enough, to be sure. Unionist, and later Prime Minister Thatcher-in-sheep’s-clothing, Bob Hawke led a successful campaign to raise the wages of Nauru’s public servants. Which is just what any colony in the early stages of groping towards independence needs – a feeding trough for the upper echelons, dug deep. The price of Nauru phosphate then went up to a fair, global-par price (well, something had to start pouring in to the trough, given the increasing population of snouts). After independence in 1968 (an event about as meaningful as the baby boomer scribblings on Paris walls of that year), the trough was further topped up, this time by an inflow of Australian money, as compensation. But this inflow just seemed to widen and deepen the trough still further.

The total sum that these feeders earned, billed, and collected in a multitude of other, more dubious ways is mammoth. Yet I’m not a believer in doing “what if” accounting, Helen Hughes style, to come up with a staggering collective nest egg amount, all now frittered away. Money, when frittered away in large sums, will necessarily do so visibly – in excess, and so at least partially in the public eye. For Nauru, there was never any such party, let alone the party decade that would have been a decent, reasonable time period for a few thousand people to burn through a few billion dollars. The Nauru “party”, then, was an offshore, highly-dispersed and private archipelago of deals and careers. Like many an Australian redneck family’s treasured hoard of Aboriginal artefacts, the pilfering of Nauru was secret business, strictly confined to oral record only, and yet – oh – how the Nauru stories would pour forth, each one good-naturedly trumping the other, across so many dinner-party and business lunch tables.

The offshore history of the Nauru billions is thus unlikely to ever be properly known. Storing forever in shoe boxes – of the mind, career, and beach-house – beats frittering under the public spotlight, every time.

Monday, April 07, 2003

Journalist Arse-Licker Extraordinaire

With major editorial personnel changes just having taken place within the House of Fairfax, it is perhaps a bit unfair to pick on the current Business Review Weekly just for a bit of sport. However, I don’t think that slamming Stuart Washington’s quasi-cover story “The strong, silent type” is just a bit of a Monday slap’n’tickle. For Stuart, I intend going the whole piñata, in fact.

Stuart’s BRW story would be bad enough if it was just a ridiculous puff piece on a Chinese billionaire (nickname “Superman”) and one of his sons. With languorous lines like this:

The naming of CKI and Cheung Kong Holdings stems from the Cantonese words meaning "long river", a reference to the Yangtze. This long river now seems to be winding its way through Australia, in its own particular style.

the average reader’s own “long river” is surely poised dangerously close to reversing its usual direction, and so regurgitating its breakfast (stylishly or otherwise).

It is what Stuart leaves out of his article that most gets up my own wide billabong, however. I’m no expert on Asian business myself, but, as an Australian, when I hear the words Li Ka-shing (aka “Superman”) I reach for my ledger. So far, the Reach joint venture and one of Superman’s sons, Richard Li, has – with the aid and/or negligence of Telstra executives – cost the Australian populace (who are, of course, majority owners of Telstra) several billion dollars, a sum which could still rise significantly*.

No doubt Superman deeply regrets this loss – the money, the loss of family face, the apparent waste of his sperm in conceiving Richard; whatever. Reach wasn’t Dad’s fault, legally or morally, and I accept that. I still find it difficult to comprehend, though, that such a one-sided, resolutely upbeat article as Stuart Washington’s cannot even throw in a passing mention of the prodigal Richard’s adventures with Australian taxpayer money. This is all the more so because it goes to some pains to glowingly name another son-of-Superman (not because Victor Li has done anything in particular, mind, but presumably because even Stuart couldn’t quite bring himself to accord immortality upon the 74 year-old Li-the-Elder).

So who is Stuart Washington? Conveniently enough for Fairfax flack-taking, he appears to be a freelancer, at least for the purposes of this article. The best insight on him comes from, which has Mr Washington, at least in 2001, as a Singapore-based magazine editor, whose significant other is Alana House, “Cleo” editor in Singapore.

Perhaps for Stuart’s next article, he could pool his talents with Alana, and then the two of them write a slightly meatier article. How about “We find the Australian taxpayers’ g-spot!”

*Glenda Korporaal “Reach offers staff voluntary redundancy” The Australian 7 April 2003 (no URL).


Stuart Washington, turns out to be far from a freelancer – he is no less than BRW's national news editor. Which, on one hand, implicates Fairfax up to its larynx in the above unseemly trash. On the other hand, with a whole three inches between the larynx and mouth, why should Fairfax even bother admitting it now has a problem – much less start to panic?

Saturday, April 05, 2003

Sex slavery and freedom of contract,5744,6165092%255E2702,00.html§ion=current&issue=2003-04-05&id=2963
(link via )

According to Phelim McAleer, the Financial Times (UK) Bucharest stringer, sex-slavery, at least as it concerns Eastern European women, is a myth – the women are no different from any other voluntary economic migrant from an impoverished backwater. Apart from that – an obvious fact, but still one that McAleer could have pointed out – the women are working in the West illegally.

And there’s the rub. Women from the poorest places on earth may indeed possibly aspire to a rewarding career as a prostitute in the West – but they have no financial means to make such a dream happen. Apart from the cost of passage, forged documents will often need to be obtained. In practice, the latter is likely to be a mere value-adding exercise anyway, as the only logically possible financier of the woman’s passage will be a local criminal with deep connections in the destination country. In other words, even if the woman is the straightest, purest sort of economic migrant at the outset, she will be bonded to organised crime in the process of achieving her dream.

Which brings up what is euphemistically called the “contract”. In essence, this is a more-or-less arbitrary sum, set high enough to make the woman a slave for as long as she is economically useful, and yet low enough for the woman to hold out some feint hope that she may one day be a free agent. (To serve tolerably as a prostitute, having such a glimmer of hope would be quite important.)

The Australian newspaper has been running an investigative story on the trafficking of sex slaves for the past three weeks, updating it more or less daily. Yet the story remains depressingly the same today as when it first broke. Today’s angle – Natalie O'Brien and Elisabeth Wynhausen “Bureaucrats ignored reviews sex slave sting” (no URL) – reinforces the policy of hardline, almost-complete apathy that the Federal Police and Immigration Department have both adopted on the issue; c.f:,4057,6240811%255E1702,00.html

Today’s article quotes a former Australian Federal Police officer who makes some good points. At least some of the trafficked women arrive as children – as in 12 years old, rather than 17 years and 11 months. Further, with the shopfront brothels they work in being matters of public record, tracing the perpetrators of the trafficking should not actually be that difficult. Hence, this particular instance of bureaucratic apathy is not simply a scandal petite; it is a cover-up of the highest order.

Never mind the Tampa (and a host of other dubious-ities that Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock has been intimately involved with). This is a simple, clear-cut issue of organised crime apparently acting with governmental fiat. Ruddock should immediately resign, and an inquiry should thereafter be launched, with a view to getting rid of the corrupt officials who logically must be currently mandating sex trafficking.

My personal concern here is not mainly for the welfare of the women who are trafficked (although of course that is an issue for me) – the mere fact of the existence of apparently-untouchable organised crime groups permeates, and degrades every aspect of my life and rights as an Australian citizen.

Friday, April 04, 2003

American hegemony – back to business as usual?

What a difference eight days make – compare these two Op Ed pieces by Guy Rundle:

Guy is one of the best Left writers in Australia, but on the evidence of these two articles, the No-War-In-Iraq bus is having a very bumpy ride right now.

Last week, things were looking up – it was Schadenfreude all-round, a “told you so” celebration as the coalition forces looked bogged in a neo-Vietnam, an un-winnable quagmire. Today, after a wild swerve of the steering wheel, it’s all “US Forces Give the Nod” – asking which country is going to be the next victim of this cake-walking military juggernaut, and with a dig at deeply-vested US business interests, to boot.

Now, the latter point I completely concur with. American business hegemony is a legitimate target of the Australian Left, and many more besides (such as Australian farmers). And now that the Iraq war looks close to being over (fingers crossed), it is the right time to resume business-as-usual antipathies on this front.

Frankly, I don’t give a stuff which of the usual, G.O.P.-die-hard suspects are going to clean up financially in an American-subdued Iraq. As Guy himself notes, the country is going to remain indefinitely a quite dangerous place for a Westerner to live and work. Militarily, any Intifada in response to the occupation of Iraq will at least serve as a local lightning rod for Islamo-fascist grievances, thereby hopefully improving security in the homeland US, as well as Australia. In the longer term, a US-subdued Iraq will, however rancorous and venal the deals cut by the occupiers are, at least allow the US a long-overdue exit from Saudi Arabia – an arrangement that, at least since 9/11, has been in no one’s interests, other than those of the Saud royal family and a few psychopathic mullahs.

Finally, as the Australian Left resumes our business-as-usual antipathies to US hegemony, why don’t we start at home? It’s not as if the pickings here are slim, with almost all the utilities in Victoria (Guy’s and mine home state) having been flogged off to American interests in the last ten years or so (public transport is an exception – that went to the Brits, presumably because they’re well-known to be uniquely bad at such things).

As a recent letter to The Age pointed out (“Fines for bombs?” - David McRae, Geelong West) some of daily life’s most mundane – and yet also most stinking – injustices, such as speed camera fines, can be laid at the feet of the US military-industrial complex.

P.S.: if anyone wants to read the fat, grubby contract by which the Victorian government assigned the speed camera fine business to a consortium called Lockheed Martin Tennix, it’s at:

Thursday, April 03, 2003

Dead Hippies Society

A US study last year looked at baby boomer values and opinions 30 years on. The results didn’t contain too many surprises for me, but it is worth pointing out the responses to the education and world-knowledge questions.

Boomers actually respected their teachers much more than they trust today’s teachers (which latter cohort, of course, includes large numbers of themselves).

A little over one-third (36%) of 70s boomers had a great deal of confidence in people running the education system. This level of confidence has dropped to 20% among boomers now (2002).

An overall majority of boomers will cockily admit to knowing more about world events than their children. Funnily enough, though, a larger majority of these children place this mantle on their boomer parents, with the result that 8% of these parents disown the title, even while their kids sit passively in blissful ignorance.

In 2002, boomers and their children's generation disagree more compared to boomers and their parents in the 70s. Back then, when the parents of boomers were asked to assess their children's knowledge about world events, almost nine in ten agreed that young people of that day had more knowledge about things happening in the world. Looking back, there was no generation gap since 91% of boomers themselves also agreed with this statement. Boomers today are distinct from their children on this issue. A little over half (55%) of boomers in 2002 disagree that their children are more knowledgeable about world events, while 63% of their children agree that their parents (boomers) are more knowledgeable about things happening in the world.

PRESS RELEASE: Books Not Bombs Coalition

Recognising the threat suicide bombers posed worldwide, Ms Kylie Moonrock, of the “Books Not Bombs” anti-war coalition, has announced a shift in direction for the group, including a slight name change.

“By re-branding ourselves as ‘Suicide Books Not Suicide Bombers’, we are focusing on doing something very practical – sending educational and self-help texts into war-torn Iraq”, Ms Moonrock said yesterday.

Titles of books that the coalition have bulk-purchased for urgent shipment to Iraq include: Who moved my Jihad? and The Seven Habits of Highly Premature Anthrax-julators.

Ms Moonrock continued: “Although we admit there is an element of saving our own middle-class western skins in this move, we don’t see that as our primary motivation. By sending instructional and motivational texts on how to commit suicide – and to preferably do it soon – we see it as a way of bringing the troops home, sooner rather than later. Their troops get to go to a virgin-filled paradise without the tiresome task of flying a hijacked 747 through my Newtown kitchen, and Australian troops, meanwhile, are going to have to go home without any reading material from us at all, coz they’re all fascist corporate scum who can’t be helped further, anyway.”

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

SARS – nature’s revenge on the “young, dumb, and full of cum”?,4057,6224514%255E401,00.html

According to Hong Kong doctors, SARS not only attacks more men than women, but disproportionately attacks fit young men with strong immune systems. The virus apparently works via the infectee’s own immune system swapping sides, and attacking the host’s lungs.

If so, why aren’t there health alerts, telling the rest of us, when out in public, to avoid joggers, non-smokers, footballers etc?

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