Saturday, April 28, 2007

I am a reasonable man – oh yes I am

Arrrgh – a technology meltdown on my home computer is why I haven’t posted in yonks. Although “meltdown” is more accurate as a descriptor of me than the said computer. The latter appears to be fixed; OTOH I am still feeling shell-shocked and fragile.

“Automatic Updates is set to notify”. It may not immediately spring out at you, but this six word sentence is the most fiendish, malevolent concept ever expressed in the English language. If it popped up on your computer, as it did on mine, as an “Attention Required” alert message from the anti-virus software (Norton) installed on your computer, you might think that it is a benign thing, but to be on the safe side – not to mention getting rid up the pop-up in future – you might well click on “Fix Now”. After all, being notified is a good thing, is it not?

Not in Microsoft/Norton land, it turns out. By clicking on “Fix Now”, you turn your computer into a zombie with expensive tastes, downloading hundreds of MB (for which I pay 30 cents each, above a modest cap) of Who the F* Knows What Bloatware. You can’t turn it off – if you’re on the Internet, it will run, no matter what. You don’t get told anything, including what it is or how many MB it is. It could be 300MB of “essential” new background wallpaper for PowerPoint, for all I know. The only clue is a tiny “%-downloaded” icon. Oh, and the highly visible fact that one’s Internet connection meter is madly clocking-up the MBs. It’s like being on Internet banking, watching one’s stolen credit card go on a spending spree in real time, but being utterly powerless to stop it. Because by clicking “Fix Now”, you had thought that you would be agreeing to be notified, you see? How stupid of you – doesn’t everyone not want to be bothered by annoying small details, like knowing who is spending your credit-card/bandwidth, and on what exactly?


I admit that I’m highly strung when it comes to technology turning zombie on me. Predictive text on mobile phones – why the f* does my mobile phone randomly switch it on, when I have never used it (self-amputation would be less painful) and never will?

I don’t expect much from my technology – or from life in general, for that matter. Honestly. All I want is a plain, plain vanilla version – so plain that it can’t possibly turn zombie, no matter what. Not even, and most especially, if it asks me, via a criminally-misleadingly worded pop-up, whether I Want It to Go All Zombie on Me.

Norton and Microsoft, go and “Fix” yourselves.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Australia’s superannuation great divide

No, it’s not a political divide – this great divide is bipartisan, to a quite obscene degree, as Fred Argy notes in a letter to the ed in today’s Oz.

The divide is, of course an age one – those born before 1962 are being subsidised billions of dollars by those born after 1962. (Current house prices are also a multi-billion dollar de facto tax on those born after 1962, but that’s another topic.) The only shock is why my generation are lying back and accepting this theft.

It thus has lately fallen upon boomer journalists to observe the generational divide in superannuation:

“Members of funds won’t get any benefits from the reform unless they have more than $280,000 in their account – and the latest Roy Morgan survey figures show that 86% of people under 50, and 58 per cent of people over 50 have less than $100,000 in their accounts.”*

Tweak these figures to include late boomers with their equally rich elders and it would be 90%+ of under-45s having less than $100,000 in their account/s, and about 50% of over-45s having more than $100,000 in their account/s. Yep, the generation that justifies negative gearing over multiple investment properties (typically tenanted by impoverished Xers) on the basis that compulsory super, introduced in the early 90s, came too late to adequately fund their own retirements, turns out to have a tidy stash in superannuation as well – much larger than a typical Xer’s stash, despite both having generally started with a zero balance at the same time, 15 years ago.

Mike Steketee sums up the forthcoming irony: within two decades, no Australian boomer will be paying tax, but the part- (at least) pensions received by most of them will be paid for by taxpayers often worse off than the retiree generation.

What awaits Xers in retirement, meanwhile, has been made recently explicit by Treasurer Peter Costello:

"So I've got this idea of people doing hybrids in the future – partly relying on superannuation, partly working part-time."

Translation: 55-70 y.o. boomers can, if they wish, keep working as they approach full retirement. If they already have substantial superannuation, it is highly tax-effective for them to work a while longer, laundering their money as follows – salary-sacrifice 100% of their employment income into “new” super, while withdrawing from their “old” super to live on, meaning that they legally pay zero tax while growing quickly rich, to boot.

Xers OTOH, with their tawdry, low superannuation balances will be doing a very different pre-retirement shuffle. Firstly, they won’t ever actually retire – meaning live on their investment earnings or the age pension – because the former usually won’t be enough, and the latter won’t exist, except perhaps in a “mutual obligation” way. Hence, Costello’s “hybrids”. Even a $100k super balance, at age 65 (note that Xers born after June 1964 can’t access their super till age 60, while boomers born pre-July 1960 can take it, and so start the tax-free laundering described above, at age 55) can be stretched out for a couple of decades, provided one both keeps working part-time and lives in utter poverty. Then around age 85, when the super has finally run out, why should the Xers stop working? Some form of suitably demeaning voluntary work will let them see their final days out – a firm condition of age pension eligibility for those born after 1962, as well as a foolproof way of ensuring that recipients of it don’t live very long under its bountiful yoke.

* Barrie Dunstan “Average bloke set to be super slugged” AFR 2 April 2007

Monday, April 02, 2007

Xer Letter of the Week

From a letter to the editor in today’s Age:

My friends and I completed law degrees at Melbourne Uni in the early '90s, when "going to uni" was a myth of middle-class advancement . . . Most of us were tens of thousands in debt (many still are), and took one to two years to find work in law, at a much lower rate than if we'd just done apprenticeships.

We are hundreds of thousands of dollars behind friends who just got jobs after high school working where they were actually needed — as mechanics, plumbers etc.

- David Beattie, Mont Albert

David doesn’t clarify whether he was part of the (commencing) class of ’89 (or later), or whether like me, the goalposts were moved after he started his law course. If he was in the former category, I reckon that he was under a fair bit of notice as to “the myth of middle-class advancement” even in 1989. But I wouldn't be too harsh on him; teenagers have always been lemming-like creatures, making bad decisions in the interests of peer conformity.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

HIV in Victoria, and passing the buck/bug

Fact: Epidemics increase exponentially until the broader population has been decimated. The only circuit-breaker that can work against this natural law is the effective quarantining of the already-infected from the broader population.

In Australia, unlike most of the rest of the world, there has long been a de facto quarantining, albeit with a twist. Already-infected gay men – always the major sub-group among the already-HIV+ population of Australia – were in the 1980s placed in more or less the same boat as gay men generally. That is, the quarantine was relatively indiscriminate in placing already-infected alongside uninfected gay men behind its “walls”.

Twenty-three or so years later, the results of this odd quarantining strategy are predictable. For a reasonable period, HIV appeared to be on the wane as an epidemic, both among gay men and the general population. Then a secondary epidemic emerged, of course, from behind the quarantine’s “walls”. Gay men of my generation (born 1963-1976) have been disproportionately affected by this secondary epidemic.

I am angry about this because it was so predictable. A “soft” quarantining of the already-infected in the mid-1980s – disproportionately baby boomers – was either expedient and short-term, or coldly calculating. With all gay men deemed to be behind the walls, a deliberately fudged, de-medicalised and de-legalised discourse took off. Gay boomer-dominated state AIDS Councils waxed on how, working from the inside, they were best able to introduce “behaviour change” among gay men; i.e. to enforce (although I doubt that is a word they ever would have used) safe sex among gay men.

Well guess what? The quarantining of all gay men, as a self-contained jurisdiction with its own warm and fuzzy rules, was not able to conquer the natural law of epidemiology, which dictates that the primary object of quarantining must be the distancing of the already-infected from the broader population. Any other form quarantining will simply breed a secondary epidemic – i.e. it will be perversely set up an identifiable class of “to be infecteds”. And Xer gay men were the patsies in this criminally dumb experiment.

I am not suggesting actual physical quarantining of Australia’s already-HIV+ population generally. Most Xer gay men have known all their adult life that the buck, and hence the bug, stops with them, anyway. Boomer gay men, OTOH, share in their generation’s general amorality and lack of personal responsibility. It is no surprise and no accident that psychopath (alleged) HIV-spreader Michael Neal is a boomer, and most of those he infected are apparently Xers.

Australia’s state AIDS Councils should all be immediately disbanded, and replaced with a system that places far more legal responsibility on, and medico-legal supervision over, the already-HIV+. This would not likely come as a draconian shock to most already-HIV+ Xer gay men, at least. But if boomers need to be locked up indefinitely, so be it.

By enforcing responsibility and supervision, an equal and opposite weight will be lifted from the shoulders of currently uninfected gay men: they will go from being a “to be infected” class to being with who they actually belong among: the uninfected general population.

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