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Friday, July 31, 2009

Bali's best hotel manager




Best Hotel Manager

Hengky Tambayong

When in Bali, stay at the HARRIS TUBAN and be looked after by their friendly staff under the leadership of Hengky Tambayong. Anybody who's made it to the cover of TIME Magazine must be good!

An evening in front of the idiot-box at "Riverbend"

Poles Apart

His interest piqued by the profound policy implications of global warming, and by evidence he’d seen on his motorcycle tour of the world, Gareth Morgan decided to find out the answer to the above question.

His method was to hire the finest international scientists available to present their best arguments. Some were staunchly of the view that human beings are damaging the delicate climatic balance; others were equally convinced the evidence suggests that nothing out of the ordinary is under way.

Far from an orderly discussion of the evidence from the natural world, Morgan and co-author John McCrystal found themselves stuck in the middle of a fractious, at times catty, but always mesmerising debate between two sides that are poles apart.

Over the next eighteen months, the authors’ task was to sift through the arguments and counter-arguments, the mud-slinging and the name-calling, the distractions and the distortions — much as a jury must, in a trial involving expert testimony from both sides.

Slowly, painfully, the weight of evidence began to favour a single verdict.

"Poles Apart" sets out the authors’ conclusions as well as the path that led them there — because, after all, getting there was half the challenge.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Let them eat umlauts!

The other day I found some genuine German alphabet soup in the shop. I had almost forgotten how tasty those Äs, Ös, Üs, and äs, ös, and üs are! In the last spoonful I even found an ß! Mmmm ... yummy!

I suspect that MAGGI employs some Greek 'Gastarbeiter' as I also found a δ, a ς, and a couple of λs.

The Illustrious Dead

In the spring of 1812, Napoleon was at the height of his power. Forty-five million called him emperor. Unstoppable in his relentless pursuit of territory and authority, he held sole command of a nation that was the richest and most potent on earth, the most cultured, the furthest advanced in medicine and science and technology. In that fateful year, Napoleon turned toward Moscow at the helm of the largest invasion force in the history of mankind.

His army was a thing of martial beauty, honed by constant warfare and superbly led. No army on earth could stop Bonaparte from conquering the world. But there was something waiting in the Russian steppes that would test Napoleon to his limit and bring his dreams of a world empire to a shocking close. It was not a brilliant general or an unseen alliance, but the tiny typhus microbe.

"The Illustrious Dead" tells the tale of these two unstoppable historical forces meeting on the road to Moscow in a clash of killer pathogen and peerless army.

Breakfast at "Riverbend"

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


The Dreaded-Day has arrived: the wife is due back this evening!

Right now she's somewhere over the Simpson Desert. By plane, unfortunately, and not on foot or else I would have a bit more time to clean up the house. Barring engine failure or a sudden loss of cabin pressure, I have exactly seven hours to catch up with six weeks of neglect! (spelled 'd-i-r-t')

P.S. On second thoughts, it might be easier to instal a completely new kitchen. For the bathroom I've hired some sandblasting equipment to restore the handwash-basin and bathtub to their former glory. The bedroom is no big deal as I can always blame it on the dogs who also sleep there.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

First recorded Tech Support Helpdesk

So weit die Füße tragen

As far as my feet will carry me

As prisoner of war, Clemens Forell, a German soldier during WW II, was sentenced to 25 years in a labour camp in far east Siberia. After four years working in the mines he escapes from the camp (in 1949) and tries to get home to his wife and children. For three years he journeys through Siberia. An odyssey of 14,000 kilometers, set against a backdrop of desolate and inhospitable landscape, beset by danger (from both animals and humans). Constantly battling the worst nature can throw at him, Forell makes his way, step by step, towards Persia and the longed-for freedom. Sometimes riding on trains, sometimes by boat, mostly on foot, he never knows if his next step won't be his last. His prosecutor Kamenev is always right behind him, and more than once it seems that Forell is captured again...

This film, first made as a TV-series in black-and-white in six parts of altogether 400 minutes in 1959, and remade in 2001 as a feature film in color in both the German and Russian language, is based on the book by Josef Martin Bauer which has been translated into fifteen languages. It is the true story of the German officer Cornelius Rost (1922-1983) who in 1949 escaped from the Siberian Gulag and for three years travelled 14,000 km, mainly on foot, to present-day Iran. After his return to Germany, Rost lived for the next 30 years in constant fear of being re-arrested by the KGB and died a broken man.

And yet, he was lucky to have come back at all! Of the 3.5 million German prisoners-of-war in the Soviet Union, the vast majority perished in the forced labour camps.

A little etymology goes a long way

There's a big word in every small one trying to get out!

Take the word "to tantalise" which refers to Tantalus, son of Zeus, who was punished by his father for a certain catering faux pas, to stand in a pool of water that drained away when he bend down for a drink, and then refilled itself to his chin when he stood up straight. He also had a branch of figs hanging above his head which the wind blew away every time he reached for it.

This imagery was tantalising enough for Schopenhauer to ruminate about human life and its endless cycle of wanting, satisfaction, boredom, and then wanting again. Human life, Schopenhauer thought, eternally revolves around the axle of need followed by satiation. Are we contented by the satiation? Alas, only briefly. Almost immediately boredom sets in, and once again we are propelled into motion, this time to escape from the terrors of boredom.

And what is the most terrible thing about boredom? Why do we rush to dispel it? Because it is a distration-free state which soon enough reveals underlying unpalatable truths about existence - our insignificance, our meaningless existence, our inexorable progression toward deterioration and death.

Isn't etymology tantalising? Enough to pour yourself a drink from your own tantalus. I wished I had owned one of those things when I lived in New Guinea as my haus boi, who answered (sometimes) to the name of 'Get Up', kept helping himself to my whisky. When I questioned him about it, he said something which, on reflection, may have sounded like "Why don't you get yourself a tantalus?"

Monday, July 27, 2009

Life is nothing but a present moment which is forever vanishing ...

... except for last weekend which was one long moment that never seemed to vanish as I cooked lunch and dinner, and breakfast, lunch and dinner again for some 400 bikies. I had volunteered for a fundraiser with the Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol at a motocross event where I peeled and chopped mountains of onions, and flipped and turned thousands of pancakes, sausages and steaks.

And I didn't eat any of it as I didn't want to hear the call of nature. To answer that call would have meant visiting one of those claustrophobic porta-potties. Judging by the hundreds of empties, from Jack Daniels to Jim Beam, and the number of onions I had chopped, the inside of those units would have been a rare sight and smell!

It would have brought back memories of "Kenny" (subtitled "A knight in shining overalls") which was 103 minutes of cinematic toilet humour about a warm-hearted, true-blue Aussie bloke by the same name, whose business it is to deliver port-a-loos - in his words, a recession-proof business as "it won't dry up overnight" - and who is the living embodiment of how to deal with the epithet "s**t happens".

Not all his humour is scatological: naturally, he's divorced since "any man who spends more time with other people's poo than with his own wife is bound to lose her". And he reckons next time he'll cut out the middleman and marry a woman he hates and give her a house and be done with! He doesn't own the business and doesn't make a shitload of money and, in any case, his employers are not Number One with Number Two; that position is held by somebody called "Henry the Turd". But, like shit to a blanket, Kenny sticks to his job, even knocking back a promotion to a desk-job which his dad urges him to take as "people don't look up to you until you sit down".

The film even gets educational: ever wondered where the word "shit" comes from? Well, listen to Kenny: "Certain types of manure used to be transported (as everything was back then) by ship. In dry form it weighs a lot less, but once water (at sea) hit it, it not only became heavier, but the process of fermentation began again, of which a by-product is methane gas. As the stuff was stored below decks in bundles you can see what could (and did) happen: methane began to build up below decks and the first time someone came below at night with a lantern - BOOOOM! Several ships were destroyed in this manner before it was discovered what was happening. After that, the bundles of manure where always stamped with the term 'S.H.I.T' on them which meant to the sailors to 'Ship High In Transit.' In other words, high enough off the lower decks so that any water that came into the hold would not touch this volatile cargo and start the production of methane." Bet you didn't know that one! And here I was, thinking it was an accounting term, especially at tax-time!

If you want a whiff of it, here's a trailer:

Friday, July 24, 2009

It's all put back on ice again

This clip dates back to August 2007 before the interbank markets started locking up. It wonderfully highlights just how lunatic the Icelandic banks were.

Has anything changed? No! As Dr. Marc Faber said, "By keeping interest rates low the Fed [US Federal Reserve] is forcing people to speculate on something."

There are lies, damned lies, and statistics

Here's a shocker: there is no inflation in Australia because men's underwear is cheap. Thursday's Age reports that, "Sharp falls in the prices of men's underwear, fruit, vegetables, milk and bank charges helped offset big rises in the prices of women's underwear, hospital services, real estate and petrol."

The data, courtesy of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, suggest that if you wear jocks, eat apples and drink milk, your cost of living is going down, even if you get sick, buy property, drive a car, and sometimes wear women's underwear. That's probably good news for somebody out there. But is the cost of living in Australia really going down? Common sense tells you the cost of living is going up, despite the really great deals you can get on men's underwear.

"There is terror in numbers," writes Darrell Huff in How to Lie with Statistics. And nowhere does this terror translate to blind acceptance of authority more than in the slippery world of averages, correlations, graphs, and trends. Huff sought to break through "the daze that follows the collision of statistics with the human mind" with this slim volume, first published in 1954.

The book remains relevant as a wake-up call for people unaccustomed to examining the endless flow of numbers pouring from Wall Street, the government, and everywhere else someone has an axe to grind, a point to prove, or a product to sell. "The secret language of statistics, so appealing in a fact-minded culture, is employed to sensationalize, inflate, confuse, and oversimplify," warns Huff.

The only way to look at a politician is down

I guess Americans won't take to the streets in protest until there's nothing to watch on TV.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


The clip is in German but otherwise universal

Next Tuesday Padma will be at "Riverbend" again and things will be back to 'normal'!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Iraq in 8 minutes

The future will not be what it used to be!

An interview with Dr. Doom, Marc Faber, whose website is at www.gloomboomdoom.com.

Dr. Faber hasn't exactly been guzzling down the 'happy juice.' His presentation contained predictions of dire future consequences of the terrible economic decisions being taken today. He forecasts a collapse in US commercial real estate, higher inflation, a further devaluation of the US dollar and a 'dirty war' waged by the Chinese.

Dr. Faber said, "Mr. Greenspan and Mr. Bernanke have achieved something which no-one had ever before achieve;, they created a bubble in everything." The one exception, he noted, was the US dollar. The value of which, Greenspan and Bernanke have helped to destroy.

What does the good Dr. have to say about China? "China is encircled by US military bases in the Pacific. This will lead to increased tensions. The next war won't be in trenches or tanks lined up, it will be a 'dirty war' - internet viruses, pandemics, etc..." He went on, "Rising commodities prices lead to international tensions - wars lead to soaring prices." The battleground, he believes will be over oil: "The US imports 73% of its oil requirements... 95% of Asia's oil comes from the Middle East. That makes China very vulnerable to oil shocks. The aim of China is to get the US out of the Middle East."

A rose-tinted view of the future? Hardly. But as Dr. Faber also pointed out, "You need to hold physical commodities, not derivatives with Citibank and UBS." But despite this, Dr. Faber is bullish on the Chinese and Asian economies. Reading between the lines the endgame seems to be a Chinese win and a US loss. He said, "The Chinese currency could easily double in value over the next 5-10 years... Once you get a stronger Chinese currency you will get a stronger Malaysian Ringgit, Singapore dollar, etc..." And this is indirectly good for Australia - not the war bit of course, but the rest of it. Anyway, it certainly confirms the view that South East Asia is the best place to invest in.

And if you can't invest in those economies directly, then investing in Australian resources stocks is the next best thing.

The week that was! (and still is)

The Maison d’Envie, an environment-friendly brothel in Berlin, is offering discounts to clients who arrive by bicycle ('other whoreticultural rebates by negotiation') and there seems to be no shortage of men prepared to help save the planet. "It’s good for the environment," says brothel-keeper Thomas Goetz (no relative to the one at Berlichingen, I presume), "and it’s good for the girls" (Why? because the patrons arrive saddle-sore and already knackered before they even get started?) "Take off your bicycle helmet, big boy!"

Also in Germany, the country of thinkers and drinkers, a study carried out by a psychologist reveals that a growing number of parents are treating their teenage children who have already everything, to virginal and penile waxing parties as an eighteenth birthday present.

Across the Channel in Scotland, Stewart Smith says he was stunned when, having dropped a £10 note in the street, he was fined £50 for littering.

In Mecca they're debating whether or not to cancel this year's Hajj (the annual pilgrimage) because of swine flu which, together with pork, is a prohibited import in the kingdom.

Across the Red Sea, Polish holidaymaker Magdalena Kwiatkowska says her daughter, age 13, fell pregnant from "spray sperm" (should that be 'stray'?) in the swimming poll of their Egyptian hotel. The mother is adamant that her daughter didn’t meet any boys while she was there and is determined to seek compensation.

Perhaps she could go looking for an old mattress in Tel Aviv's landfill sites. Anat of Tel Aviv tossed the mattress away when she bought her mum a new one as a surprise. But when the older woman returned home she “almost fainted”, as she had hidden her entire life savings, $1 million (£700,000), inside the mattress. Anat raced to the dump. But the mattress had already been sent on to one of two larger landfill sites.

American Airlines wants to know if you’ve been. They want you to go before you, well, go. You see, airlines are seeking to reduce fuel costs by reducing weight on planes. And American Airlines requires all passengers to use the bathroom before boarding the plane. Says spokeswoman Jeannette Spencer: “This is in the best interest for all our customers. Not only does it reduce fuel usage and lower costs, but it also reduces the lines for the bathroom on the plane at the gate and once it is in the air. We estimate that each year, 10,374 hours are wasted at the gate while our customers use the on-plane lavatory causing take-off delays. This will ensure that everyone has already gone before the flight departs.” Passengers must use the facilities at least twenty minutes prior to leaving and will not be allowed to board unless they have “tried to go” at least twice. Receipts - known as brownie points? - are provided at the facilities for proof of deposit.

Australian Air Force Corporal Robert Andrew James Samara bit off part of a junior colleague's ear. He has been ordered to attend a hearing.

Across the Tasman, one more reason to live in New Zealand (if you know the other one, let me know) is the news that MITSUBISHI Motors in New Zealand is offering a free goat with every Triton ute sold before August in a novel effort at correcting the economy. Mitsubishi Motors New Zealand general sales and marketing manager Peter Wilkins said the economy’s recovery was in the hands of the rural sector, and goats, like Tritons, were “hardy, versatile units which will integrate directly into existing farm operations”. Of course, more and more New Zealanders are coming to Australia. When questioned about this, former New Zealand prime minister Robert "Piggy" Muldoon responded that these migrants "raised the average IQ of both countries."

Not that we would want too many more of them as our own population is set to reach 22 million by the end of this year, 40 years earlier than expected. Social demographer Mark McCrindle says we have doubled our population since 1963, defying predictions 10 years ago that we would not reach above 22 million until mid-century. Mr McCrindle says despite the economic standstill, the nation has seen the highest number of births and lowest number of deaths ever. "It's almost like we've got the perfect storm of population growth," he said. He says if growth rates remain constant, the population will more than double again by 2050, exceeding 44 million.

In the Land of the Free, two judges in Pennsylvania were convicted of jailing some 2000 children in exchange for bribes from private prison companies. Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan sent children to jail for offences so trivial that some of them weren’t even crimes. A 15 year-old called Hillary Transue got three months for creating a spoof web page ridiculing her school’s assistant principal. Mr Ciavarella sent Shane Bly, then 13, to boot camp for trespassing in a vacant building. He gave a 14 year-old, Jamie Quinn, 11 months in prison for slapping a friend during an argument, after the friend slapped her. The judges were paid $2.6 million by companies belonging to the Mid Atlantic Youth Services Corp for helping to fill its jails. This is what happens when public services are run for profit. Just the tip of the iceberg?

After six years together, the relationship between a pair of gay male penguins at San Francisco zoo is apparently over, with Harry leaving Pepper for another penguin - Linda. Linda has been called a "home wrecker" but the Christian website OneNewsNow.com took the split as a sign that "nature prefers heterosexual relationships."

Still in the USA, a New York busker who entertains crowds of tourists in Times Square, dressed in nothing but a cowboy hat, boots, and a pair of white underpants emblazoned with the words "Naked Cowboy," has launched a bid to run for mayor. "No one knows how to do more with less than yours truly, and that's the kind of thinking I plan on sharing with my fellow New Yorkers when you elect me," said Robert Burck on his website www.nakedcowboy.com. What a burk! Or is he? He makes about $1000 a day busking and who-knows-how-much from all the products he sells on his website, including a replica of his guitar for $800 ("Sounds like crap but looks awesome").

In North Carolina, Bernie Madoff is rumoured to have been the inspiration for an alleged plot to bust him out of Butner Federal Prison. The plan involved five prisoners kneeling down by a wall. On their backs would kneel four more prisoners. On their backs three prisoners. And two more on their backs. Then Bernie would climb to the top and vault the wall. Bernie’s absconding would create a vacancy to be filled by someone from the second tier who would duly ascend to the top. He would be replaced by a felon below and so on until a new investor, sorry, escapee, would join the lowest tier. This would continue with all prisoners escaping until a few unlucky ones would be unable to vault the wall and each be sentenced to 321 years in jail.

While in Riverside, California, the good citizens have decided to change the name of a road, Wong Way, named after George Wong, the last resident of Riverside's former Chinatown, to Wong Street.

In Jimo, Shandong province, China, Liu, 27, has been cautioned by police for driving his motorbike with no hands or arms – literally. The Qilu Evening Post reports that Liu lost both arms at the age of seven after which he joined a circus where he learnt to ride a motorcycle without arms. Liu also had no license and promised police that he would not ride motorbikes again. He is now looking for someone to give him a hand.

... and if that wasn't enough, listen to some emergency calls:

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Theatre of the Mind

Remember radio dramas? I do! I was fortunate enough to grow up when there was no daytime television; when we would sit around the radio in the evening, with the magic dial glowing in the dark, ready to navigate us around the world.

The radio drama was our entertainment then and, while I may be seeing it through sepia-tinted glasses, in my opinion it is superior to nearly every television series. The use of sound effects was truly amazing in its ability to conjure up vivid images and changing settings. Here are some wonderful examples.

All this came back to me last night as I sat, glass of red in hand, by the mellow light of an old kerosene lantern and pretended to be back in New Guinea while listening to today's poor cousin of the radio drama, a 'spoken-book-on-tape' of "Storm Boy", narrated by the author himself, the unforgettable Colin Thiele.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Official 40th anniversary of lunar landing

Forty years ago today, astronaut Neil Armstrong did something no one had ever done before. On July 20, 1969, he set foot on the moon. People around the world watched and listened as Neil slowly climbed down the ladder of the lunar lander. Then, he stepped on the moon's surface where he could look up and see Earth far above him. There he said these well-known words, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."

A British engineer, Gary Peach, now 73, who was working at a space tracking facility near Canberra during the 1969 moon landings claims to have created that famous "one small step" line. Mr Peach says he came up with the phrase because he was worried man's first step on the moon would not be marked with suitable words. He says he passed it on to one of the managers. "He said 'Oh, hmm, we hadn't thought of that', and hurried off to the control room and I assume he [sent] that to the States, there was just time to brief the crew." But the Director of Tidbinbilla Station in 1969, Don Gray, says while he remembers Mr Peach he does not believe his story. "I just don't understand it. I do not understand why someone waits 40 years to make such a claim and nobody I know in the whole of the tracking industry in Australia has ever heard it before to my knowledge," he said.

A lot less known is the fact that the Germans - who else? - landed on the moon well before the Americans. Watch the clip! My money is on the Germans. I think their first words were, "Woof-woof."

Riverbend News

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Land below the Wind

Padma has just sent an email from Borneo, or what's now known as Kalimantan. She's right now at Tenggarong, half an hour from Samarinda, and two-and-a-half from Balikpapan. Tomorrow she and her parents will visit her grandparents' graves; early on Tuesday morning they will drive by car to Balikpapan to catch the early-morning Batavia flight to Banjarmasin in South Kalimantan, where she was born.

The tremendous spread of jungle and wilderness on the world's second-largest island is comparable to that of a continent alone. Exploited for its rich natural resources such as timber, gas, oil and coal, the "Land below the Wind" of the time of the white raj is quickly disappearing.

Focal point for most visitors is the mighty Mahakam river which, from its headwaters near the centre of the island, meanders thousands of kilometres through one of the world's largest tropical rainforests. The twenty main Dayak tribes - once feared as headhunters - have their homes in this riverbasin. A remarkable variety of plant and animal life, including the famous freshwater dolphins which often accompany boats along the river, make a visit to Kalimantan an enthralling venture to a different world. In years to come, the Mahakam rivertrips, at the moment still only for the vigorous and adventurous, are most likely to have a more modern outlook with modern crafts and all possible amenities. Unfortunately, by that time the Dayak villages will have lost their primitive charm, and a cliché scene of souvenir shops will cluster along the riverside.

Borneo and Sumatra are the only places left in the world where Orang Utans (the 'People of the Forest') still survive in their natural habitat. However, their survival is threatened and I actively support the Borneo Orangutan Survial (BOS) Australia Foundation with regular donations and the adoption of an orphaned orang utan baby. Are you primate enough to help another primate? Or why not take a life-changing holiday, meeting orang utans 'in person' without losing too much of the comforts you are accustomed to and yet knowing that 80% of your ticket-price will be spent on rescueing more orang utans?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Shop 'til you drop!

I've just come back from my weekend grocery shopping. Stressful stuff! And annoying because I know I am being manipulated! Consider the traps they're setting you all the way to the cash-register:

All the supermarkets bake their bread early in the morning. However, to add the illusion that it is constantly baked fresh and to entice you to buy more, they have resorted to pumping out the smell of fresh baking bread throughout the day.

Irritated at all those $2.99 and $4.99 and $9.99 prices? The reason for not rounding up to $3 and $5 and $10 is based on memory processing time. Rounding upward involves an additional decision compared with storing the first digits. Furthermore, due to the vast quantity of information available for customers to process, the information on price must be stored in a very short interval. The cheapest way to do so, in memory and attention terms, is by storing the first digits. Therefore customers perceive to be getting a better deal than they in fact are.

Are you in a hurry to just buy the few essentials such as bread and milk? Well, they've put them right at the back of the shop. This makes people walk past the rest of all the stuff, and heightens the possibility of impulse buys, in order to get their necessities. Changing rooms in clothes shops are almost always situated at the rear of the shop.

And have you ever noticed how they place the expensive items at the front of the aisle and the cheapest at the end? This is done to play on our sense of comparison, as we are much more likely to spend money on something that by comparison appears cheaper than the one we encountered first.

And then there are all those 'specials' which are special indeed as they've been marked up and then discounted again. The actual price is quoted and struck off, with a new pricing quoted in a different colour alongside to attract the customer who gets this inherent feeling that he is getting more for a lesser price. Sometimes he even encounters the same item deliberately place further along the aisle at the pre-discount price. This really makes him feel that he is getting something special!

And if a store really has to raise prices by say 10%? Well, consumers don't appreciate it so the tactic is to increase the price by say 20% and then give a 10% discount.

Don't even get me started on all the background music and the colour schemes. Our brains are hot-wired to respond to colour and retailers use colour to influence us physiologically and psychologically. Red is "stop" and green is "go". Most fast-food restaurants are decorated in vivid reds and oranges. These are colours that encourage us to eat quickly and leave — exactly what the fast-food operator wants us to do. These are the same people, incidentally, whose chairs are deliberately designed to give you an uncomfortable feeling after about 30 minutes which is the average time for a fast-food meal. But coming back to colours, classier restaurants favour softer colours that appear more sophisticated and encourage you to linger — and to order another drink, another coffee.

And the total absence of windows and natural lighting in a shopping mall (spelt M-A-U-L because of what they do to your wallet) is not accidental either: yes, it gives them more wall space to display their goods but far more important is the illusion they create of a totally separate world devoid of the realities of everyday life! Cocooned in a world of soft music and soft colours it is easy to forget how hard it was to earn those dollars they're stealing out of your pocket.

I tried a bit of stealing myself by following Remi Gaillard's example to get a McDonald hamburger at its real value, i.e. $0.00, but simply couldn't cheat the nice lady at the check-out window!

Once Upon a Time in the West

A story beginning with the words "Once upon a time" is bound to contain some scraps of eternity, and "Once Upon a Time in The West" is an anthology of all the Western movies ever made. The opening scene alone is an absolute classic! The BBC even made a documentary about the movie:

The original "Lebensraum" game

There's something wonderfully direct about the German language. I mean, what other language has a word like "Schadenfreude"? And why call a board game "LUDO" when your aim is to piss off your opponent and create some "Lebensraum" for yourself? Who, in fact, knows that "LUDO" is Latin for "I play"? Who cares? How much better to call it "Mensch ärgere Dich nicht" (Man, don't get mad) and practise all that "Schadenfreude"?

In Germany, everybody knows the game that started it all at the beginning of the last century, to be more exact in 1914. Developed by Josef Friedrich Schmidt as early as in the winter of 1907/08 and going into production in 1914, it turned into “the nation’s most popular board game” (Der Spiegel, 1987). As early as 1920 more that one million copies of the game could be found in German households. Up till today more than 70 million copies have been sold.

"A wise game, an educational game where you learn to lose", said Heinz Rühmann (who, incidentally, was my Godfather but that was at a time in Germany when we were all still starving together) in the film classic "Wonderful Times" (1950) (Herrliche Zeiten) and he is definitely right. As kids in Germany, we always played "Mensch ärgere Dich nicht" and must've worn out several boards without ever getting bored. And having learned how to lose, I certainly know how to enjoy my occasional victories!

An Australian Robinson Crusoe

This book tells the story of a French cabin boy, Narcisse Pelletier, and his life with the Uutaalnganu people of north-east Cape York from 1858 to 1875. Even though it is all but forgotten in Australia, and in France is known only in its broad outlines, Pelletier's story rivals that of the famous William Buckley, both as a tale of human survival and as an enthralling and accessible ethnographic record. Narcisse Pelletier, from the village of Saint-Gilles-sur-Vie, was fourteen years old when the Saint-Paul was wrecked near Rossel Island off New Guinea in 1858. Leaving behind more than 300 Chinese labourers recruited for the Australian goldfields, believed to have been subsequently massacred by the Rossel Islanders, the ship's captain and crew, including the cabin boy, escaped in a longboat. After a gruelling voyage across the Coral Sea, they landed near Cape Direction on Cape York, where Pelletier found himself abandoned when the boat sailed off without him. He was rescued by an Aboriginal family and remained with them as a member of their clan until 1875 when he was sighted by the crew of a pearling lugger. 'Rescued' against his will, Pelletier was conveyed to Sydney and then repatriated to France.

Even though it is all but forgotten in Australia, and in France his Cape York experience is known only in its broad outlines, his story rivals that of the famous William Buckley, and is now for the first time presented in English, complemented by an in-depth introductory essay and ethnographic commentary.

This book is required reading for anyone with an interest in Australian history, anthropology, or the intriguing pre-colonial world.


Friday, July 17, 2009

The week that was!

German prosecutors have launched an enquiry into whether a garden gnome with its right arm raised in a Hitler salute is against the law. Hitler salutes and Nazi symbols have been illegal in Germany since World War II. Never mind the global financial crisis or global warming: the Germans are still away with the fairies and afraid of being dwarfed by gnomes.

On a slightly larger scale, it has been reported that a German man has blown up his apartment while trying to fix his leaky air mattress. The man, 45, from Duesseldorf, used tyre-repair solvent to plug a hole in his airbed and left it overnight. It blew up when he went to inflate it the next day. The blast pushed his living-room wall into the building's stairwell and caused extensive damage to walls, windows and furniture.

Speaking of damages, the Holy City of Jerusalem has been full of not-so-holy smoke after days of protests by ultra-religious Jews angry at the arrest of an Orthodox woman accused of starving her child. The mother may have Munchausen syndrome by proxy, whereby a mother deliberately mistreats a child to win sympathy. However, the protesters who smashed traffic lights, toppled fences, ripped up paving stones, and set rubbish bins alight, insisted it was inconceivable that a Jewish mother would starve her child. Just as inconceivable as the idea that there might ever be peace in the Middle East, I guess.

Pity they didn't also set alight the rubbish bins in the U.K. to stop a New Zealand teacher from climbing into one after a night out drinking with the boys! He was found crushed to death at a rubbish depot. Had he at least picked a recycle bin, he might have been reborn again!

And across the Atlantic, a new airline providing dedicated travel for cats and dogs has been launched in the United States. Unlike conventional airlines, Pet Airways will not consign its four-legged flyers to the cargo hold (nor to the tail-end, I am told.) Instead, the animals will ride in the main cabins of specially converted planes. They will have pre-flight walks, frequent checks by flight attendants and stop overs, although there is no mention of in-flight movies and Silver Service. Carry-on luggage is limited to one bone! In an advertisement for the company, the pets are called 'pawssengers'. No people, just pets! Question: who's flying the planes?

While still up in the air, here in the wonderful Land of Oz, a defence force Hercules plane was hired to carry a 240kg patient because there were no ambulances or planes big enough to transport her. Even though the woman was deemed well enough to travel by road from Mt Isa to Townsville, the Queensland Ambulance Service had no vehicles to carry her. She was even too large to be safely carried in King Air light aircraft operated by the Royal Flying Doctor Service. An Australian Defence Force spokesman confirmed a C-130 Hercules was sent from the RAAF base near Sydney at the request of the Queensland Government. The cost to taxpayers was not disclosed, but a Hercules aircraft costs about $13,000 an hour to operate, putting the total cost of the nine-hour operation at more than $100,000.

But what's $100,000 when compared to the US$1 TRILLION annual deficit just now clocked up by the United States? Meantime, a little country just up north from us, which has been in the news lately over the detention of you-know-Hu, has quietly accumulated over US$2 TRILLION in foreign exchange reserves. China has also overtaken Japan as the world’s second-largest stock market by value.

I bet the Chinese don't bother with consumer protection laws that make it necessary to place the following labels on products: on baby strollers: "Remove baby before folding stroller"; on fish hooks: "Harmful if swallowed". If only fish could read!

Not that many people can read warning signs either: shortly after a whole family, who had gone walking in the Blue Mountains at around 4.30 p.m. with only half an hour of daylight left, went promptly missing and was only found next morning, a British backpacker, Jamie Neale, 19 (which is either his age or his IQ, or both), went missing in the same area for 12 days. He was found on Wednesday, dehydrated but in relatively good health, having lived - so he claims - on seeds and a rocket-like weed that he found. He'll be living on caviar and French champagne from now on as he has just signed a media deal which could earn him six figures. Maybe he isn't so stupid after all?

Rather belatedly, I recognise how well-meaning all those people have been who over the years exhorted me to "go and get lost!" Why indeed study and pursue a professional career when you can simply get lost and earn a six-figure income? But it's never too late: I've just packed a 12-day supply of MARS-bars and am off to the Blue Mountains to earn a living!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The 4th branch of the American government

It is reported that Goldman Sachs may, "Lose its investment in a proprietary trading code and millions of dollars from increased competition if software allegedly stolen by a former employee gets into the wrong hands." Ouch!

Last week in Manhattan, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Facciponti revealed that ex-Goldman Sachs computer programmer Sergey Aleynikov has been charged with stealing Goldman's proprietary trading software.

The wrong hands???

Facciponti told the judge in the hearing that, "The bank has raised the possibility that there is a danger that somebody who knew how to use this program could use it to manipulate markets in unfair ways."

Is there a fair (legal) way to manipulate the market? If the software can be used to manipulate the market ... and Goldman knew how to use the software ... has the prosecutor unintentionally revealed some of Goldman's magic secrets? You can read more here and here and there'll be many, many more places as this case unravels and perhaps even turns into a class action against Goldman Sachs - or will it? Watch this next clip, then decide!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Today is Bastille Day ...

... one of those moments in history that has touched all our lives!

Liberté, égalité, fraternité! I drink to that!

Monday, July 13, 2009

I am surfing the internet for a cheap flight ...

... for my next holiday but I don't think it'll be AIR NEW ZEALAND. They've become so strict with excess baggage in order to save on weight and thus on expensive aviation fuel that even the flight crews had to shed their uniforms and make do with bodypaint.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Chicken tonight!

Chicken wings for dinner tonight! And with Padma still away, I can indulge my imagination with the (un)dressing!

Too cool for school and running around buying things with no cash to pay for them.

Listed infrastructure funds were Australia's biggest contribution to the Wild West of the global financial crisis. Investment bankers made billions in fees, slicing and dicing infrastructure assets all over the world. Eventually, fed-up investors, sick of the fees, conflicts, poison pills, stacked boards, tax havens and excessive gearing, and having lost billions through the likes of Babcock & Brown and Allco and many others, had had enough.

And so they also gave the thumbs-down to BrisConnections, the
developers of Brisbane's $4.8 billion Airport Link tunnel, which had been floated in 2008 at $3 each, with $1 payable upfront and two further $1 payments due nine months and 18 months after the allotment date. When the shares 'tanked' and at one stage sold for as low as one-tenth of one cent, bottom-feeding retail investors bought up hundreds of thousands and millions of units in the hope of a quick buck. Many of them now face bankruptcy, with the first $1-instalment having been due in April, and claim they did not know BrisConnections was a 'stapled share', obligating them to make additional payments. The total liability owed by these unitholders is $780 million.

Nicholas BoltonWith punters fearing bankruptcy from the outstanding payments, in comes the "white knight" Nicholas Bolton, a 27-year-old university drop-out who once worked on the special effects for Scooby-Doo. He offered to take the units off the distressed holders - for a $1305 administration fee! In this manner, he became BrisConnections’ largest unitholder through his company 'Australian Style Investments' (ASI), albeit with a whooping $154 million liability attached - although that seems of little concern to him as 'Australian Style Investments' appears to be one of those proverbial $2-companies (or, thanks to inflation, a $100-company) and is of no substance. He then got the remaining unitholders on side to amass the required 75% voting-block with which to call for a meeting to have BrisConnections' board changed and the company wound up so that all unitholders' liabilities would be extinguished.

However, it would appear that Bolton’s real aim was little more than that of a green-mailer (the term “greenmail” became ubiquitous in the go-go 1980s, where corporate raiders like Sir James Goldsmith or T Boone Pickens would acquire a stake in a takeover target and demand a premium from the company for their minority shareholding) as, unbeknown to the other unitholders, on the 8th of April he switched sides and cut a secret deal to sell his proxies (voting rights), although not his units, for $4.5 million to the main construction contractors who then used them to defeat the winding-up motion of the other retail unitholders in order to keep their profitable construction project alive.

There's more, much more, to this story but these are the nuts and bolts. In the eyes of those he turned on, it's the story of Australia's foremost prat! Scooby Doo indeed! Meanwhile, as the ASX investigates, Bolton has apparently disposed of his BrisCon units and set his sights on yet another fund, the Multiplex Prime Property Fund.

A recession-proof Chinese business model

China, through its own laws and regulations, has created possibly one of the best, sure-fire business models ever. And it’s probably not one you’ve considered. But you’d better act quickly, as others are seeing the light.

China, in order to slow population growth, instituted their one-child policy around 1980, which required anyone having a second child to pay a very heavy tax. This policy has not been lifted or lightened. In fact the Chinese government has reiterated this policy in the last year.

Chinese want their only-child to be a son who can support the parents and carry on the family name. Due to the deliberate sex-selection of the parents, and by the law of unintended consequences, the Chinese government reports that they have 32 million more boys than girls between 5 and 20 years old. 32 million! Think about that. In a few short years, the Chinese will have over 30 million young men for whom no wife is available. There simply is no corresponding woman in the system, much less a woman in their area, or a woman they like, or a woman who likes them.

So what do you do about that? Well, the Chinese, always business-minded, have come up with the answer: “Open gay bars!”

The New York Times recently reported on the first Gay Pride week in Shanghai in an area known as the Gay Triangle. With 32 million more men than women in just a few short years, I’d imagine the celebrations in this area of town will only get bigger. I’d bet a few more bars are opening across the country right now.