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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"Waiting for Godot"


Act 1, Part 2 -- Part 3 -- Part 4 -- Part 5 -- Part 6 -- Part 7
Act II, Part 1 -- Part 2 -- Part 3 -- Part 4 -- Part 5

Maybe it's the cold and grey day outside, maybe it's the melancholic email just received from a friend, maybe it's the huge overnight drop on Wall Street, but I am reminded of "Waiting for Godot" and our inherent existential "'angst" and never-ending quest for the meaning of human existence.

Beckett's play is a metaphor for the futility of man's existence when salvation is expected from an external entity. I never metaphor I didn't like - and this one is no exception!

Monday, June 28, 2010

We all deserve a little warmth


Tonight's temperature is forecast to be a mere 1ºC ! Which makes a heated toilet seat - for sale in America-where else? - look quite inviting! They deliver by FedEx but will it get here in time?

    

Death of a Princess


Re-reading The Kingdom brought back memories of the film dramatization of Death of a Princess :

One noon-time towards the end of July 1977, Princess Misha'il, granddaughter of Prince Muhammad ibn Abdul Aiziz, was led out into a car park beside the Queen's Building in Jeddah and forced to kneel down in front of a pile of sand. She was then shot dead. Standing near by was her young lover, Khalid Muhalhal, nephew of General Ali al Shaer, special Sa'udi envoy to Lebanon, and, when the young man had seen the princess die, he also was executed - by beheading.

Nearly three years later, in the spring of 1980, a film dramatization of these executions and of one journalist's attempts to investigate them was broadcast by ATV in Britain, and this broadcast caused King Khalid such offence that he instructed Great Britain to withdraw her ambassador from the Kingdom. There was even wild talk at one stage in April 1980, of not only the ambassador but all 30,000 Britons working in Sa'udi Arabia being put on planes back to London.

Such were the bare essentials of the painful international melodrama that flourished for a season around Death of a Princess. The outline of the princess's story was straightforward. Married off at an early age to an elder relative who took little interest in her, Princess Misha'il, the daughter of one of old Prince Muhammad's less distinguished sons, turned for consolation to young Khalid Muhalhal and enjoyed with him a romance whose flamboyance scandalized the rest of the family. The couple tried to elope. To effect her elopement, the princess staged a drowning, leaving her clothes in a pile on the shore of the Red Sea. Then she tried to escape with her lover from Jeddah airport, disguising herself as a man. They were caught, and both suffered the death penalty prescribed for adultery in Sa'udi Arabia's code of Islamic law.

Part 2 of the video clip   Part 3   Part 4   Part 5   Part 6   Part 7   Part 8   Part 9   Part 10   Part 11   Part 12   Part 13 not found (maybe at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kt_3yBCQ_ZY ?).

Read this docudrama's transcript here.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Kingdom

The Kingdom, a study of Saudi Arabia published in 1981, is acknowledged as required reading for businessmen, diplomats and students all over the world.

To research The Kingdom, Robert Lacey and his wife Sandi took their family to live for eighteen months beside the Red Sea in Jeddah. Going out into the desert, this was when Robert earned his title as the "method actor" of contemporary biographers.

The Kingdom is the story of a country of astonishing contrasts: where computer print-outs open with the words 'In the name of God', where men who grew up in goat-hair tents now dominate the money markets of the world, and where murderers and adulterers are executed in the street. By its own reckoning this country is still in the fifteenth century.

I first bought this book in June 1982 in a fancy 5-star hotel in Bahrain while waiting for my visa to enter the Kingdom. I had to leave the book behind at the airport before flying out to Jeddah two weeks later after I had read on page 506 that it was banned from the Kingdom on the basis of eighty-two objections; from the reference on page 61 to the bedouin being 'fickle friends', to whole pages on Abdul Aziz's old age and the family quarrels in the reign of Sa'ud.

I have just found a very well-kept hardbound copy of this almost 30-year-old book in my favourite op-shop in Moruya and look forward to reading it all over again.

I also bought a solar light with an 'amorphous' solar panel. "Hey", I thought, "that's just what I need!" Unfortunately, on closer inspection it had nothing to do with sex.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Witch Prime Minister ?

The Walter Mitty of Australian politics is dead; long live the Welsh coalminer's daughter!

Not since the sacking of Gough Whitlam has Australia witnessed anything quite like the events of this week. The departure of "Kevin 747", Australia's most-travelled Prime Minister, has set new standards in political bastardry.

How much do you know about Australia's first female Prime Minister? Here's your test!

How many days to the elections? Well, count the matches! It's her 49th birthday on the 29th of September and it's my guess she wants to celebrate it in "The Lodge". She knows the Australian people won't give her much of a "honeymoon". This is going to be a quickie in a motel room unless she makes some real changes really fast.







As my old Arab friend Hassan Ben Ezee used to say, "If it has tits or wheels, it's going to be trouble." Well, let's see!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Out of Africa


Australia has bowed out of the World Cup in South Africa despite a brave 2-1 win over Serbia at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit.

Ultimately, Australia's 4-0 hammering at the hands of Germany cost it dearly as it finished third in the group.

Coach Pim Verbeek praised his team's performance, but admitted the loss to Germany had proved costly. "The moment we lost 4-0 we knew we had to win two games. In the end the goal difference made a difference and we can only blame ourselves for that."

INVICTUS


Invictus, meaning Unconquerable in Latin, is a poem by William Ernest Henley. The last two lines

"I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul"

are the theme of this quite moving story of Nelson Mandela's early days in power in the new South Africa.

I lived in South West Africa (today's Namibia) in the days of the apartheid regime and I am still amazed at the peaceful transition from that oppressive system to today's "Rainbow Nation". Full credit to Nelson Mandela! Truly a man for his time!

Watch this movie! You'll enjoy it!

The Labor Pains of a Rudderless Labor

Et tu, Brute?

Kevin O'Lemon was about to go on a bit of a holiday, ostensibly to attend the G20 summit in Toronto, when, after just 941 days in office, he was tapped on the shoulder and told to make room for Australia's 27th Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, the member for David Jones. Julia will be sworn in this morning as Australia's first Prime Minister by Australia's first female Governor-General. What a historic day! (or should that be a herstoric day?)

The challenge to Kevin Rudd's leadership filtered through to UK-listed mining stocks overnight, with investors hopeful that any change would see a revision of the planned utopian Resource Super Profits Tax (RSPT), probably the dumbest political move since Chifley tried to nationalise the banks 60-odd years ago. Mr Rudd is considered the driving force behind the planned 40 per cent tax on mining profits, and the big mining companies would see any challenge to his position as positive news.

(The Treasury Secretary who came up with the RSPT in the first place has since suggested that it should be extended to all industries, especially banks and retailers. I think there are three possibilities here: Ken Henry is either politically dumb, gone completely mad or he is a secret admirer of opposition leader Tony Abbott.)

I've sent Julia a congratulatory email in which I urge her to consign the RSPT and Treasury Secretary Henry to the history books.
You should do it too!

Well, they've changed the captain but not the sinking ship! Different salesman, same dud product! Bring on the elections!

On local news, a beertruck overturned 10 km north of Ulladulla, completely blocking the Princes Highway. A large number of helpers have turned up. The police are rushing a truckload of potato chips and peanuts to the scene. The driver is fine but a lot of beer has perished.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Look what I found on the internet!

 

These are photos of the "Mofarrij-D" (built 1960, LOA 172.9m, GT 17826, DW 25867) and the "Mofarrij-G" (built 1963, GT 15,985, DW 26,432), two of six ageing bulk carriers which my Saudi boss Sheikh Abdulghani Abdulrahiem Mofarrij, in a sudden rush of blood to his head, had bought in mid-1983.

I will never forget the day he asked me to accompany him to the offices of the Greek shipping company INTERTRANS in Piraeus. There a Greek lawyer presented him with a whole ream of legal papers which, entirely drawn up in the Greek language, documented his purchase of six rustbuckets that would become the company fleet of "Mofarrij-A", "Mofarrij-B", "Mofarrij-C" "Mofarrij-D", "Mofarrij-F", and "Mofarrij-G".

Despite my whispered urgings not to sign anything he could not read, let alone buy ships which, judged by their appearance, where in worse shape than Lord Jim's "Patna", he initialled every page and signed on the dotted line.

Not surprisingly, all six vessels went to the knackers in Chittagong in Bangladesh and Huangpu in China less than two years later but by that time I had already resigned from my position as Group Financial Controller as I simply couldn't bear to see the business go down the toilet through sheer stupidity.

See related story TAREing my hair out.

 

Closing Time


Joseph Heller added a new phrase to our language, "Catch-22". You might remember when Heller's hero, Yossarian, is asked to fly on more dangerous World War Two bombing missions, the only way to get out of doing so is to plead insanity. But if you are insane, you wouldn't want to stop flying so you must be sane to want to stop, in which case you have to keep flying. That's Catch-22.

Or, in Heller's own words:

"There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle."



Of course, we've all read the book and watched the movie. I've just now picked up the sequel, "Closing Time", but you don't have to have read "Catch-22" to enjoy "Closing Time", which is a fully independent companion work, a comic masterpiece in its own right, in which Heller spears the inflated balloons of the American consciousness - the absurdity of their politics, the decline of their society and their great cities, the greed and hypocrisy of their business and culture - with the same ferocious humour that he used against the conventional view of warfare in "Catch-22".

Blowing your own vuvuzela



Vuvuzelas are all the rage at South Africa's Soccer World Cup.

Of course, it helps to know where all those vuvuzelas come from:



Monday, June 21, 2010

Happy Birthday, Chris!


No need to hang your head in shame, Chris - simply cover it!

Oh, you've already done it! Goodo!

And here's a [little something] from all of us!

Kevin O'Lemon

World Cup Fever

Australia's immigration policy

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Early morning at "Riverbend" ...



... and, with the mercury barely touching 10 degrees, I am still hiding my shivering little self under a Bushells, Australia's cuppa since 1883.

Do your tea test [here].

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Thursday, June 17, 2010

BP's troubles


BP has agreed to put $US20 billion ($23.1 billion) into a fund to help pay compensation claims from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill after a deal was struck at the White House.

After a four-hour meeting with BP's senior executives US president Barack Obama announced the British company will set up the compensation fund that will be independently run.

"This $20 billion fund will not be controlled by either BP or by the government. It will be put in an escrow account, administered by an impartial, independent third party," Mr Obama said.

The fund is not capped and it does not include BP's costs for repairing the environmental damage done by the oil spill.

Nor does it include the fines and penalties BP may eventually have to pay.

"This is not a cap. The people of the gulf have my commitment that BP will meet its obligations to them," Mr Obama said.

"BP's liabilities for this spill are significant.

"I'm absolutely confident BP will be able to meet its obligations to the Gulf Coast and to the American people."

The $US20 billion fund will be financed through BP cutting three-quarters of its dividends, significantly reducing its investment program and selling $US10 billion of assets.

The commitments are harsher penalties than most investors had expected.

Investors had expected the suspension of BP's dividend, or payment in shares for a couple of quarters but had not expected BP to be forced to sell assets and cut investment - moves that will curb BP's growth going forward.

BP has also agreed to set up a $US100 million ($115 million) fund for unemployed oil workers affected by the fallout from the Gulf of Mexico spill.

"Additionally, BP voluntarily agreed to establish a $100 million fund to compensate unemployed oil rig workers affected by the closure of the deepwater rigs," Mr Obama said.

Emerging from the meeting with the US president, BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg apologised for the oil spill.

"We will look after the people affected and we will repair the damage to this region," he said.

"We have agreed today with the president [to] a framework that should assure the American people that we mean what we say."

The meeting was the first direct encounter between the president and any of BP's senior executives since the disaster began two months ago.

Here's Australia's view of the problem:





Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Our Prime Minister's list of achievements:



1. Said Sorry several times.

2. Ratified Kyoto as it is about to expire without successor.

3. Organised "best and brightest summit" - if anything useful came out of that, everyone missed it.

4. Set up "fuel watch", a costly fiasco since abandoned.

5. Set up "grocery watch" another costly fiasco since abandoned.

6. Established the Australian Social Inclusion Board. This rarely heard of bureaucracy was set up because "Every Australian should have an opportunity to be a full participant in the life of the nation. Unfortunately, too many Australians remain locked out of the benefits of work, education, community engagement and access to basic services. This social exclusion is a significant barrier to sustained prosperity and restricts Australia's future growth". If there is any evidence to support this argument it wasn't included in the announcement. The Board has been described as a "complete wank, .... the biggest waste of tax dollars imaginable, towards some more Rudd-style feel-goodism". That was in May 2008. It probably did seem a big waste of tax dollars then, but it's been turned into a drop in the ocean by what's happened since.

7. Set up the home insulation program - what a disaster! It was a disaster because Rudd so wanted the Feds to be able to claim the credit he gave it to his Dept of Environment. This feel-good department, whose Minister's previous experience was lead singer with a rock band, is full of environmental scientists and climate change disciples with zero experience in dealing with the real world or delivering real programs. Four deaths, a minister demoted, (not sacked or had his salary reduced) and $50 million to former union heavy Greg Combet to fix it, and Combet says that may not be enough. And the claimed environmental benefits were grossly exaggerated. Rudd said he took full responsibility but I don't know what that means - he's still PM, he's still drawing his salary and privileged superannuation benefits.

8. Set up SIHIP (Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program). This program was initiated by a Memorandum of Understanding in September 2007. In July 2009 the ABC (hardly a hot-bed of opposition to the ALP) reported on its Lateline program that it was yet to build a single house. That was despite $45.54 million of its $672 million budget having been spent. A government report dated August 2009 said the program was being criticised as: too slow to deliver; its governance was overly bureaucratic; the program is too costly in terms of unit cost of housing and administration. The revised program budget is still $672m with each new house expected to cost $450,000 or $529,000 after factoring in a proportion of administration costs and "contingencies". As at 1st February 2010, 2 of target 750 houses and 70 of 2,500 refurbishments had been completed.

9. Sent money direct to taxpayers and non-taxpayers to spend on large-screen imported TV's to stimulate the economy and avoid the effects of what Rudd and Swan called the worst depression since the 1930s. In fact unemployment was 11% in 1991 and in 2009 didn't get to 6%, which not too many years ago would have been regarded as virtually full employment. Remember Beattie's target 5%? But if you can't maintain your popularity rating by sending money to voters what can you do?

10. Promised that every child in every school in Australia would get a computer. This program is moving so slowly that most of the people who were high school students at the time of the promise will have left school before they see a new computer.

11. Set up the $70m green loans mess - people gave up their jobs, paid $3,000 for qualifications and insurance to be trained as assessors, only to find the demand for green loans had been grossly exaggerated, many more assessors were trained than the program envisaged, and there was no work for most of them. The Courier-Mail reported on 2 Feb 2010 that: "The Federal Government predicted up to 200,000 homeowners would take up the loans and only 1,000 have done so ....instead of training 1,500 to 2,000 well-qualified assessors the Government permitted a blow-out and it is now estimated there will be up to 11,500 well-qualified assessors". The program has now been transferred to Penny Wong's department - that should fix it.

12. Turned a good budget surplus into such a huge debt that our grandchildren will have so much trouble servicing it that our population will have to increase rapidly. Blamed the GFS while steadfastly refusing to give any credit to Howard or Costello for leaving them an excellent budget position to work with.

13. Didn't include any major infrastructure in the stimulus package because the effects would be felt too slowly (except for duplicating school halls and gyms).

14. Set up the home solar hot water initiative which was abruptly ended three weeks early with eight hours notice. This caused chaos in the industry, and many people intending to lodge applications missed out. Peter Garrett blamed a cost blow-out from the original estimate of $150 million to $750 million a year for the cut-back.


15. Changed the previous government's immigration laws so successfully that the exponential blow-out in illegal boat arrivals created a need for a lot more accommodation on Christmas Island.

16. Said "the science is in on climate change" and claimed the ETS would fix it. Labelled sceptics of his scheme as deniers.

17. Attempted to railroad the ETS through the Senate before Copenhagen for no other reason than it would have allowed Rudd to strut the world stage.

18. Went to Copenhagen taking 114 government free-loaders with him (one of the largest of the 190 delegations), at huge cost to the Australian taxpayer and the world's environment. I haven't seen any announcement of the cost of the junket (and I doubt I ever will), but I'm sure that whatever was going to be achieved, at least 100 of the free-loaders were superfluous to requirements. And it was fairly predictable that nothing would be achieved.More than the US and UK combined.

19. Refuses to debate the use of nuclear power generation to reduce pollution because it's against ALP and union policy.

20. Has opened one of 2,650 promised "trades training centres", one of 260 promised child care centres in schools and TAFEs, and 2 of 31 promised GP Super Clinics.

21. Attracted 752 retired nurses back into the profession using a return-to-work bonus. When they announced this scheme Labor hoped 7,750 would take up the offer.

22. Removed Labor's original election 2007 promises from the ALP website.

23. Promised to take Japan to court on whaling, but now says that will not be until November, probably after the election.

24. Announced he will keep 30% of the state's GST to fund 60% of their hospital costs. The 60% funding will have strings attached. The states have not been given any of the details, just the executive summary, and he expects them to agree to the proposals without knowing what the strings are, or what he might take back with the other hand under the Henry tax review. The announcement doesn't explain how it will improve delivery of hospital services, but it will probably add another layer of bureaucrats to the health system. Australia already has 450,000 bureaucrats looking after 290,000 health professionals. The announcement was hurriedly made in March 2010 after it had been pointed out that he had imposed a June 2009 deadline on himself for reform of the hospitals system. Perhaps this explains the lack of details. Refer back to the criticisms of SIHIP above. I think it'll be deja vue all over again. Rudd said if the states block his plan he will take it to a referendum, which of course is just grandstanding.

25. Turned Gillard loose with $16.7 billion to give building contractors, states and bureaucrats a feast in return for COLAs and unwanted libraries and gyms – the insulation racket all over again in spades.

26. Last week he trotted out five senior ministers to criticise the Senate for being "obstructionist". The 5 were Jenny (SIHIP) Macklin, Penny (ETS) Wong, Lindsay (clean nose) Tanner, Nicola (new hospital system) Roxon, and Greg (Mr Fixit) Combet.

I think Rudd is lucky the Senate has been obstructionist because if it wasn't he'd have more failures to add to his already impressive list.

I noticed Julia was too smart to join the line-up of losers, and has managed not to be associated with too many of the above "achievements" – actually lying low while the schools building fiasco and criminal activities are unfolding.

Ruddy Marvelous !!!

THERE IS NOW LITTLE DOUBT THAT THIS IS THE WORST GOVERNMENT THIS COUNTRY HAS HAD SINCE FEDERATION. IT MAKES THE EXCESSES OF THE WHITLAM ERA LOOK LIKE 'PLAYSCHOOL'.

No country can afford to be governed like this. Our resource riches and our personal enterprise and hard work are being sold off, sold out and wasted by people with no life skills who could NOT organise a 'chook raffle' yet, WE VOTED THEM IN. Therefore the ultimate blame for any damage they cause RESTS ON OUR SHOULDERS ALONE.

Wake up Australia, We caused the problem.....NOW, LET'S FIX IT. Vote this mob of misfits back into the black abyss from whence they came and make sure that that Mandarin-speaking failure never gets near elected office again in our lifetime.


P.S. which reminds me: have you heard this one?

A cannibal was walking through the jungle and came upon a restaurant operated by a fellow cannibal. Feeling somewhat hungry, he sat down and looked over the menu...

Tourist: $5.00
Broiled Missionary: $7.00
Fried Explorer: $9.00
Freshly Baked Politicians: Labor,
Liberals, Democrats or Greens: $150.00


The cannibal called the waiter over and asked, 'Why such a huge price difference for the Politicians?'

The cook replied, 'Have you ever tried to clean one? They're so full of shit, it takes the whole morning.'

HOW TO START EACH DAY IN A POSITIVE WAY


1. Open a new file in your computer.

2. Name it "Kevin Rudd".

3. Send it to the Recycle Bin.

4. Empty the Recycle Bin.

5. Your PC will ask you. "Do you really want to get rid of Kevin Rudd ?"

6. Firmly Click "Yes."

7. Feel better?


Tomorrow we'll do Julia Gillard!!


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Just a thought:

Let's put the seniors in jail, and the criminals in a nursing home.

This way the seniors would have access to showers, hobbies, and walks, they'd receive unlimited free prescriptions, dental and medical treatment , wheel chairs etc. and they'd receive money instead of paying it out.

They would have constant video monitoring, so they could be helped instantly, if they fell, or needed assistance.

Bedding would be washed twice a week, and all clothing would be ironed and returned to them.

A guard would check on them every 20 minutes, and bring their meals and snacks to their cell. They would have family visits in a suite built for that purpose.

They would have access to a library, weight room, spiritual counselling, pool, and education.

Simple clothing , shoes, slippers, P.J.'s and legal aid would be free, on request.

Private, secure rooms for all, with an exercise outdoor yard, with gardens.

Each senior could have a computer, television, radio, and daily phone calls.

There would be a board of directors to hear complaints, and the guards would have a code of conduct that would be strictly adhered to.

The "criminals" would get cold food, be left all alone, and unsupervised.

Lights off at 8pm, and showers once a week.

Live in a tiny room , and pay $5000.00 per month and have no hope of ever getting out.

Justice for all!


For pictures of a 'modern' prison, [click here]

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sunday, June 13, 2010

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions ...

... perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears." H.D. Thoreau

On the 5th of June, 1923, the small steamer Innisfail was passing between Dunk Island and the coast of northern Queensland, when the captain noticed a figure waving from the island beach. Interpreting the signal as a greeting, he merely waved a response. Then, as the vessel proceeded, the figure on the beach collapsed. At once the Innisfail was stopped and a party went to investigate.

It was in this manner that the world learned of the death of E.J. Banfield, self-styled "Beachcomber" of Dunk Island, the most renowned literary man of his kind in Australian history, and, perhaps, the most striking naturalist-recluse of modern times. The signaller on the beach was Mrs. Banfield, who had been alone with her dead husband for three days. So ended a tropic idyll of twenty-five years' duration.

E.J. Banfield became a legendary figure after "The Confessions of a Beachcomber" was published in London in 1908. Banfield and his wife Bertha had done what most people only dream of doing: they had gone to live on an idyllic island within Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

Banfield wrote innumerable articles and found books about their life on Dunk Island. Here is some on-line reading:

My Tropic Isle

Tropic Days

The Confessions of a Beachcomber

Another enjoyable book, Last Leaves from Dunk Island, is not available on-line.

All of these writings, together with Banfield's diaries and other unpublished material, have provided Michael Noonan with the basis for his biography. A Different Drummer, which is still in print and available from University of Queensland Press. A gifted storyteller, Noonan presents a fascinating tale of the Beachcomber's life, his long romance with Bertha, and their brave adventure on one of the world's most delightful frontiers.

Many happy returns, Liz!


The Queen, to whom I swore to bear true allegiance almost 40 years ago in the wilds of New Guinea, celebrates her 84th birthday today!

I received my invitation but unfortunately they still had me down as residing in the (c)old country.

Regretfully, I had to decline. Honi soit qui mal y pense (Shamed be he who thinks ill of it)


My investment outlook


The financial world is in turmoil. The monetising of government debts - euphemistically called 'quantitative easing' - means that the world runs huge deficits. The result: proliferation of paper promises that exceeds the ability to create wealth to finance those promises.

The inevitable solution will be to use inflation to debase the value of those promises. Inflation is the gentlest way for society to fill the gap between promises and reality.

With inflation rising, paper assets such as shares and bonds are not the place to be. Commodities are the answer for two reasons:

1. with the US$ dollar falling - the Australian dollar could go to US$1.10 in a heart-beat -, commodity prises (which are still set in US dollars) will be rising;

2. the demand for commodities is driven by people moving into cities. In 2008, for the first time, half the people in the world were living in cities. In the next five years, there will be another 150 million people - about half the size of the population of the USA - moving into cities, mostly in emerging countries.

Investing directly in commodities is almost impossible for the average punter. The next best thing is investing in commodity-based shares in major mining companies. Mining giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto are looking more defensive than sectors like property and healthcare and consumer staples. Thanks to the emerging markets India and China which will underpin strong commodities demand for decades, the miners' longer-term earnings growth potential will be better than all other sectors despite the near-term uncertainty created by the RSPT (Rudd will be gone by the next election and his tax grap will never pass through Parliament).

Of the two mining giants, I favour BHP Billiton because of its geographical spread and diversification across a whole range of minerals as well as oil and gas.

My 12-month price target on BHP Billiton is $48. Its last closing price was $38.58, its 52-week high $44.93 in April 2010 (with a 52-week low of $31.33), and its highest ever $50.00 in May 2008. Its NPV is $45.