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Monday, February 20, 2017

It's time we outsourced the ATO to India


Staff at the Australian Taxation Office have one of the shortest working weeks in Government but when they were asked to work an extra nine minutes a day to boost productivity, they responded with a backlash until the proposal was dropped.

Documents obtained by the ABC under freedom of information laws reveal the push to extend working hours to 5:00pm — an extra 4.5 working days a year — proved "highly contentious" and was ultimately dropped to ease concerns.

ATO staff have finished work at 4:51pm for many years despite management acknowledging the roster is out-of-step with community expectations and the rest of the bureaucracy.

We've just about outsourced everything else in this country to India; why not outsource the Australian Taxation Office?



WARNING: This is no feel-good movie


The 2006 British-American dystopian science fiction thriller film Children of Men is not an easy film to watch. Based on P. D. James' 1992 novel by the same name, it shows what happens when society can no longer reproduce because hope depends on future generations.

James writes, "It was reasonable to struggle, to suffer, perhaps even to die, for a more just, a more compassionate society, but not in a world with no future where, all too soon, the very words 'justice,' 'compassion,' 'society,’ 'struggle,' 'evil,' would be unheard echoes on an empty air."

This is a deeply unsettling movie, at the end of which you see a lot of hope if you're a hopeful person, and complete hopelessness if you're a bleak person.



Sunday, February 19, 2017

Tomorrow, when the war began

Tomorrow, When the War Began is a 2010 Australian action-adventure war drama film based on the novel of the same name by John Marsden. The story follows Ellie Linton, one of seven teenagers, waging a guerrilla war against an invading foreign power in their fictional hometown of Wirrawee.


On 19 February 1942, World War II was brought to the shores of Australia when the Japanese dropped bombs over Darwin. On this day 235 people, both armed forces personnel and civilians, lost their lives. Eleven ships were sunk, many more damaged, and 30 aircraft destroyed. The main wharf was cut in two, and the Post Office levelled , killing many civilian workers. Over the next 21 months, Darwin, Adelaide River, Katherine, Milingimbi in Arnhem Land, and many other targets across the Top End were attacked over 200 times.

At the time Australian had no idea what the Japanese intentions towards Australia were. For decades they had feared invasion, and Prime Minister Curtin predicted that Australians faced a 'Battle for Australia', but was that the case?

Not according to Peter Stanley, Professor at UNSW, Canberra at the Australian Defence Force academy, Australian Centre for the Study of Armed Conflict and Society, who argues that this was a pre-emptive strike by the Japanese to immobilise Darwin as a staging post against the Japanese invasion of the Dutch East Indies, including Portuguese Timor.

Despite the "Brisbane Line" and other 'scorched earth' scenarios, Australia was then and remains today unconquerable - why else, do you think, I chose to come here? ☺ -, so relax and enjoy the movie 'Tomorrow, when the war began'.



Saturday, February 18, 2017

10 Pfennig BILD Zeitung


The German   Bild Zeitung    was like television in print: plenty of pictures (BILD means 'image') and mindless commentary. Sold for 10 Pfennig, or the eqivalent of a box of matches, everyone could afford it and, with just four pages, read it all in one sitting - literally!

Because, being just four pages, it could easily be folded - lengthwise to be slipped down one's trouser leg, or twice across to fit into one's back pocket - and taken to the office loo which in those days was the only place where one was allowed to take some time off from work.

Speed reading hadn't been invented yet and so, in an office with over twenty people and just one windowless loo, slow readers could be a bit on the nose, made worse on a Monday morning when the reporting of the weekend's footie results in the "Kicker Fussball-Illustrierte" slowed down some football-mad readers' bowel movements even further.

Such were the working conditions in my office when I was an articled clerk back in Germany in the early 60s, so is it any wonder I emigrated to Australia? But it wouldn't have happened without the   Bild Zeitung   which at the time carried advertisements by the Australian Embassy showing a smiley face in the shape of the Australian continent with rays of sunshine around the edges under the header "Come to sunny Australia!" - in German, of course, or I wouldn't have understood it.

No, I didn't write to the embassy while sitting there in that windowless loo, but I did so shortly afterwards, which is how I finished up in sunny Australia, the land of wide open spaces - and plenty of loos - and the freedom to read a newspaper even at work.

As for the 10 Pfennig   Bild Zeitung  , it's still around today, albeit a lot dearer. And I am still in Australia, too, a lot older but still grateful for having read that ad in one of my "quieter" moments.



Friday, February 17, 2017

Yap, that's it!

Riverbend's version of the wooden nickel, 1 metre across
Don't ask me for the circumference; work it out yourself: think π
(but not the steak-and-kidney one!)


There's a tiny island called Yap out in the Pacific Ocean. Economists love it because it helps answer this really basic question: What is money? In fact, the economist Milton Friedman, who compared Yap's monetary system to the gold standard, wrote a 1991 paper about it.

There's no gold or silver on Yap. But hundreds of years ago, explorers from Yap found limestone deposits on an island hundreds of miles away. And they carved this limestone into huge stone discs, which they brought back across the sea on their small bamboo boats.

Then, at some point, the people on Yap realised what most societies realise: they needed something that everyone agrees on you can use to pay for stuff. And like many societies, the people of Yap took the thing they had that was pretty — their version of gold — and decided that was going to be their money - huge stone discs.

One thing about this money was that it was really heavy. A big piece could weigh more than a car. As a result, this very concrete form of money quickly made the jump to being something very abstract. So imagine there's this great big stone disc sitting in a village. One person gives it to another person. But the stone doesn't move. It's just that everybody in the village knows the stone now has a new owner. In fact, the stone doesn't even need to be on the island to count as money.

Seems crazy? Why? We do the same thing! We don't actually trade gold bars. We just trade ownership over the gold bars! When we write a cheque or use a credit card, the physical money doesn't actually move. It's just the ownership of that money that transfers.

So you could say the people of the island of Yap, being truly 'yappies', were a couple of thousand years ahead of us. But I'm catching up with them fast: I've just started my own version of the 'wooden nickel'.