Have you heard about the new road safety ad? You’re about to.
Big ups for this road safety spot from China, via Volkswagen, who are to be warmly congratulated for a brilliant piece of marketing that is not only attention-grabbing but also very relevant to their market.
At a stroke they become a good corporate citizen and get millions of people applauding their brand.
At the Wellthisiswhatithink marketing guru training school, we are becoming increasingly interested in the potential for these very localised broadcasts of text messages as a marketing tool.
As we understand it, you can send a blast of messages out to all people nearby who have bluetooth enabled on their smartphone. The opportunity to grab people’s attention as they linger in (or pass by) any given locale is interesting to say the least.
Alright, alright: no one wants dozens of unwanted text messages turning up on our phones all the time. But that simply means adhering to what we have always known.
To be accepted, all advertising (whether it’s a TV ad, a billboard, a radio ad, or a text message) needs to combine relevance, useful information, and entertainment value – when entertainment value doesn’t necessarily mean ho-ho humour, but always means what we call inherent interest, which is usually delivered via enhanced creativity. Rule one of advertising: be noticed. Rule two: no-one was ever bored into buying anything.
This great ad triumphantly ticks both boxes.
(Sorry that the YouTube video comes up covered in banner ads – now that IS annoying. Just click them away, peeps.)
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Kiab makes her bed in the centre she now lives in.
When Kiab turned just 16, her brother promised to take her to a party in a tourist town in northern Vietnam. Instead, he sold her to a Chinese family as a bride.
The ethnic Hmong teenager spent nearly a month in China until she was able to escape her new husband, seek help from local police and return to Vietnam.
“My brother is no longer a human being in my eyes – he sold his own sister to China,” Kiab, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, told AFP at a shelter for trafficking victims in the Vietnamese border town Lao Cai. The emotional impact on children and women thus betrayed must be almost as bad as the experiences they then suffer.
Vulnerable women in countries close to China – not only Vietnam but also North Korea, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar – are being forced into marriages in the land of the one-child policy, experts say. As we noted in our recent article on prostitution in China, the most horrific fact is that Korean girls who are traded, kidnapped, and then escape and return home, can find themselves imprisoned or even executed.
China suffers from one of the worst gender imbalances in the world as families prefer male children. As a result millions of men now cannot find Chinese brides – a key driver of trafficking, according to rights groups.
The Lao Cai shelter currently houses a dozen girls from various ethnic minority groups. All say they were tricked by relatives, friends or boyfriends and sold to Chinese men as brides.
“I had heard a lot about trafficking. But I couldn’t imagine it would happen to me,” Kiab said.
As trafficking is run by illegal gangs and the communities involved are poor and remote, official data is patchy and likely underestimates the scale of the problem, experts say.
But rights workers across Southeast Asia say they are witnessing “systematic” trafficking of women into China for forced marriages.
“This problem has largely been swept under the rug by the Chinese authorities,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch.
Vietnamese girls are sold for up to $5,000 as brides or to brothels, said Michael Brosowski, founder and CEO of Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, which has rescued 71 trafficked women from China since 2007.
“The girls are tricked by people posing as boyfriends, or offering jobs. Those people do this very deliberately, and for nothing other than greed and a lack of human empathy,” he added.
It is likely that many of the girls end up working in brothels, but due to the stigma of being a sex worker they will usually report they were forced into marriage.
Communist neighbours Vietnam and China share a mountainous, remote border stretching 1,350 kilometres, marked primarily by the Nam Thi river and rife with smuggling of goods of all kinds: fruit, live poultry and women.
“It is mostly women who live in isolated and mountainous areas who are being trafficked across the border, because there is no information for us,” said 18-year-old Lang, from the Tay ethnic minority, who walked across the frontier illegally and was sold to a Chinese family by a friend.
In northern Vietnam, trafficking has become so acute that communities say they are living in fear.
“I worry so much about it, as do all the mothers in the villages, but it has happened to a lot of girls already,” said Phan Pa May, a community elder from the Red Dao ethnic minority group.
“I have one daughter. She’s already married, but I’m worried about my granddaughter. We always ask where she is going, and tell her not to talk on the phone or trust anyone.”
Activists working to combat trafficking in Vietnam said police and authorities take the problem “very seriously”.
The shelter in Lao Cai opened in 2010 and has helped scores of female victims.
“There is nothing at home for these girls, not even enough food to eat,” said director Nguyen Tuong Long, referring to the dire poverty that is another key driver.
May Na, from the Hmong ethnic minority, was 13 when her uncle took her across the border and forced her to marry a Chinese man.
“I could not accept it. They left me at home alone and I climbed over the wall and ran away. I was wandering for more than a day, lost, sleeping in the streets, crying,” she said.
Eventually, Na ended up at a police station, but because she spoke neither Chinese nor Vietnamese – only her native Hmong – it took police a month to figure out what had happened and return her to Vietnam.
Now 16, Na – the eldest of five children – is learning Vietnamese at the Lao Cai centre. Her uncle has been arrested, she said, but she has chosen not to return to her own family.
“I was so sad when I was in China. It was a painful experience for me,” she said.
Trafficking young women into prostitution is a worldwide problem, but especially so in Asia.
The government says it has launched education programmes in rural areas, near the border, warning young girls not to trust outsiders.
Long, the centre director, says he believes the number of cases is falling.
In neighboring Cambodia, there have been some prosecutions, but An Sam Ath of rights group Licadho said the scourge is still happening, adding: “I am worried the problem will spread.”
Anti-trafficking groups in Vietnam say it is hard to warn girls of the risks when it is often a family member or friend carrying out the deception.
Instead, they say there should be harsher penalties for traffickers — including, for example, prosecutions at local level to raise awareness in villages of potential punishments to deter people from trying.
Child bride trafficking is also an internal problem inside China.
Main article copyright (2014) AFP. All rights reserved.
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Shopping malls. Dangerous places for all men. You have been warned, ladies.
(From Yahoo, Daily Mail and others)
A Chinese shopper has tragically taken his life after he couldn’t bear to enter another shop with his girlfriend.
Witnesses said the man leapt to his death at a popular shopping centre after getting into an argument with his partner.
Tao Hsiao had been shopping with his girlfriend for five hours.
Despite already carrying a large number of bags, the woman insisted that they go into one more store where there was a sale on shoes.
An eyewitness said: “He told her she already had enough shoes, more shoes that she could wear in a lifetime and it was pointless buying any more.
“She started shouting at him accusing him of being a skinflint and of spoiling Christmas, it was a really heated argument.”
The pair argued until Hsiao dropped the bags he was carrying and jumped over the rail, falling seven storeys through Christmas ornaments.
Authorities said the man died immediately on impact when he hit the floor.
A shopping spokesman said: “His body was removed fairly quickly. He actually landed on one of the stalls below and then fell to the floor so although the store was damaged it meant he didn’t hit anybody.”
“This is a tragic incident, but this time of year can be very stressful for many people.”
Memo to Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink: a few new pairs of socks is fine, thanks.
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Incredibly it’s two years to the day since we somewhat nervously launched Wellthisiswhatithink.
Seems like yesterday.
In that time, we have enjoyed – and we really mean that – a whopping 113,677 viewers and responded to 2,096 comments. Phew!
Our “Top 20” most popular countries for views are, in order, the good ol’ USA, UK, Australia, Canada, Germany, France, India, Netherlands, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Sweden, Greece, Japan, Brazil, Finland, Philippines, and South Africa, but virtually every country in the world is represented.
We have even had a visitor from Vatican City. Just one. Once.
So welcome, and thank you, Your Holiness. Do you prefer to be called Frank?
We think the people should be told more about the British Virgin Isles. Maybe a letter writing campaign? Hmmm.
Anyhow: other “sole visitor states” have included Micronesia, Togo, Solomon Islands, Lichtenstein (lift your game, please, bankers), Djibouti, Benin, Lesotho, Madagascar, Uzbekistan, Bhutan, Dominica, and the British Virgin Islands.
So you can expect a travelogue item sponsored by the local tourism authorities of the British Virgin Islands really soon: a quick acclimatization and photography tour will probably be required, don’t you think, Mr Minister of Tourism for BVI?.
“China? Are you out there somewhere? Talk to us!”
And “Where’s China, we hear you ask?” Answer: banned.
Not them, us.
We have fallen foul of the Great Firewall of China, which is damned annoying as we really like the place, and the people. 请停止阻止我们的博客，我们是非常好的人。*
We await a response from the Chairman soon.
Anyway, we’re now comfortably over 500 posts (so you should be able to search on just about any topic you can think of and find it covered somehow!) and we’re not far behind a rolling average of offering you a blog a day, which was the goal we set ourselves.
Not a bad effort, really, from both readers and writers. And we really are very grateful to everyone – every subscriber, every visitor, everyone leaving a comment, and every guest blogger.
We are delighted that you, Dear Reader, show every sign of enjoying the deliberately esoteric collection of news items and thoughts we pull together. It’s not a political blog, it’s not an art or photography blog, it’s not a food and wine blog, or a travel blog, it’s not a blog about poetry and writing, it’s not a humour blog.
We hope Wellthisiswhatithink is all of that and more, and we are deeply touched by your interest and your generous help.
Your loyalty – and more importantly, your input: positive, or critical – is what has made Wellthisiswhatithink a success.
We hope you stick with us, and keep enjoying our somewhat wry, askance, and opinionated view on the world. Please tell your friends. And once again, thank you from the bottom of our ink-stained hearts.
Is there a topic you would LIKE us to comment on that we haven’t? Got a pet cause you think should get the Wellthisiswhatithink treatment? Want to volunteer as a guest blogger? (Worldwide fame guaranteed, and not a cent in pay.) Just drop us a line at email@example.com …
It’s your blog. We built it for you. Be a part of it in our next year.
*Please stop blocking our blog, we are really nice people.
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Chines prostitutes – young, pretty, slim, and available by the million. And all potential victims of an unregulated and exploitative system.
As AFP report, authorities in Shanghai has suspended four judges over allegations that they patronised prostitutes, reports and officials said on Monday in the latest salacious Chinese scandal to result from online accusations.
An inquiry was opened after an anonymous blogger, identified by state media only as being surnamed “Ni”, posted footage online last week alleging that five officials hired prostitutes at a local resort in June.
The Shanghai Higher People’s Court said on Tencent Weibo, a Twitter-like social media service, that Chen Xueming, the chief judge of its No.1 Civil Tribunal, and three other officials had been suspended.
“The Shanghai Higher People’s Court is highly concerned about the incident and has launched an investigation into the case,” it said.
The court had previously said Zhao Minghua, deputy chief judge of the tribunal, was among those named on Ni’s blog.
In what might be the motivation for the story, Ni claimed Zhao intervened in a civil case in 2009 that caused him a huge financial loss, the state-run ‘Global Times’ newspaper reported on Monday. He spent a year following Zhao, it said, “and discovered that he frequently went to nightclubs, owned several properties and had extramarital affairs.”
Surveillance video posted by Ni purported to show five officials including Chen and Zhao entering a luxury room after a three-hour banquet at the resort, followed by several women who stood by the door. Subtitles said that Chen allocated the prostitutes to each man. Video showed officials walking out two hours later, some of them arm-in-arm with women.
The identity of the fifth person in the footage remains unknown.
Shanghai’s city disciplinary commission, which is taking part in the investigation, said on its Tencent Weibo account that all four of the accused were judges.
“The involvement of four judges in the ‘nightclub entertainment incident’ deprived the law of its dignity, put judiciary to shame and caused damage to justice,” it said.
It was investigating “to preserve the image of the party and the government and safeguard the stable political, economic and social development of Shanghai,” it said, and would disclose the results of the case to the public. The incident is the latest in a series of scandals over corruption and other disciplinary violations, including sexual impropriety, by Chinese officials to be revealed online by whistleblowers.
In our experience, this story highlights again the double standard in Chinese public life over sex and prostitution.
As anyone who has done business in China knows, an almost ritual part of “entertainment” for visiting dignitaries or businesspeople will, at some point, be the offer of sexual services to “round off” an evening’s socialising. Ask around: the stories are legend. See here for the Chinese police’s (and society’s) gradation of prostitution services into 7 main groups.
“Let’s end the evening at karaoke” doesn’t always mean what it sounds like … Been there, done that, didn’t buy the t-shirt: but many do.
In many visiting Western businessperson’s experience, the process obeys certain laws of discretion. Troupes of young women “spontaneously’ appear when all the men concerned are suitably lubricated (I doubt troupes of young men appear to entertain women in certain circumstances, but I would not know) and the girls proceed to flatter and fawn on the men present. If the girls summoned to the party don’t happen to please those being entertained a wave of the hand ensures another batch miraculously appear.
Those who are unconcerned by matters such as morality, fidelity or STDs very soon discover, if they didn’t know already, that the girls concerned have few boundaries.
This phenomenon is by no means limited to China, of course.
It is common throughout Asia, and to some degree or other, worldwide. Not for nothing is prostitution called the oldest profession, and it is a profession that appears alive and licking. Er, kicking.
Similarly, in Asia in particular, it is not at all uncommon for men to live it up after work with young ladies whose ability to please does not end at pouring them a drink and smiling benignly. Certain Asian cultures have a very different attitude to prostitution to those in the West, accepting it for centuries as a social norm, and in China it is also not uncommon for a man to have one or more “kept women” as well as their “official” wife, concubines in all but name. Where their lifestyle is paid for by the man, often including clothes, food, and accommodation, it is hard to see this as anything other than a more sophisticated version of the same transaction that these judges have tripped up over.
China has always had a confused and multi-layered approach to prostitution, which was historically very common in both the Imperial and Republic eras, and which since the Moaist takeover in 1948 has been the target of first an eradication effort, and then the gradual loosening of controls. According to research quoted by Wikipedia, prostitution is now an increasingly large part of the Chinese economy, employing perhaps 10 million people, with an annual level of consumption of possibly 1 trillion RMB.
Following a 2000 police campaign, Chinese economist Yang Fan estimated that the Chinese GDP slumped by 1%, as a result of decreased spending by newly unemployed female prostitutes.
What really worries Chinese authorities is that prostitution is often directly linked to low-level government corruption. Many local officials believe that encouraging prostitution in recreational business operations will bring economic benefits by developing the tourism and hospitality industries and generating a significant source of tax revenue. On occasion, police themselves have been implicated in the running of high grade hotels where prostitution activities occur, or accepting bribes and demanding sexual favours to ignore the existence of prostitution activities. Government corruption is also involved in a more indirect form — the widespread abuse of public funds to finance consumption of sex services. Pan Suiming, a professor at the Institute for Sexological Research (People’s University of China, Beijing) contends that China has a specific type of prostitution that entails a bargain between those who use their power and authority in government to obtain sex and those who use sex to obtain privileges.
Apart from incidences of violence directly associated with prostitution, an increasing number of women who sell sex have been physically assaulted, and even murdered, in the course of attempts to steal their money and property. There have also been a growing number of criminal acts, especially incidences of theft and fraud directed at men who buy sex, as well as bribery of public servants. Offenders often capitalise on the unwillingness of participants in the prostitution transaction to report such activities. Organised crime rings are increasingly trafficking women into and out of China for the sex trade, sometimes forcibly and after multiple acts of rape. Mainland China also has a growing number of “heroin hookers”, whose drug addictions are often connected to international and domestic crime rackets.
Sexually transmitted diseases also made a resurgence around the same time as prostitution, and have been directly linked to prostitution. There are fears that prostitution may become the main route of HIV transmission as it has in developing countries such as Thailand and India. Some regions have introduced a policy of 100% condom use, inspired by a similar measure in Thailand. (This article also interestingly discusses the cultural norms applying to prostitution in Thailand.) Other interventions have been introduced recently at some sites, including STI services, peer education and voluntary counselling and testing for HIV.
Wellthisiswhatithink has heard, as well as the matter being confirmed by some research studies, that casual prostitution is also common in the higher education sector. Put simply, female students, who are fewer in number than men due to the effects of the one child policy and resulting widespread alleged infanticide of female fetuses or children, and therefore in demand, frequently supplement their living allowances through prostitution with fellow students. A translator helping us on one business trip to China remarked that although she had not employed these tactics herself, the event was very common indeed. To us, the matter of fact way this information was divulged seemed to go directly to prevailing social norms as much as an insight into anything else.
It is also very obvious (especially in the eastern part of the country, simply by walking down the street in some cities) that a significant number of Russian prostitutes have entered China and work there seemingly unhindered.
Other countries also fuel the trade: North Korean women are increasingly falling victim to sex exploitation in China attempting to escape poverty and harsh conditions in their homeland. About 10,000 women (The Washington Post’s Carol Douglas, however, claimed that the number was as high as 100,000) are reported to have escaped from North Korea to China; according to human rights groups, many of them are forced into sexual slavery. Most of the clients of North Korean women are Chinese citizens of Korean descent, largely elderly bachelors.
According to a Ji Sun Jeong of A Woman’s Voice International, “60 to 70% of North Korean defectors to China are women, and 70 to 80% of whom are victims of human trafficking.” Violent abuse starts in apartments near the border, from where the women are then moved to cities further away to work as sex slaves. When Chinese authorities arrest these North Korean sex slaves, they repatriate them. North Korean authorities keep such repatriates in penal labour colonies (and/or execute them), execute any Chinese-fathered babies of theirs “to protect North Korean pure blood” and force abortions on all pregnant repatriates not executed.
This is much more than an academic argument about public morals.
All of which encourages us to argue that the time is long overdue for China to face up to this situation and start to decriminalise and normalise prostitution. Where countries have done this (such as in Australia) some important strides have be achieved. Women endure a much lower rate of violence, for one, and better sexual health – a boon for their clients. Similarly, women retain a higher proportion of their earnings than when working in the unregulated arena.
There will always be informal or unregulated prostitution in every society. But bringing it under some sort of sensible and safe legal control is now clearly established as a good thing – for the workers, and those who purchase their services.
And for the first time, one of the biggest businesses in the world can even be taxed.
Despite ushering in an anti-prostitution era, Mao was utterly inconsistent himself. “As Mao got older,” Mao’s personal physician Dr Li wrote, “he became an adherent of Taoist sexual practices which gave him an excuse to pursue sex not only for pleasure but to extend his life. He claimed he needed the waters of yin—or vaginal secretions—to supplement his own declining yang—or male essence, the source of his strength, power and longevity. Many of the women that Mao slept with were daughters of poor peasants who Li said believed that sleeping with the chairman was the greatest experience of their life. Mao was happiest and most satisfied when he had several young women simultaneously sharing his bed, and he encouraged his sexual partners to introduce him to others. He often told the young women to read the Taoist sex manual The Plain Girl’s Secret Way, in preparation for their trysts.” [Source: "The Private Life of Chairman Mao" by Dr. Li Zhisui, excerpts reprinted U.S. News and World Report, October 10, 1994]
Tackling the matter will mean China has to confront it’s inherently (and traditionally) male-oriented society, to accept that Chinese society is not always internally harmonious and well organised (which it sometimes seems reluctant to do), and to deal fundamentally with a widespread issue rather than scratching at the surface of it.
Chucking the book at a few naughty judges, or even less impressively, busting the young women involved, is mere window dressing.
In our opinion, regulating prostitution in China would be a bold step towards the true emancipation of women in this fast-growing and significant society.
In a broad sense, if women choose to work as prostitutes that should be a choice, rather than a necessity, and it should be a safe choice, and one without social stigma.
And there is evidence that the Chinese authorities are well aware of the threat to women of un-regulated prostitution.
In 2011 a Chinese “madam” was executed by lethal injection for running a prostitution ring.
It’s estimated that she was responsible for over 300 women were forced into prostitution between the years of 1994 and 2009.
Seven of the women died from unknown causes that some suspect had to do with the prostitution.
Other women went clinically insane.
One example includes a forced prostitute who, in 2003, jumped from the eighth floor of a brothel (disguised as a tea house) and was paralyzed as a result.
Even after her paralysis, the woman was kept locked up until police found her.
But even executing ring leaders will not solve the problem. Prostitution is like the hydra. Cut off one head, and seven more appear.
Change must happen. Nothing in current policy settings implies that the Chinese government knows what to do about the level of prostitution in the country, and the social ills it trails in its wake.
No, necessary change will not happen overnight. Yes, it has to happen.
The sooner China gets started, the sooner the problem will be controlled, to the benefit of all.
But what do you think? Your comments are very welcome, and please take our poll.
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“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”
Dwight Eisenhower, speaking to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, April 16, 1953
In my opinion, American defence spending is bloated beyond belief, beyond anything necessary to fulfil either a defensive or offensive role in the world, and this is the result of an active and ongoing conspiracy between corrupt politicians (perhaps I should say, a corrupted political system) and the military-industrial complex.
Remember, American defence spending is greater than ALL of the next ten biggest defence budgets in the world, and that includes Russia and China.
And who pays for this? American taxpayers.
The role of the military-industrial complex is hardly new – as this 19th century cartoon exemplifies. Isn’t it time we really tackled it? Over to you, taxpayers.
See, I cannot understand, for the life of me, why Americans – and especially those who detest taxes and Government waste of public money – do not rise up and demand that their defence budget is radically trimmed.
I cannot understand, for example, why Tea Party activists – almost universally anti excessive taxation – do not target defence spending first.
Just why is defence spending protected from cuts that are clearly necessary?
Why does the right wing demand defence spending be exempted from cuts?
Is it somehow a measurement or reflection of some deeply ingrained macho-psyche bullsh*t?
Is it merely that the political forces are so deep in their trenches that they cannot move from ossified positions?
Is it simply that defence is a dog-whistle topic for the GOP base, and it’s better to try and make cuts to needed social security spending, despite the harm it causes, than to seek to educate their own supporters?
In which case, shame on them. And shame on the Democrats for letting them get away with it.
Yes, I understand that decisions about what items to cut are always complex … I have heard persuasive arguments from friends in the US Navy that they believe expenditure on capital ships has fallen to dangerously low levels. But I am talking here of the overall budget. Someone needs to get to it with a serious knife and cut deep, hard and long. It’s time.
There is another good reason for America to get it’s defence spending under control. Without excess (and excessive) forces, they will be less inclined to engage in military adventures overseas that are both morally and legally dubious. Iraq – and the 500,000 subsequent dead – would never have happened. And Afghanistan, in the absence of Iraq, would have been a two year event, and a much more likely success, rather than the morass it has become.
So – it’s over to you, American taxpayers. We are all relying on you. Are you really happy with the way things are going?
Feel free to cut and paste this on your Facebook page, blog, etc. It is from the excellent “Ethical Reporters Against Faux News” Facebook page, a source of regular facts that need to be known.
Yes, before someone upbraids me, I know US military spending IS tipped to fall. From $638 billion this year to $538 billion by 2020.
But it’s not enough. And anyway, if pressure is not kept on, who says if that goal will be met?
Do I think it is beyond the wit and wisdom of Washington insiders to dream up another false-flag reason to suddenly ramp up spending again?
No. Sadly, I do not. Do you?
Oh, and Ike? He was a Republican. The type of moderate, thoughtful Republican that doesn’t seem to exist any more, more’s the pity. He was hawkish against communism, expanded America’s nuclear arsenal, but also launched the Interstate Highway System; the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which led to the internet, among many invaluable outputs; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), driving peaceful discovery in space; the establishment of strong science education via the National Defense Education Act; and encouraging peaceful use of nuclear power via amendments to the Atomic Energy Act.
In social policy, he sent federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas, for the first time since Reconstruction to enforce federal court orders to desegregate public schools. He also signed civil rights legislation in 1957 and 1960 to protect the right to vote. He implemented desegregation of the armed forces in two years and made five appointments to the Supreme Court. He was no captive of extremists – he actively and adroitly condemned the excesses of McCarthyism without upsetting his own right wing – in marked contrast to the current leadership of the GOP, he articulated his position as a moderate, progressive Republican: “I have just one purpose … and that is to build up a strong progressive Republican Party in this country. If the right wing wants a fight, they are going to get it … before I end up, either this Republican Party will reflect progressivism or I won’t be with them anymore.”
He was a talented politician. He prevented the GOP from collapsing into extreme-right irrelevance, and became, in doing so, wildly popular with both Democrats, independents and Republicans.
In summary, Eisenhower’s two terms were peaceful and productive ones for the most part and saw considerable economic prosperity except for a sharp recession in 1958–59.
So why was Eisenhower so chary of military spending?
Further comment superfluous.
Perhaps it was because, unlike most politicians today, he had actually witnessed the effects of that spending at first hand.
Not just the theft from those who needed the money spent on them, but also the carnage that war let loose really entails.
He walked the beaches after D Day.
He had ordered into battle legions that he knew would suffer 50%, 60%, 75% casualties.
He spoke with those men, face to face, hours before they left for France, knowing that most were just hours from dismemberment, disablement, or a grisly death.
For him, every bullet fired, on both sides, was a disaster. But that understanding did not prevent him being one of the greatest military commanders in history.
And it didn’t stop him being a Republican.
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When things do go wrong with an airline, it’s often difficult to get your problems resolved immediately.
Every airline makes mistakes — admittedly some more than others — and every traveller has been caught out by delays, lost luggage, faulty seats, a borked in-flight entertainment systems (Ed. so annoying on a full long haul flight) or other items on the seemingly very long list of Things That Can Go Wrong.
And when things do go wrong with an airline, it’s often difficult to get your problems resolved then and there.
Frontline staffers and cabin crew often lack the authority to sign off on fixing your problem – or they’re just completely swamped with hundreds of other customers in a similar boat to you.
So you’re left to complain to the airline.
But how do you maximise your chances of getting what you need? Here’s some hard-won advice on how to complain — and get results.
1. When something goes wrong
First off, document whatever’s happened. Seat not working or dirty? Outfit stained by a flight crew accident? Luggage problem? Downgraded to economy?
Use your smartphone to snap pictures or even a short video if you can, including the problem and ideally some kind of marker for the date and time. (A clock on the wall? Your watch? A newspaper? Your laptop clock?)
Note down who you first speak to about the problem, what was said, and what the airline said you should do next — and when.
2. Start with the end in mind
Figure out what you want: an apology? Monetary compensation or even a full refund? A credit voucher? Frequent flyer points? Compensation for a hotel stay or emergency necessities? Replacement for a bag or possession that the airline ruined? Something else?
But be realistic: ask around to see what you can reasonably expect the airline to do about it.
3. Keep track of things in one place
It’s important to keep track of your dealings with the airline, both for follow-up reasons (“I’ve spoken to five people since October 4th, and here are their names and what they said”) and to save yourself time finding the details for a second call.
So keep track of things in a Word document, or on an old fashioned piece of paper.
4. Use the phone
Start off with a phone call, which is the best use of your time: often, problems can be resolved with a call rather than needing to sit down and crank out a stiffly-worded email or letter.
As much as we’d often prefer to start off with an email, most airlines don’t do email well. There’s almost always an initial barrage of standard questions, and their online enquiry forms also have a frustrating habit of going astray.
Even if you do need to write in, a quick call can ensure you get to the right place and that the initial circumstances of your problem have been logged.
As for Twitter, most times we just wouldn’t bother. The standard Twitter response from too many airlines is usually “call our contact centre”. An exception might be if you’re overseas and don’t want to make a long-distance phone call, and are trying to get the airline to ring you.
5. Make notes before you dial
Before you dial, make a few quick notes to steer your end of the conversation.
The number you’re calling (for next time, or if you get disconnected)
The date and time you’re calling
The case number, if you have one (from a baggage problem, say)
Your flight particulars
Your frequent flyer number
Any insurance details you have
A few bullet points of what’s happened and what you want: this helps you to articulate your discussion with the agent on the phone
Above all else, remember to keep your cool. Don’t just vent your frustration on the poor sod who’ll answer your call. You won’t get what you want if you’re still angry about things.
6. Start writing when the phone starts ringing
While you’re navigating the airline’s interactive call menu, jot down:
The time when you started the call
How you reach a real live person (press 4, then 6, then 8, for example)
Who you talked to and in which department
Of course, it never hurts not to be an arsehole in the first place.
7. Don’t hang up without a “next action”
So you’ve made it through to a real live human and said your piece.
Before hanging up, seek agreement with the airline’s agent on what happens next. Note down:
What the next step is (for someone to call you back, or for you to put your concerns in writing)
When you should follow up if you haven’t heard back
How you’ll follow up: direct line? A person-specific address?
The time when you ended the call
8. Be sure to follow up
It’s all too easy for things to get lost — and it’s in the airline’s interests if they don’t get back to you with that promised update or a resolution.
So if you’re told this is a “check back in two weeks” situation, make a note in your calendar to remind you to follow up. Be persistent and polite and you’ll win out in the end.
All seems like really smart advice, doesn’t it? Funnily enough, I am flying off on business tomorrow – timely!
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(Yahoo and others, including plenty of pithy comment from us)
Paying heed to the distress calls from Australia’s business bodies and retail sectors, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) has cut – Yahoo said slashed but in our opinion 1/4 of 1% is hardly a slash – the official interest rates by 25 basis points for October.
In what is being described as the closest call in months, the central bank has therefore moved the key interest rates from 3.50 per cent to 3.25 per cent.
How much will you save on your mortgage?
If the banks pass on the rate cut in full, here’s how much you’ll save:
- Repayments on a $100,000 mortgage will drop by nearly $16 a month on average.
- Repayments on a $150,000 mortgage will drop by nearly $24 a month on average.
- Repayments on a $200,000 mortgage will drop by nearly $32 a month on average.
- Repayments on a $250,000 mortgage will drop by nearly $39 a month on average.
- Repayments on a $300,000 mortgage will drop by nearly $48 a month on average.
- Repayments on a $350,000 mortgage will drop by nearly $55 a month on average.
- Repayments on a $400,000 mortgage will drop by nearly $63 a month on average.
- Repayments on a $450,000 mortgage will drop by nearly $71 a month on average.
- Repayments on a $500,000 mortgage will drop by nearly $79 a month on average.
Assumes 25-year standard variable rate loan at an average new interest rate of 6.6 per cent. (Source – CommSec)
Governor’s speech – “bloody Europe!”
At its meeting today, the Board advised that outlook for growth in the world economy has softened over recent months, with estimates for global GDP being edged down, and risks to the outlook still seen to be on the downside.
Economic activity in Europe is contracting, while growth in the United States remains modest. Growth in China has also slowed, and uncertainty about near-term prospects is greater than it was some months ago.
Around Asia generally, growth is being dampened by the more moderate Chinese expansion and the weakness in Europe.
Boom? Bust? Plateau? Who really knows?
Key commodity prices for Australia remain significantly lower than earlier in the year, even though some have regained some ground in recent weeks. The terms of trade (how much money we make by selling minerals and gas overseas, essentially) have declined by over 10 per cent since the peak last year and will probably decline further, though they are likely to remain historically high.
Financial markets have responded positively over the past few months to signs of progress in addressing Europe’s financial problems, but expectations for further progress also remain high so the potential for disappointment is in there too.
Low appetite for risk has seen long-term interest rates, faced by highly rated sovereign debt including in Australia, remain at exceptionally low levels.
Nonetheless, capital markets remain open to corporations and well-rated banks, and Australian banks have had no difficulty accessing funding, including on an unsecured basis. Whether this will continue is hard to tell.
Share markets have also generally risen over recent months.
In Australia, most indicators available for this meeting suggest that growth has been running close to trend, led by very large increases in capital spending in the resources sector. Consumption growth was quite firm in the first half of 2012, though some of that strength was temporary. Retailers will be praying for a decent pre-Xmas rush.
Investment in dwellings has remained subdued, though there have been some tentative signs of improvement, while non-residential building investment has also remained weak.
Looking ahead, it is assumed that the peak in resource investment is likely to occur next year, and may be at a lower level than earlier expected. (This reflects concerns about Chinese growth, in particular, but as that economy is notoriously hard to predict your guess is essentially as good as anyone else’s.) As this peak approaches it will be important that the forecast strengthening in some other components of demand starts to occur.
Pick a job, any job? Um, not any more.
Labour market data have shown moderate employment growth and the rate of unemployment has thus far remained low. The Bank’s assessment, though, is that the labour market has generally softened somewhat in recent months.
Anyone seeking skilled, professional positions will agree that what was a seller’s market a year or so ago has become significantly more iffy since. The lists of people being interviewed for relatively low or medium-level jobs are growing.
Moderate labour market conditions should work to contain pressure on labour costs in sectors other than those directly affected by the current strength in resources. This and some continuing improvement in productivity performance will be needed to keep inflation low as the effects of the earlier exchange rate appreciation wane.
The inflation monster
Inflation has been comfortably low, with underlying measures near 2 per cent over the year to June, and headline CPI inflation lower than that. (In the opinion of Wellthisiswhatithink this should have led to more aggressive rate cutting, but then we are always in favour of low interest rates to stimulate spending. A little inflation, in our opinion, is merely the sign of a busy economy. But so many of today’s leading politicians, businesspeople and bankers were growing up in the 70s and 80s when inflation wreaked terror in financial markets, so we are not holding our breath waiting for people to agree with us.)
The introduction of the carbon price is affecting consumer prices a little in the current quarter, and this will continue over the next couple of quarters.
The Bank’s assessment remains, at this point, that inflation will be consistent with the target over the next one to two years.
Interest rates for borrowers have for some months been a little below their medium-term averages. There are tentative signs of this starting to have some of the expected effects, though the impact of monetary policy changes takes some time to work through the economy.
However, credit growth has softened of late and the exchange rate has remained stubbornly higher than might have been expected, given the observed decline in export prices and the weaker global outlook.
Clearly Aussies are too busy taking holidays in Europe and America at never to be repeated exchange rates, rather than investing in household goods, cars or homes.
At today’s meeting, the Board judged that, on the back of international developments, the growth outlook for next year looked a little weaker, while inflation was expected to be consistent with the target. The Board therefore decided that it was appropriate for the stance of monetary policy to be a little more accommodative.
‘Rate cuts needed before December’
The RBA move should come as a relief to the business owners around the country with trading conditions hitting the weakest level in 14 years.
An Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) investor confidence survey for the September quarter released on Tuesday showed business conditions at 46.4 index points, down from 47.4 points in the previous quarter, prompting calls for a 50 basis points cut before Christmas.
It’s the lowest index level since the survey began in 1998, and remains below the 50-point level separating contraction from expansion.
“It is concerning that the declining trends in trading conditions, sales and profits have seen no sign of rebounding since early 2010,” ACCI director of economics and industry policy Greg Evans said in a statement.
This had dampened forward expectations and investment plans, while hiring intentions for the next six months also declined to the lowest in 14 years.
“Further rate relief in the order of 0.50 per cent between now and Christmas is required to assist the mainstream economy,” Mr Evans said.
House price increases
However, some strong increases in house prices seem to have not influenced RBA’s decision at all. Last month’s home price rise across Australia’s eight capital cities was the largest in two and a half years, and comes on the back of 125 basis points of rate cuts over the last 12 months.
The RP Data – Rismark home value index shows the price gains were strongest in Adelaide (2.4 per cent), but then broadly spread against the other big capital cities which posted gains between 1.6 per cent (Perth) and 1.1 per cent (Brisbane).
Prices in Hobart and the territory capitals all went slightly backwards in the month, while regional houses fell 1.2 per cent (although those rest of state figures only run to the end of August).
RP Data’s research director Tim Lawless says the improvement in capital city home prices – which are now up 2 per cent over the past three months – is largely due to interest rate cuts, although Wellthisiswhatithink believes it has more to do with people sticking their heads back up above the parapet and working out for themselves that the sky hadn’t fallen in.
Mr Lawlee might be right though: “It’s no coincidence that housing market conditions bottomed out at the end of May, after the Reserve Bank cut the official cash rate by 50 basis points,” he noted in the report.
“A further cut of 25 basis points in June and the anticipation of further rate cuts in the pipeline appear to have instilled renewed confidence in the housing market which has driven the growth in home values.” However, Mr Lawless says the strength in home prices generated by the rate cuts is likely to weigh against the Reserve Bank making further reductions.
Mr Evans said the survey clearly showed manufacturing and construction industries would continue to face “significant headwinds” over the rest of 2012 and into early 2013.
This includes weak consumer demand, a high dollar and increasing global economic difficulties.
Or in other words, we are not out of the woods yet, although they are not quite as thicketed as a while back.
Shame they didn’t work a bit harder when times were good, really
Negative retail growth
Never an organisation to talk things up – like most industry bodies – the Australian Retailers Association, the peak retail industry body, said on Monday there has been negative retail growth in all categories in the past two months showing consumers are under budget stress. Executive director Russell Zimmerman says recent store closures and profit downgrades is a sign the sector is struggling.
“Certainly retail has struggled and that has been well documented” he said.
“We also know that households have just received their first power bill which does incorporate increased costs due to carbon tax and this just adds to the huge range of cost increases consumers are experiencing at the moment.”
And maybe so. However in our opinion what is really happening is that weak retail brands are being weeded out by what is, in effect, a very small slowdown in retail spending, and consumers are sitting on their hands until they perceive value.
Many retailers are still doing well, when they remember that there is more to marketing than having a sale, more to aggressive retail behaviour than cutting prices, and that customers usually respond to improved service and the feeling that their needs are being consciously catered for.
Or put it another way, that retailing is about more than simply raking in vast profits when times are good.
In our opinion, Australia is losing retailers who are being bankrupted by rents that they should never have agreed to in the first place, with stores in the wrong location, with too much stock, and with outdated stock, with weak brand personalities, with inadequate monies spent on promotion in a desperate attempt to stay in the black, with wimpy management and lackadaisical and badly motivated staff, and with inadequate customer care.
And as a consumer, we think they are not much of a loss, frankly.
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Uotsuri Island, one of disputed Senkaku islands in the East China Sea Photo credit: AP
Apple’s new iPhone 5 may have been criticised for its glitch-ridden new maps program, but it may have inadvertently provided a diplomatic solution to China and Japan’s ongoing row over disputed islands.
The new smartphone, which has dumped Google Maps in favour of its own version, has been ridiculed for misplacing major landmarks, shifting towns and even creating a new airport.
But amid a row over an outcrop of islands claimed by both Tokyo and Beijing, Apple’s new iO6 software has provided a resolution of sorts.
“Islands for everybody! You want an island? Have an island.”
When a user searches for the Tokyo-controlled Senkaku islands in the East China Sea, claimed by Beijing under the name Diaoyu, two sets of the islands appear alongside each other.
“The map has one set of islands for each country. Is this a message from Apple that we civilians must not get engaged in a pointless dispute?” one Japanese blogger wrote.
The new mapping program was released this week as part of Apple’s updated mobile operating system software, which powers the new iPhone 5, released Friday, and can be installed as an upgrade on other Apple devices.
To the chagrin of many, the new operating system replaces Google Maps, which had been the default mapping system in Apple devices until now.
As of yet there is no stand-alone Google Maps app available for the iPhone, although some reports say this is coming.
We come in peace to help you, earthlings …
The East China Sea islands, strategically coveted outcrops, have been the focus of a territorial dispute between Tokyo and Beijing,with tensions escalating dramatically after the Japanese government bought three of them from their private owners.
Tens of thousands of anti-Japanese demonstrators rallied across China, with some vandalising Japanese shops and factories, forcing firms to shut or scale back production.
Next, Apple develop the interstellar warp drive, beta release, and make it available for $2.99 from the App Store.
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So yesterday I blogged on yummy Chinese food, and suddenly realised that I didn’t know why we had a fat Buddha outside our front door greeting our guests when the Buddha himself was a thin ascetic type who eschewed the pleasures of the flesh. Flesh? He even eschewed the pleasures of bok choy in oyster sauce …
Anyway, the answer is that I was confusing Budai (Chinese: 布袋; pinyin: Bùdài), pronounced Hotei in Japanese, Bố Đại in Vietnamese, who is a Chinese folkloric deity, with the Buddha.
Wikipedia, as so often, is our friend here. (What a great experiment in information dissemination Wikipedia is, to be sure.)
Anyhow, courtesy of Wikipedia’s contributors, here is the fascinating story of the “Fat” or “Smiling” or “Laughing” Buddha. Look, he’s fat, celebrates kindness, is nice to kids and is poor but contented. I mean, hello? What’s not to like? I am clearly channelling him in my life. I wonder if he enjoyed a pint or two of bitter British ale?
Anyhow, I have left the Wikipedia internal links in, in case you want to explore further …
His name – Budai – means “Cloth Sack,”and comes from the bag that he is conventionally depicted as carrying. He is usually identified with (or as an incarnation of) Maitreya, so much so that the Budai image is one of the main forms in which Maitreya is depicted in East Asia. He is almost always shown smiling or laughing, hence his nickname in Chinese, the Laughing Buddha (Chinese: 笑佛; pinyin: xiàofó). Many Westerners confuse Budai with Gautama Buddha. (There ya go. I’m not uniquely stupid.)
“So I said to the girl at the drive thru at McDonalds, “You know what, supersize me”. And now look what happened.”
Budai is traditionally depicted as a fat bald man wearing a robe and wearing or otherwise carrying prayer beads.
He carries his few possessions in a cloth sack, being poor but content. He is often depicted entertaining or being followed by adoring children.
His figure appears throughout Chinese culture as a representation of contentment. His image graces many temples, restaurants, amulets, and businesses.
According to Chinese history, Budai was an eccentric Chán monk (Chinese: 禅; pinyin: chán) who lived in China during the Later Liang Dynasty (907–923 CE). He was a native of Fenghua, and his Buddhist name was Qieci (Chinese: 契此; pinyin: qiècǐ; literally “Promise this”). He was considered a man of good and loving character.
The term buddha means “one who is awake”, connoting one who has awakened into enlightenment.
Over the history of Buddhism, there have been several notable figures who would come to be remembered as, and referred to as, buddhas. Later followers of the Chan school would come to teach that all beings possess Buddha nature within them, and are already enlightened, but have yet to realize it. This teaching would continue into Zen.
Budai is often conflated with (or simply replaces) the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, in spite of the distinct visual differences in how each has been depicted. In India, Nepal, and throughout southeast Asia, Gautama (who lived during the 6th c. BCE) is commonly depicted as being tall and slender in appearance. In contrast, in China and those areas to which Chinese cultural influence spread, the depiction of Budai (who lived during the 10th c. CE) is consistently short and round. Both depictions are the idealized results of the religious, cultural and folkloric traditions which evolved in the centuries after their respective deaths.
Traditions that revere Budai
Budai in folklore is admired for his happiness, plenitude, and wisdom of contentment. One belief popular in folklore maintains that rubbing his belly brings wealth, good luck, and prosperity. (When I did business in China, young ladies often wanted to rub my belly. So it’s for good luck, huh? Who knew? They might have explained: could have saved some embarrassing mis-understandings.)
Some Buddhist traditions consider him a Buddha or a bodhisattva, often identifying him with Maitreya (the future Buddha).
His identification with the Maitreya is attributed to a Buddhist hymn he uttered before his death:
Maitreya, the true Maitreya
has billions of incarnations.
Often he is shown to people at the time;
other times they do not recognize him.
The primary story that concerns Budai in Zen (Chán) is a short kōan. In it, Budai is said to travel giving candy to poor children, only asking a penny from Zen monks or lay practitioners he meets. One day a monk walks up to him and asks, “What is the meaning of Zen?” Budai drops his bag. “How does one realize Zen?” he continues. Budai then takes up his bag and continues on his way.
I Kuan Tao
Statues of Budai form a central part of I Kuan Tao shrines, where he is usually referred to by the Sanskrit name Maitreya.According to I Kuan Tao, he represents many teachings, including contentment, generosity, wisdom and open kindheartedness. He is predicted to succeed Gautama Buddha as the next Buddha, and helps people realize the essence within, which connects with all beings.
Conflation with other religious figures
Angida was one of the original eighteen Arhats of Buddhism. According to legend, Angida was a talented Indian snake catcher whose aim was to catch venomous snakes to prevent them from biting passers-by. Angida would also remove the snake’s venomous fangs and release them. Due to his kindness, he was able to attain bodhi.
In Chinese art, Angida is sometimes portrayed as Budai, being rotund, laughing, and carrying a bag. In Nepali, he is also called hasne buddha (“laughing Buddha”).
Phra Sangkajai / Phra Sangkachai
In Thailand, Budai is sometimes confused with another similar monk widely respected in Thailand, Phra Sangkajai or Sangkachai (Thai: พระสังกัจจายน์). Phra Sangkajai, a Thai spelling of Mahakaccayanathera (Thai: มหากัจจายนเถระ), was a Buddhist Arhat (in Sanskrit) or Arahant (in Pali) during the time of the Lord Buddha. Lord Buddha praised Phra Sangkadchai for his excellence in explaining sophisticated dharma (or dhamma) in an easily and correctly understandable manner. Phra Sangkajai also composed the Madhupinadika Sutra.
Gratuitous photo of not fat body for journalistic balance.
One tale relates that he was so handsome that once even a man wanted him for a wife. To avoid a similar situation, Phra Sangkadchai decided to transform himself into a fat monk. (That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it – Ed.)
Another tale says he was so attractive that angels and men often compared him with the Buddha. He considered this inappropriate, so disguised himself in an unpleasantly fat body. (Or that one. That’s a good one, too.)
Although both Budai and Phra Sangkajai may be found in both Thai and Chinese temples, Phra Sangkajai is found more often in Thai temples, and Budai in Chinese temples. Two points to distinguish them from one another are:
Phra Sangkajai has a trace of hair on his head (looking similar to the Buddha’s) while Budai is clearly bald.
Phra Sangkajai wears the robes in Theravadin Buddhist fashion with the robes folded across one shoulder, leaving the other uncovered. Budai wears the robes in Chinese style, covering both arms but leaving the front part of the upper body uncovered.
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BBQ Pork Buns – picture stolen unashamedly from internet. Copyright be buggered. Look, it’s Sunday, right? Be nice.
Anyway, personally, I am not putting off going to Taipan for Yum Cha lunch for another Sunday.
Monosodium glutamate overload here I come. I may re-deem myself later by posting a nice photo or two of some food. Celebrating authentic Chinese culture. And, er … eating.
I am not sure the Buddha would agree that chowing down on seemingly endless dishes of squid tentacles, pork buns (see pic) and various non-identifiable masses wrapped in rice paper is noble. Not to mention sticky rice, that amazing invention that sits in your gut like a cannon ball for days. Comfort food for winter. (And winter has arrived in Melbourne with a vengeance … brrrr.)
Well, maybe the little fat smiling Buddha outside my front door would approve. But given the Buddha sat under a tree not eating much for years, where did the fat Buddha come from in world consciousness?
Hmmm. I feel some Google research coming on.
Busy, crowded, chaotic, noisy, delicious. Yum Cha at its finest at Tai Pan in Doncaster, Melbourne
Too much is never enough.
Nom, nom, nom …
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Some time ago – a disgracefully long time ago, actually – I promised to nick some good thoughts sourced from around the internet, and post them here regularly, with my own commentary. The idea is simple: there are cleverer people than me around, but I am clever enough to spot stuff that deserves sharing. So I am sorry I have taken so long to come up with entry #2: my excuse is that I have been very busy posting on all sorts of other important topics.
My “steal” today stretches back into the past, to say something that is still utterly relevant to our world in 2012.”Only the wisest and the stupidest of men never change.” Confucius
A statue of Confucius, located in Hunan, China on the shore of the Dongting.
Confucius was responsible for a lot of good sense; for example, he espoused the well-known principle “Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself”, an early version of the Golden Rule.
But he was also primarily responsible for instituting and codifying a love of authority that has, viewed from an historical perspective, condemned Chinese society to a limiting, claustrophobic respect for those in charge.
To this day, Confucian respect for those in charge – within a family, at a workplace level, in local government, and nationally – slows China’s development into anything resembling a pluralist society while simultaneously making it possible for the centralised Governmental system to drive their economy with little regard for human rights as the West would recognise them. It also encourages a ruling kleptocracy and lack of innovation.
But in this quotation, Confucius offers us a balancing thought we should all dwell on.
Rigidity of opinion is a common failing worldwide. And at its most extreme, it morphs into the horrors of civil war, inter-national conflict, racism, homophobia, colonial exploitation and many more nasties.
As I have grown older, I realise more and more that those things that I once saw as lay down misère* are rarely as certain as I once thought. As John Lennon once wisely said, “The more I see, the less I know for sure.” This is not an argument for some wishy-washy relativism, where nothing is certain, and excuses can be made for any opinion in the search for unity. No, it is merely a belated recognition, in my case, that there are not only two sides to most stories, but often many more than two.
Sadly, when rigid thinking is exhibited in politicians, it is often applauded. Politicians who evidence little or no doubt in their public prognostications are often called “strong” or “effective leaders”. They present with such certainty that we are often happy to delegate to them any need to think critically, while we busy ourselves with “getting on with life”. The problem, of course, arises when the “conviction politician” implements his or her convictions, and we all discover – too late, usually – that their much-lauded convictions were actually sheer nonsense.
The only substitute for this pattern of behaviour, which societies of all types and all eras repeat endlessly, is to consciously up our own level of interest. To read between the lines, and behind the front page, to educate ourselves, to criticise constructively and to demand answers to reasonable questions.
Some years ago, I called into Melbourne talk-back radio station 3AW, to the then Australian Prime Minister, arch-conservative John Howard. The second Iraq invasion was about to get underway, and I called him to point out that a leaked report from his own Chiefs of the Australian Defence Force had said that an inevitable result of any such invasion would be very high civilian casualties.
Howard brushed off my comment grumpily, simply saying “Well, that’s not my point of view.” I started to protest, seeking to point out that the advice came from his own advisers, and surely it was a relevant factor in his decision-making. The right-wing radio host sniffily cut me off, muttering “The Prime Minister has answered your question.”
To date, Iraqi civilian casualties of the war and the chaos that ensued thereafter are in excess of half a million people.
Half a million entirely innocent, civilian casualties. Men, women, and children. Young, and old. And still counting. Howard’s biography, written years later, virtually ignores the issue.
I am not so foolish as to think that if Howard had listened to me then that benighted war and those casualties could have been avoided.
But I do believe that if Howard, Blair, Cheney, Bush et al had not been so insanely gung ho – indeed, had they heeded Cheney’s own opinion from a decade earlier that a full-blown invasion of Iraq would be a quagmire from which we would not know how to extract ourselves, and which would provoke a military and social cataclysm – then better planning might have been in place to deal with the immediate post-invasion chaos.
Around the world, millions of ordinary people feared exactly what eventuated. Their “folk wisdom” was better than the faux wisdom of the political leaders, relying, as they were, on tainted advice and their own self-confidence. If they had not been so damned obsessed with their own “convictions”, they might have been a deal more pragmatic, and many lives might not have been needlessly sacrificed – not to mention the Allied troops that have died or been horribly injured.
So perhaps, as Socrates said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
And why does such modesty in thinking matter?
Because simply put, as George Santayana noted, in his Reason in Common Sense, The Life of Reason, Vol.1, wrote “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
For example, the way things are going, an attack on Syria or Iran (or both) are both live policy options for the West. Faced with such a nightmare scenario, the regimes in Damascus and Teheran become ever more brutal and belligerant. Their obduracy is met with yet more sabre rattling.
And so it goes, and so it goes.When will we ever learn?
*Misere or misère (French for “destitution”; equivalent terms in other languages include bettel, contrabola, devole, null, pobre) is a bid in various card games, and the player who bids misere undertakes to win no tricks or as few as possible. This does not allow sufficient variety to constitute a game in its own right, but it is the basis of such trick-avoidance games as Hearts.
A Misere bid usually indicates an extremely poor hand, hence the name. An Open or Lay Down Misere is a bid where the player is so sure of losing every trick that they undertake to do so with their cards placed face-up on the table. Consequently, ‘Lay Down Misere’ is Australian gambling slang for a “dead cert”; a predicted easy victory.
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Coal - its a worldwide solution. It's also one very big worldwide problem.
OK, no environmentalist is actually proposing to shut the coal industry down. But is it really that strange or irresponsible or revolutionary that some people should express concern about the largest (and pretty much un-checked) mining investment boom in Australia’s history?
At present Australia digs up around 400 million tonnes of coal every year.
While that raw number means little to most people, consider this: each year Australia digs up enough coal to make a pile one metre deep, and 10 metres wide, by more than 40,000km.
And we are planning to more than double that.
If Clive Palmer’s accurately named ‘China First’ mine goes ahead then Australia’s coal exports will rise by 25 per cent. This one single mine will increase our exports by a quarter. And there are another eight mines of similar scale on the drawing board.
The flood of new Queensland coal will travel on a flotilla of coal ships through the Great Barrier Reef. Indeed, it is estimated that a ship laden with coal will depart every hour of every day by 2020.
Is that the “low carbon economy” you thought the Labor government was talking about?
And what do we do, by the way, when the coal runs out? (Assuming we are all still breathing and haven’t melted or drowned.)
Oh, that’s right, silly me. Nuclear energy.
Unsafe, waste-producing, and hideously expensive, and with only enough uranium on the earth to last maybe another 50 years at current rates of consumption anyway.
So, never mind that our Japanese veggies and fish will glow in the dark for a while yet. What do we do when the uranium runs out?
Um, oil? Gas? No, that’s all going to run out, too.
Look. What is it going to take for the right wing and the left wing to join hands and actually tackle our need to develop renewable, non-polluting energy sources, including longer-lasting high capacity battery technology to store the electricity thus generated?
The sun’s shining brightly on Melbourne today. What a shame the Government cut the subsidy for solar panels.
Oh well, let’s dig another hole … and bury our heads in it when we’ve got the coal out of it.
Those interested in coal, whether for or against it at the moment, will find some useful anti coal discussions and resources at the “Coal is Dirty” website in the States. Head to http://www.coal-is-dirty.com/, and you might also like to see the new Greenpeace site, Quit Coal, at http://quitcoal.org/
What is surely clear is that coal is not a long-term option for the world, no matter how big an industry it is now. If you disagree, visit any Chinese city and walk, coughing and wheezing, as I have, down the main street. And it’s not their recent love affair with the car that has caused it. Right across Asia, BILLIONS of people live in a disgusting permanent fog/smog of pollutants, actually unable to see the sky for years on end, if ever. The overhead shroud persists way out into country areas.
That’s wrong. I simply don’t care what some economics professor or government official says. It’s wrong. We are the most innovative and intelligent animals on the planet. We have to be able to dream up a better plan than this.
And incidentally, The Australia Institute will host two events in Queensland in the coming fortnight to discuss the impact of the mining boom on the State’s tourism, manufacturing and agriculture industries. The events will focus on the 99 per cent of Queenslanders who don’t work in mining. To find out more jump to: https://www.tai.org.au/node/449
Remember, what happened to Troy Davis could happen to anyone.
In the bleak hours since Troy Davis was killed for a crime he did not commit, more facts continue to emerge about the farcical state of the legal processes that condemned him to death. Apart from the fact that courts repeatedly refused to allow new evidence to be submitted on Davis’s behalf – in other words, the truth does not matter, merely the upholding of whatever legal morass is in power at the time – more evidence of the unreliability of the witnesses that were originally produced is coming out.
A member of Davis’ legal team from the Washington law firm Arnold & Porter said there was too much doubt about the eyewitness testimony at the 1991 trial to let Davis be convicted.
In a telephone interview the lawyer confirmed that the eyewitnesses included an man who initially said he could not recognize the shooter except for the clothes he was wearing; a woman who initially said she could not put a face with the shooter; a woman who said she recognized Davis in the dark from more than 120 feet away; and a man who was looking through his car’s tinted windows and said he was only 60 percent sure he could identify Davis.
“You can’t execute someone based on that kind of testimony,” the defnece team member said. “It’s unconscionable.” Nevertheless, just before 11pm on Wednesday night, the state, in our name, injected Davis with poison and killed him. His last words were to again plead his innocence directly to the family of the police officer he was wrongly accused of killing, and to pray for the souls of those about to end his life. It may strike you that these were hardly the actions of a callous murderer with nothing left to lose.
But even worse, Jennifer Dysart, an expert on the problems associated with eyewitness testimony, said she had planned to testify at Monday’s clemency hearing, but the parole board ended Davis’ presentation before she could give her presentation.
In an interview today, Dysart said numerous studies show that eyewitness testimony is unreliable and the procedures used by Savannah police in the Davis investigation would not be allowed today.
“Even if the parole board didn’t believe the recantations, there were significant problems with all the eyewitness testimony,” she said “Nothing reliable should come from that testimony. I wish the board had heard my presentation.”
Let’s just make that clear. The Parole Board simply refused to hear expert testimony, when a man’s life was at stake, and after over a million signatures requesting clemency had been collected.
It is also worth considering, I believe, how the efforts of warm-hearted people like Emily turned this case into a cause celebre that has swept the world in recent weeks. It is both a reflection of the new power associated with the Internet, and the importance of the little people, the ordinary individuals, who are prepared to stand up, perhaps for the first time, and say “Not In My Name”. In this case, it proved to be fruitless, but in other cases it will not. In the long term, we may trace major changes to the sad date of 21st Septemeber. In any event, the sheer outpouring of compassion and understanding in itself gives Troy’s dreadful sacrifice meaning. He has left the world a better place, bitter though the price was which he had to pay.
This will, except in terms of the most dramatic news coming to light, be my last post on this case. I am grateful for the very many messages of support sent to me personally, and much more grateful for those who weighed in to campaign on Troy’s behalf. It is clear to anyone except those with an emotional, legal or practical investment in seeing Troy Davis killed that a terrible, terrible wrong has been done. All we can do know is work, uncreasingly, to prevent more injustices from occuring, in America and elsewhere. In Iran a couple of days ago a 17 year old was hanged publicly for stabbing to death a much larger man who he had claimed attacked him over a raod rage incident. In China there is ample evidence that people are executed for minor crimes in order to harvest their body parts.
Until the cancer of the death penalty is removed, everywhere, the anger endures, and the fight goes on.
And last but not least: remember that if they can kill Troy Davis when the evidence against him was clearly totally flawed, when more than one million people including law enforcement officers, Presidents, politicians, churchmen and many more pleaded with them not to, then they can frame and kill you, too.
Yes, you. Or your mother, or your father. Or your husband, wife, brother or sister. Or your child.
Keep the conversation going. Tell others about this!
When is someone going to lead America out of its near-terminal decline?
Quote of the day: “The United States is hard-wired for innovation. Openness, free exchange of ideas, free enterprise, and liberty are among the reasons why the United States, in my view, is at this moment the wealthiest nation in the history of the world.” – Vice President Biden in China, speaking about America’s ability to compete in international markets.
I agree with Biden entirely, and from this distance he seems like a thoroughly likeable and decent bloke, with considerable intelligence, but the key phrase must surely be “at this moment”.
Because as sure as night follows day, if the American decline is not arrested, and fast, then – and I refer here to the generalised loss of confidence, the loss of will power, the loss of genuine self belief, and the loss of communal will, not just its current economic difficulties – this great country, this great and wonderful experiment in democracy, if you will – is going to end up as an also ran behind Asia, with who-knows-what knock on effect for the world, and for its own people.
Let’s shine a flashlight on the situation. At the moment America’s economy is supported almost entirely by lending from an economy which is command based, using often brutal techniques (and also many subtle ones) to suppress dissent, which is riddled with corruption, and despite its spectacular growth is entirely based on Confucian ideals of obedience to authority and lack of personal empoerment and individuality. That’s right, China.
If it wasn’t for China gobbling up American bonds (to keep their biggest market for cheaply produced goods open) America would, quite simply, be stony broke. One assumes Biden’s hosts were chuckling somewhere deep inside their inscrutable exteriors.
Long story short: America needs to re-discover its entrepreneurism, passion, unity and commitment, or it will simply be left behind by its less principled and more aggressive competitors. And if that’s the case, then liberal democracy will have failed, and we can all look forward to centuries of forelock tugging, with bread and circuses to keep the drones quiet.
At the moment, only the educated elite in America realise this – the chattering chardonnay classes, the policy wonks on all sides – the mass of ordinary people are wandering the streets with patriotic jingoism ringing in their ears, wondering wide-eyed with shock and distress how the hell they suddenly have locked-in 9.2% unemployment and a political establishment that is seems to be irretrievably mired in petty sniping, partisanship, and self-service. Even the spasmodic jerking of the Tea Party and others reveals no general understanding of the depth of the problem, but rather just a blind, angry and bitter communal shaking of the head, because it has, as its target, the wrong problem.
The size of government is not the issue, it is the inability of the economy to support the size of Government. If America was still belting down the outer lane of the freeway at a hundred miles an hour no one would care less about the size of Government, as its expenditure would be self-supporting from increased corporate and personal tax revenues, and an inevitable reduction in welfare spending.
What no-one in authority dares to say is that the true problem in America is the failure of private capital – bluntly, the American Emperor (for which you can read “free market capitalism”, unfettered by any focused direction whatsoever) has no clothes, and really hasn’t had for a generation. Because no one dares to say this for fear of sounding unpatriotic or an unbeliever, the blame for the current mess is being sheeted home to an easier to spot target in the Government, and its even easier to do that when “Government” is represented by a cerebral and gentle coloured man who seems, on walking into the White House, to have lost his ability or will to reach over the heads of the disfunctional political class and reach ordinary people any more.
As I have said many times in recent years, having visited both America and the Far East for both business and leisure, the solution is clear.
America needs to use its knowledge-base to make things that other people cannot make: and not only that, but make them better, faster, and to higher quality than other people can copy, and then it needs to sell that stuff hard to a world which is no longer just a bunch of easily-influenced barely civilised semi-rural economies, medieval kleptocracies, or war-wearied, worn out old democracies.
The world is a much more competitive and capable place now, and America cannot rest on its laurels for a day longer.
America may still be the greatest country in the world in some respects, but mindlessly repeating that mantra is holding it back from resuming any meaningful world leadership. Sadly, I see no one in America, despite my respect for Obama, who seems up to the challenge of first of all “telling it like it is”, and then yoking the whole country to the effort needed to turn things around.
America needs an internal crusade akin to that evidenced during the Second World War, or perhaps the New Deal response to the Depression, to break the cycle and get back to where it was. From whom, or where, will such an effort be initiated?
Keep the conversation going. Tell others about this!
So when the world knocks at your front door, clutch the knob and open on up, running forward into its widespread greeting arms with your hands before you, fingertips trembling though they may be. Anis Mojgani