Thursday, September 30, 2010

And another thing....

I'm not a fan of capitalism, at least not in its current form. I have a long list of gripes, but the one that's bugging me right at the moment is the idea of "buying power".

The idea that the more money you have, and the more money you spend, the cheaper things get for you sucks in every possible way.

In the business arena, it's highly anti-competitive. Small companies trying to start up and compete with bigger companies have to pay more for exactly the same products and services. They also usually receive much poorer customer service. (If you've ever dealt with both the corporate and small business arms of a telco, you'll know exactly what I mean.)

This then flows directly on to consumers. It's ok if you live in an area where the really big companies want to be, but if you don't, you get to pay more for everything too. And surprise, surprise, the places where the big companies aren't are very highly correlated with the places people earn less.

I understand that there's a reduced cost of sale to a big company, but this doesn't even come close to accounting for the differences in pricing. For starters, it's not at all uncommon for companies to "buy business". They'll go into a large organisation and offer their product at less than cost in order to get the business, and since they still have to make enough money to stay afloat, the costs of this practice are passed on to their smaller customers.

Also, when companies get big enough not just to control the demand for their product, but also to control the upstream providers, you see these huge companies dictating their own costs at the expense of providers. I know I'm heading into dangerous territory here, but Bob Katter is right about the impact that the massive dominance of Coles and Woolworths has had on farmers. And you may have noticed that the price of fresh food hasn't dropped to us small value customers. The wholesale price of milk dropped substantially, but the retail price rose.

There are all sorts of other ways that big companies are advantaged over small ones, and the net effect is always to increase costs to consumers. I do believe in competition, but all competitions need rules and regulations, or you just get bullies. Where competition works as it should, we see prices fall and service improve (fibre telco services in cities in would be an example of this). Where competition is strangled by oligopolies or insufficiently regulated monopolies (think supermarkets for the former, and copper telco services for the latter) we see prices rise, and service levels drop.

The heavily skewed pricing structures we see in many industries are a major barrier to the type of competition that results in good outcomes for the population at large.

Unfortunately, the thing that annoys me the most about capitalism is that I don't know enough about economics to be able to present solutions or alternatives. I know that putting prices on things that are currently not valued by our system (such as environmental costs, human life costs and so on) are a start, but I simply don't know enough to envisage what the next economic step is. I know it clearly isn't anything that's gone before. What I want to see is people discussing where we go next, instead of accepting capitalism as an inevitability, and countering any criticism with "What, do you want us all to be communists?".

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Prawn, mango and cashew salad

I'm blogging tonight's dinner in the hope that I might remember what I put in it, and remember what I wanted to change after eating it.

Prawn, mango & cashew salad

  • Green prawns, shelled & deveined
  • Blood orange, peeled and segmented
  • Nam doc mai mangoes, peeled, seeded and sliced
  • Lebanese cucumbers, peeled and sliced
  • Iceberg lettuce, shredded
  • Snow peas
  • Carrot sticks
  • Tomatoes, chopped into wedges
  • Half a bunch of coriander, chopped
  • Cashews
I marinated the prawns in garlic and lime & chilli infused macadamia oil. Everything else is tossed together well (to make sure the yummy bits are evenly distributed, and to coat everything in mango juice). Fry the prawns and serve on top of the salad.

I served the salad with kipfler potato oven chips, in the hope that I didn't get too many wails of horror from the children when they saw the salad.

I underdid the prawns a little, and I might ditch the tomatoes next time. If you don't have chilli sensitive kids to deal with, it would be lovely with some chilli infused oil added to it as a dressing. The cashews are gorgeous in it, and leaving out the prawns wouldn't be much of a loss - tasty veg alternative. (Which is what the kids ate, they boycotted the prawns tonight.)

The kids ate enough of it to not die of starvation, in fact, it was reasonably well received given that it was a pile of mixed up salad. (Oh, the horrors of salad mixed together making a child work to get at the bits they deign to eat!)

Monday, September 27, 2010

A person is not their job

I'm not going to comment specifically on #groggate, because I think Grog's Gamut did it perfectly well himself.

What's pissing me off is the whole notion that once you are employed, everything you say and do, 24/7 is owned by your employer. This results in a lot of brokenness. It means that companies tell their employees that they can't tell anyone (at the pub, or online) that their employer sucks. It means that people who dream up some invention can have the patent taken from them, even if they used no job specific knowledge to come up with it. It means that expressing opinions anywhere that their employer might hear/read it, on their own time, as a private citizen, can get people sacked. I think this is fundamentally wrong. Employment isn't an ownership relationship.

I understand that this is partially a consequence of our society trying to get to its collective head around new media, and whether or not saying something on Twitter is the same or different to saying it at the pub. What I don't understand is why corporations are answering the questions without consultation with the rest of us.

The other thing I don't understand is why companies all assume that the public can't differentiate between an employee and their employing organisation. Honestly, my opinion of a company is unlikely to change much based on the comments of any individual employee. There are disgruntled employees, there are employees of all political persuasions working for most organisations (except possibly The Australian), there are alcoholics, drug addicts, misogynists, volunteers, feminists, and people with all sorts of barrows to push. I'm not going to judge any company based on one employee being any of those things.

Which is not to say I'll never judge an organisation based on some of the predominant traits of a large proportion of their staff. AFL, NRL, I'm looking at you. Patterns of behaviour may indicate real issues. But that is really, really different from Joe Blogger and his opinions on the election, or someone's ill-conceived tweet. Why can't the company simply issue a "We do not endorse this opinion" statement? If it was a really bad gaffe, they could go so far as to say "We strongly disagree with/are disgusted by this opinion, but support the right of employees to have their own lives outside of work hours". Can the public really not understand that any given person is not identical with their employer?

The line between person and employee may need to be renegotiated, but I'm tired of having the new world order dictated by the likes of Telstra, The Age and The Australian.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Elissa's first pigtails

Elissa's hair is getting longer, and becoming annoying. Because I'm a terrible parent, I haven't managed to get it cut, so I bought some hair elastics instead. Today we wrangled her hair into its first pigtails. It's worth being a slack parent to get this level of cute.
Elissa's First Pigtails

And since there was a camera about, Charlie thought he'd show off the side burns he's been working on.

Charlie sports sideburns

Farewell Powderfinger

Powderfinger are among the latest to announce their disbanding and do a farewell tour. I will be utterly unsurprised when, in a few years, they announce their reunion tour, however, I was happy to go along to the farewell tour, because their last few albums have been a little dull, and I was keen to see a greatest hits show.

Jet were the support act. They sounded like Jet. It was really quite odd seeing them at the Entertainment Centre, it was all wrong.

Powderfinger are a technically brilliant band, but as @The_Ausmerican said on Twitter:
@shonias Powderfinger are so ... dry on stage! They sound like a recording!
I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing, I rather like a band that sounds so tight live. The visuals kind of reflect the focus on the music.

Powderfinger's farewell tour

But they did have some pretty coloured lights.

Powderfinger's farewell tour

We were not in the best of seats, but we did have a great view of the packed house.

The crowd

They played a few songs from recent albums, which resulted in me singing "I like your old stuff better than your new stuff", but then they made me very happy:

This is one of my favourite Powderfinger songs ever. It was awesome.

Then there was the singalong bit. The compulsory Audience Participation. And Powderfinger did it right. (Unlike Jet, who chose a song nobody knew to get the audience to sing along to...)

There's no video for that, because it was very messy.

It was heaps of fun. They played stuff from all over their back catalogue, but I've always has a soft spot for Double Allergic, and so I was pretty chuffed when they played a second song from it.

I had a great night, and I'm looking forward to the reunion tour.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A single rose

Last year I planted two climbing roses. A few weeks back, I noticed one rosebud on one of them.

As you can see, we have a bit of an aphid problem. Sadly for the rose, my gardening philosophy is that if you can't fight the aphids off on your own, don't talk to me about them. Nevertheless, the bud survived.

Eventually it made it to a fully fledged rose.

And then the sun came out.

I wish I could tell you whether it has any scent, but it's about 7 feet above the ground, and I can't get anywhere near it. Hopefully, this won't be the last, and I'll be able to report what kind of scent it has.

Monday, September 20, 2010

In which I resort to text book parenting

I have mentioned a number of times that I suck at toilet training. The story of my efforts with Elissa sort of trailed off, which is probably because the toilet training itself sort of trailed off. Sadly, the accidents haven't stopped, using my preferred method of ignoring it and hoping it would fix itself.

A week or so ago, I had some brownies, so I went with some outright bribery and told Elissa she could have a brownie if she came home from day care without having wet herself. Three days in a row we had a completely dry Elissa. Then the brownies ran out.

So, I have finally dragged out the good old sticker chart.

Hand drawn sticker chart
I have 33 days worth of chart. I wonder what the odds are of anything changing by the end of that time?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fat and health

I'm still thinking about fat. The intense responses to the idea of fat acceptance are often justified in terms of health. The more I think about this, the more, intertwined reasons there are for calling bullshit on it.

Firstly, there's the science. All the research on obesity. Lots and lots of it is sponsored by the diet industry. Oddly, this doesn't seem to bother the medicos citing it. Also, more transparently, the premise of obesity research is to treat obese people as a uniform group of people. To look at obese people and compare them with not obese people. In many respects, health outcomes are worse for obese people. However, as well all know, correlation is not causation. Just as the strong correlation between the population of storks and number of babies born in Hamburg fails as evidence against babies being born via their mamas' vaginas, this correlation on its own doesn't mean obesity is the root cause of all evils.

I'm completely down with diet and lifestyle being correlated with good health - in fact I also believe that it is partially causative. (Many people know perfectly well that their ill-health has nothing whatever to do with diet and lifestyle, so it can't be more than a partial causation.) Also, because weight loss is sold as the goal for everything, and the marker of health, there is a correlation between obesity and poor diet and lifestyle. The direction of causation is not so clear though. Once you are fat, if eating healthy and exercising sensibly don't produce weight loss, why would you bother? It's clearly not working anyway, since weight is health. I can't help wondering if body fat was ignored completely by everyone, how much healthier many fat people would be. Still, here I am focussing on fat people. Just like the research. No-one seems to round up all the people with similar diet and lifestyle, irrespective of weight, and look at health outcomes. Plenty of not fat people have crappy lifestyles and crappy health outcomes, but no-one glares at them when they eat in public. So I call bullshit on fat = unhealthy.

Also, the only lifestyle that's really been looked at independent of the starting weight of the people is the Dieting lifestyle. (I use big D "Diet" to refer to weight loss regimes, rather than the stuff you eat.) That's been shown to be really bad for you - with increased risk of stroke and heart disease. It's really bad for you, because it produces yo-yo weight gain and loss, and that's definitely worse than constantly being fat or thin. So I call bullshit on being told to go on a Diet for health reasons.

Moving on to practical matters. The public shaming of fat people causes bad health. It stops fat people going to the doctor, because they know they're just going to be told that whatever is wrong with them is because they are fat. They are far less likely to have preventative health checks, because they know the doctor is going to tell them they're fat (in case they'd managed to forget this fact for a millisecond). It means that doctors treat people with less respect, and with less actual medicine, as it happens. 95% of people can't lose weight and keep it off, so doctors prescribing that as a cure-all is simply bad practice. So I call bullshit on the idea that making people feel bad about being fat will lead them to be healthier.

From the practical to the moral. Who said healthy was the be all and end all to all arguments anyway? Everyone has the right to decide what priority they want to assign to what degree of health. Apparently one is a hard working moral citizen if one gets a stress induced illness (even if the source of stress is a result of choosing high income over low stress occupations) but totally devoid of morals if one chooses to focus on other aspects of lifestyle at the expense of one's health. Sports people are allowed to destroy their joints requiring surgery and more, and are hailed as heroes. I call bullshit on lack of health being viewed as a moral failing.

Finally, I've heard more than one person point out that the upside of cancer (or other life threatening illnesses) is weight loss. I can't think of better evidence that the claim that fat hatred is all about health is utter, utter bullshit.

And when I say "fat people" as though they are other, it's because I'm an in-betweeny. I'm well and truly obese by medical definitions, but I can still sometimes buy clothes in mainstream shops. So some of the fat hatred (and all the body shame) come my way, but I realise I don't cop it as bad as lots of other people.

Also, if you want to change your diet (with a little "d") to improve your health or make other lifestyle changes because they make you feel better, that's cool. If you lose weight as a result, that's also cool. If you don't lose weight as a result, that's exactly as good as if you do. For a fabulous piece on how talking about Diets affects other people, have a read of this Spilt Milk article.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The "wrong" shape

Last Friday night, the lovely Dr Samantha Thomas invited me (and many others, including Mim) to the Bodies Abound event in Newtown. There was some visual art, and 8 spoken presentations which varied from folks reading aloud to performance. (Or something like that, not that reading aloud isn't some kind of performance...)

It was a really fabulous night that really celebrated every body shape and shared the pain of being the "wrong" shape. There were fat people, skinny people and trans people. Sadly I can't share the things that were presented that night as I don't think there are any online versions of any of it.

Instead, I've got a small selection of links to people talking about various aspects have the "wrong" shape. I hope you can find some time to read them and they make you feel better about your body, no matter what shape it is.

Lots of the people at Bodies Abound were from the Fat Studies Conference that (the also very lovely) Dr Sam Murray organised at Macquarie Uni.

Nicholosophy speaks on how it's different when you're a bloke. It's different, but that doesn't make it fun.

Definatalie has a different story again. Another perspective, which surprised and interested me.

Fat is obviously not the only way to be "wrong" shaped, you can also have the "wrong" physical gender. This is a wonderful piece from the conservative father of a transgender child.

There are some summaries of the Fat Studies Conference out there too.


I'll add any others I come across. Please, go, read, feel better. :)

Update 21/9/10 And here is another one:
Sam Murray's piece from Bodies Abound. I laughed, and it was supportive.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Elissa, aged two and three quarters

In the car yesterday:

Elissa: At day care, C always says "poo poo". That's not funny, it's just rude.

Me: I'm glad you have such a sophisticated sense of humour

Elissa: Yeah, cause when I fart, it makes a sort of noise, and that's funny.


Also in the car yesterday:

Elissa: When I grow up, I'm going to be a daddy.

Me: Well, you can't actually be a daddy. The only difference between a mummy and a daddy is whether you're a girl or a boy. They're both parents. But you don't have to be a mummy, you can grow up to be a woman. [Explanation of difference between woman and mummy.]

Elissa: Oh yeah, womans are funny. I'm going to grow up to be a woman.


One morning this week:

Elissa: [from the bedroom] MUMMYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!

[Crash is out of bed, and so opens her bedroom door for her]

Elissa: [Slams door] I SAID MUMMY! [Much howling and gnashing of teeth]

[Repeat - THREE TIMES!]

Finally, Ben opens her door and she gives up and goes down stairs with him.


A week or two ago:

Elissa: Ben, can you make my breakfast?

Ben: Mummy can make your breakfast.

Elissa: [Sadly, with resignation] Asleep.

Ben: OK, I'll make your breakfast.

(I almost felt guilty. Mostly I was laughing.)