Monthly Archive for January, 2008

A fantastic time waster

This puzzle-game is brilliant.  Spare an hour for it.

Heading for parity?

Canadians celebrated when the Canadian dollar (“the loonie”) hit parity with the U.S. dollar in September last year. At the time, there was some speculation about whether the Australian dollar might follow suit. You’re going to see some more speculation over the next few days. Fundamentals aside, there are two main things that are serving to push the Australian dollar up: the resource boom in Australia and the spread in the interest rates between the two countries, and the latter of those is about to jump.

The US Federal Reserve cut interest rates by 75 basis points a week ago in a surprise, out-of-cycle move. Today they are expected to announce a further cut. Apparently the markets are predicting that there’s an 80% likelihood that it will be a further 50 basis point drop. Next week on the 5th of February, on the back of some truly disastrous inflation figures, the Reserve Bank of Australia will probably raise their rate by 25 basis points.  That would be an enormous, 150-point increase in the spread in the space of just two weeks.  On that basis, it’s not at all surprising that the markets are already pushing up the AUD.

Upgrading again

I’ve upgraded both WordPress itself and K2 (my theme) again.  I’ve also tweaked the default K2 style a little.  Apologies if this breaks things (I can’t test this on IE6 for a day or two), but we should be good soon.

Clinton seeks what from a Florida win?

This article from the FT is pretty typical at the moment:  “Clinton seeks profit from a Florida win

[F]ollowing her heavy defeat to Barack Obama in South Carolina last weekend, Mrs Clinton hopes to derive favourable publicity from her expected victory in Florida’s straw poll on Tuesday.

Almost 400,000 Floridians have already cast postal votes in the Democratic race, even though all of the candidates stuck to their pledge not to campaign there or run local advertising [after Florida had all of its Democratic delegates stripped for bringing the date of its primary forward].

Mr Obama’s camp has accused Mrs Clinton of cynicism for signalling she will ask the party to restore Florida’s delegates to the convention. Florida would have more delegates than Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina combined.

Why does everyone play this as Hillary the cynical and faintly desperate candidate backing down on her pledge?  I understand why Obama’s staff are playing it that way, but why are the commentators agreeing with that view?

If she wins the nomination – and the best bet right now is that she will – then it will prove enormously valuable that she went to Florida, no matter whether their delegates get to vote for that nomination or not.  If she hadn’t gone but still won the nomination, then come November the Republican candidate would be speaking endlessly about her absence in such a key state while waxing lyrical about the democratic right of people to have their say.

Whoever the Democratic front-runner was at this stage was always going to be forced to go to Florida because of the attention that the Republicans are giving to it.  Hillary is simply making the most of it.  Barack Obama, who is behind in both the primary polls and the betting markets in most of the super-Tuesday states, cannot afford to think of November yet; if he’s looking at anything past the 5th of February, I’d be stunned.

Abusing the welfare state

I graduated from my engineering degree in November of 1998. I already had a job lined up, which I was due to start on the 18th of January, 1999. I had a couple of months to kill and I decided to go on the dole. What I wanted to do was work in a book store, and I applied to some, but not before first applying for unemployment benefits.

The Work for the Dole scheme was up and running by that point, but since it only applied to people who had been receiving payments for over six months, it was never going to be a concern for me. If I remember correctly, I had to fill out a form every two weeks detailing which businesses I had contacted in my quest for work. I definitely remember realising that all I needed to do was open the Yellow Pages at a random page, call whomever my finger fell on and have a conversation like this:

Them: Good afternoon [I was an unemployed recently-ex-student, after all. You can’t expect me to get out of bed in the morning, can you?]. This is company XYZ. How may I help?

Me: Hi. Do you have any jobs going?

Them: Uhh, no.

Me: Okay. Thanks.

I could then list that company on my fortnightly form, safe in the knowledge that even if Centrelink did bother to check – and I seriously doubt that they ever did; I could have written that I applied to “Savage Henry’s discount rabbit stranglers” and they would have just filed it away – then I was covered.

That felt a bit too much like taking the piss though, so I made sure that my targets were legitimate. As I mentioned above, I mostly applied to book and map retailers. I never lied to Centrelink or to any of the places I applied to. I always admitted to everyone that I had a job lined up and only needed to fill in the two-month gap, but if the truth be told, I didn’t put much effort in either, except for a couple of early applications to places where I genuinely would have enjoyed working. It’s not that I was disheartened; just that I didn’t particularly care. I wasn’t desperate for the cash (although it was certainly handy) or a job (since I’d have to quit in a few weeks anyway). I was really only doing the dole thing to see what it was like and the answer was: boring, but easy.

I’ve never felt any guilt or shame at doing it and I don’t think that any of my friends at the time were judging me negatively for it. It was a little unorthodox, but just accepted. I’ve certainly paid a lot more in taxes since than I received on the dole or for my university education. Fast-forward to 2008 and I am thinking about the social acceptability of receiving welfare payments, both in Australia and abroad.

It may just be the stereotype, but I get the feeling that in continental Europe, both in 1998 and today, what I did would barely raise an eyebrow; that it would be completely accepted. In the U.S.A., on the other hand, I think that it would be regarded by many as a shameful thing to do and an abuse of federal money. In Australia and the UK, I’m not so sure. I suspect that the more “aspirant middle class” you are and the older you are, the more shameful it will seem. I have no idea if the age thing is because it’s a process that everybody goes through as they get older or if there’s been a genuine generational shift in attitudes.

Any thoughts?