Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Improved Subprime!

Now that many Americans are living in their cars after losing their unaffordable houses, GM and GMAC are now providing unaffordable loans for their obsolete stock:

Through January 5, GM will offer zero percent to 4.9 percent financing on loans of up to five years on some 2008 model-year vehicles, and 3.9 to 5.9 percent on some 2009 vehicles. Many of the vehicles also carry cash discounts of $500 to $4,250.

GMAC, meanwhile, will extend loans to retail buyers with credit scores, known as FICO, of 621 or higher. In October, it had restricted loans to borrowers with scores of 700 or higher. Many analysts consider borrowers with credit scores of 620 or lower to be "subprime." The median U.S. credit score is 723, according to Fair Isaac Corp's myFICO unit.
OK, it's a smaller market in some respects to the housing meltdown. But with the US government picking up the tab one way or another, there's Fool's Gold to be had. It's madness like this that puts me off writing a Balls to 2009 post. The worst case scenario keeps getting worse.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Alternative Xmas programming

Here in NZ we'll be missing the secular programming of a new Wallace & Gromit adventure and a Christmas message from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that the UK has to look forward to. While the kiddies are engrossed in a Pixar marathon on TV2 and the crinklies have passed out in front of the Queen's Message on TV1, I have prepared some alternative amusements.

The Economist has Credit Crunch, the board game as a free download. You too can be like Ben Bernanke and print money! Live life by the toss of a coin, just like hedge fund managers! Hours of fun, hegemony and tears with this one.

Bush, Putin, Merkel, Sarkozy, Blair, Brown and Ahmadinejad sing Silent Night.

And the main feature, George Carlin's 2005 show Life is Worth Losing.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Hymn from him

Hippy holidays, have a high old time, catch you in 2009. Here's Kevin Bloody Wilson singing my favourite Christmas song:

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Weekend at Bernie's

If 2007 was when the sub-prime meltdown caused the US economy to crap its pants, and 2008 was when it turned into explosive diarrhoea, 2009 could be the year the US shits out its intestines. The fuck-ups are snowballing and there's a long way to go yet before it hits bottom.

It was years between the dot com bubble popping and Enron pustule bursting. These days, it's difficult to walk down Wall Street without seeing the latest pin-striped giant dominoes falling. Bear Sterns, Lehmans, AIG, Fannie, Freddie, Citigroup, Chrysler, General Motors. It's keeping graphic artists busy coming up ways to get one's head around these ginormous numbers flying about. Slate has a nice onion of debt.

And that's just the federal bailout costs so far. There's the Fonzie of Ponzi Bernie Madoff, the man who jumped the $50 billion dollar shark. The story makes engrossing reading. Here's the latest in the NYT, the Financial Times has in-depth coverage, or you could try any of the 56,364 stories (and counting) on Google News. That's roughly $1 million of disappeared money per story. Madoff is now in danger of getting killed by Yiddish ninjas, as there's so many people who want to throw Star of Davids at him. I'd hate to be his food taster.

The institutional and personal losses from all this have spread well beyond US borders. While Iceland went under the waves months ago, Britain and the EU are sloping down into recessions. Russia's currency reserves are taking a hammering and is sickening quickly as the price of oil stays resolutely below what was budgeted for.

While China's growth is slowing and its manufacturing sector is facing less overseas demand, its massive foreign currency reserves leave it healthier than most. If you haven't already read it, I highly recommend this Q&A in the Atlantic with Gao Xiqing, who is responsible for managing one tenth of China's dollar holdings, some $200 billion (Hat Tip TVHE):
The simple truth today is that your economy is built on the global economy. And it’s built on the support, the gratuitous support, of a lot of countries. So why don’t you come over and … I won’t say kowtow [with a laugh], but at least, be nice to the countries that lend you money.

Talk to the Chinese! Talk to the Middle Easterners! And pull your troops back! Take the troops back, demobilize many of the troops, so that you can save some money rather than spending $2 billion every day on them. And then tell your people that you need to save, and come out with a long-term, sustainable financial policy.

It is a sign of the strange times that we live in that this IMF-like advice is being given to the US by a Chinese representative. But he's spot on. The "balance of financial terror," a variation on Mutually Assured Destruction but using financial instead of nuclear instruments, will only handle so much strain. And there will be more strain. The dramatic! sensational! new policy of Quantitative Easing, otherwise known as printing money, runs the very real risk of causing a run on the dollar. And if that happens, well, that's the intestinal enema we should all be worried about.

Cuckoo Cocoon

Spying is not all the Life of Reilly, and look what happened to him. Nor is it the pulp fiction world of James Bond, the spy who never dies, never loses a limb. Such is the disdain in which spies are held, the last capital crime in New Zealand was treason. To betray one's own people was recognised to be worse than murder, worse than rape. The sentence for treason now is life imprisonment. Double agents can thank the Declaration of Human Rights for that reprieve. So when Matt McCarten says that Gilchrist was lucky he hadn't caught him, I can see what he means.

But spies are only pawns, and the police pwned Gilchrist. They used him and he enjoyed it. After all, he was living a dream. As Neil Gaiman pointed out in A Game of You, little boys dream of their secret identites. Gilchrist had his alter-ego paid for and approved by the state. He could play the agent provocateur with impunity and immunity. Never mind that his little dream was poisoning other people's dreams, he was validated.

Then Rochelle Rees woke up and the reality became the nightmare. For in the real world of espionage, it's hard to tell the smoke from the mirrors. As Paul Buchanan notes, there may be more to this than meets the eye:
The fact that the Mr. Gilchrist did not practice electronic security in his emailed reports to his Police handlers (as easy as establishing remote accounts on large internet providers), then asked his computer technician girlfriend to fix a minor technical problem on the home computer he was using to send his reports is evidence of supreme stupidity, amateurism, or perhaps something else. It was a very convenient way of “outing” that particular individual, who then expressed remorse for his actions.
Armed with a bullshit detector and not a smoke detector though, I'm hoping it's just stupidity or complacency that blew Gilchrist's cover. Likewise, I'm hoping that Gilchrist was the only cuckoo in the village. But I'm not putting money on it. The Winstons that Howard Broad told on Monday had been disproved by Friday. If this thing isn't quarantined and exposed to light soon, we may very well have a virulent form of cuckoo flu on our hands.

Now for some Monkey Dust, dedicated to Nevil Gibson:

Thursday, December 18, 2008

In defence of Muntadar al-Zaidi

Let Muntadar al-Zaidi go. In the eyes of the billions of witnesses who saw what happened, he is innocent. It is punishment enough that government stooges beat the shit out of him while the press conference went on. But withholding habeus corpus on the guy brave enough to sum up the Bush Doctrine in two size 10 shoes and a string of curses is a gross injustice. To charge him on trumped up charges of terrorism or insulting a foreign leader is proof that the US has learned nothing.

Never mind that the insult, like the shoes, went over Bush's head. We don't need any more proof about the Bush mindset. The man is as thick as a Soviet-era condom and about as diplomatic. His own party has disavowed knowledge of him, his country hates him, world leaders snub him. So he then decides that it would be a good idea to have one final tour of his mission accomplishments. Jane Young bitingly sums up that plan.

Not that prime minister of Iraq al-Maliki can afford to snub the man who has destroyed his country. Not with the US building the biggest fuck-off Embassy, 104 acres of Freedom, on the banks of the Tigris. The Embassy will be so god-damned huge, it will be completely self-sufficient. Baghdad, Iraq could burn and nothing would change inside Baghdad, USA. Troop withdrawals notwhithstanding, the US isn't leaving Iraq any time soon. Al-Maliki's hands and tongue are tied.

So it was left to a journalist to give Bush a more appropriate send off. The man responsible for untold deaths of Iraqis and Americans flies home scot free, while the guy who threw a couple of shoes at the unimpeachable war criminal gets the Gitmo treatment.

The Iraq Ambassador to the US is already noticed growing resentment towards al-Zaidi's treatment and incarceration. And if the crashing of Boing Boing's post on the virals inspired by his actions are anything to go by, you'd be hard pressed to find an international jury to convict him. Whether you got them to swear on a bible, a Koran or a copy of the God Delusion, the people's court has spoken. Let him go.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Gumboot terrorists

There are few things more awkward than trying to run in gumboots, but the police getting caught spying on protest groups is one of them. Bill Ralston's right, in that the immediate response to the decade-long spying career of Rob Gilchrist has been somewhat slack. But I think this one's a slow burner. It's not going to go away.

A line was crossed when Gilchrist informed on the Greens. It was very similar to the line crossed in the UK, with a front bench opposition MP arrested and his offices getting raided by police. Parliament is some sort of hallowed ground. The rules of police operate differently there than elsewhere. An immunity of sorts, a suspension of the usual rules applies, in a way that used to operate for churches, universities and maraes. The police, by convention or speaker's ruling, are forbidden from going on fishing trips there.

Another line was crossed when the enthusiastic Rob Gilchrist narked on anti-taser rallies. There's national security and then there's protecting your patch, and the police are now tarred with spying for their own ends. It is every citizen's right to speak out peacefully on any subject. It does not require police permission or agreement. It certainly does not include police informants actively undermining that expression just because the police may disagree with their opinion.

Yet another line was crossed when Gilchrist's police minders, one of them a Brit, didn't give him any parameters on how to mine information. It was open slather on sexual details of activists, political party correspondence, protest planning on anti-taser rallies. Any information, however dubious, is better than nothing. Such a level of intimacy, without just cause, says more about the voyeuristic proclivities of the data gatherers than anything they were hoping to "manage".

And I'm sure Nicky Hager hasn't finished with this by a long chalk. Those emails that Rochelle Rees copied and pasted will be dynamite. Operational details, lines of interest, juicy soundbites of embarrassment spread out over the silly season. And it serves them right. What use is your body armour, your semi-automatic rifles, your tasers, when faced with ridicule? The pen may be mightier than the sword but, as George Bush found out, the shoe can be mighty powerful too.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Swedish Chef Opera

Oh this is great fun. Muppets doing classical music on YouTube, including Ode to Joy with Beeker and Habenera from Carmen, with a Bork Bork bassline from the Swedish Chef:

Hat Tip Boing Boing.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Smells like unemployment

You might think spinning chicken shit into money was a laudable goal, but you'd be wrong there. Over 160 people will be losing their jobs in Morrinsville soon due to the smell of mushroom food. NZ Mushrooms, which uses the compost to grow its crop, has been ordered to close:
[Matamata-Piako Mayor Hugh] Vercoe said a composting site about a kilometre out of town was the root of the complaints, as opposed to the long-established growing operation in town. He said the composting site had been where it is for longer than some of the residents on lifestyle properties nearby.
The forced closure comes over a year since an Environment Court precedent that ruled that olfactory pollution is bad. The simpler solution by far would have been to rule against lifestyle properties being owned by townies with delicate noses instead.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Heil de Heil

It says something of the Nazi mind when Hitler gave the go-ahead to build a fascist holiday spa for the masses. Welcome to Prora, a 20,000 bed, 4.5 kilometre wall of concrete:

Here's what it looks like from space:

Truly, it is a site fit only for Scandinavian Death Metal video shoots and atomic bomb testing. Which is why it's so surprising that there are plans to re-open the Teutonic masonic to tourism. Evidently, the beach is quite nice:
"Prora has one of the most beautiful beaches on the island of Ruegen. With its fine, white sand, Prora is like a Caribbean beach," says Kerstin Kassner, a local councillor. "It isn't nice to have such a large, empty property on the beach, so we have to bring life back to this area," she adds.

Developers have a new vision. They want to build hundreds of holiday apartments, with cafes, discos, hotels, sports halls and swimming pools in order to attract thousands of visitors.

Good luck to them. Compared to the Big 3 bailout, this plan is completely rational.


Lunatics and Full Moon Drumming Circles will be celebrating the biggest moon since 1993 tonight. It will look 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than any time this year. Tides will be around one inch higher than normal.

Nicked from NASA.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Jitterati saves the world

Scientists have found a cheap way of making biodiesel from used coffee grounds:

[T]he scientists collected spent coffee grounds from a multinational coffeehouse chain and separated the oil. They then used an inexpensive process to convert 100 percent of the oil into biodiesel. The resulting coffee-based fuel — which actually smells like java — had a major advantage in being more stable than traditional biodiesel due to coffee's high antioxidant content, the researchers say.

Hat Tip /.

A list of lists

Wired lists 10 amazing animal videos, followed by a Readers' Choice Top 10 too. The classics are there, the lion human reunion, chickens breaking up a rabbit fight, ninja cat and Battle at Kruger. Best new discoveries were Spider Beagle and dolphin art.

Not really a list, but a damned interesting video showing how ants invented air conditioning.

Top 50 drug trips in movies.

On a similar subject, Top 6 Trippiest Simpsons on Drugs scenes. You can't get better than Lisa's freakout at the Fermentarium.

Time does a Top 10 of Everything for 2008, right down to a Top 10 of Sarah Palin spoofs.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Evil Santa

The argument over the annual evil Santa on the corner of Wellesley Victoria and Queen Streets in Auckland reminds me of the Kiwi that used to sit on the PDC building in Palmerston North. As a boy in Palmy, the rotating kiwi wasn't an advertisement for Kiwi Bacon. It was a daylighting donuting diurnal sculpture at its finest. Mind you, there wasn't much else of interest to look at in the flat bland lands of Palmy, a city too young to have a history.

While living in Auckland, I saw the Evil Santa as one big in-joke. To the kids, it is the biggest representation of a human they have ever seen (No-one builds Wicker Men any more). To the adults, well, they know better. Perhaps Mayor of Newmarket Alex Swny is right about how the offending finger could be modified. With that squint, maybe it should be changed to a rubbing of thumb against forefinger, the universal sign for cash.

Don't shoot!

There's something disconcerting about the Fire at Will Bill, but I don't think it's personal. The Fire at Mike Bill doesn't have the same ring or salience as Fire at Will. Still, it's disconcerting. But I suppose that's what you get for having a name that's also a verb and a noun.

As far as post-election labour reform goes, the Employment Relations Amendment Bill is a pretty tame beast. In my youth, there was a more wild variation on this theme. Every time there was a change of government, unions oscillated between being compulsory and voluntary. The daddy of the current amendment, the Employment Relations Act 1990, killed this argument stone dead.

The only truly strong unionists left these days are the ones representing the police (Police Association), public servants (PSA), the lawyers (Law Society) , the doctors (Medical Association) and the accountants (Institute of Chartered Accountants). What little life and legitimacy that still exists in blue collar unions largely resides with the large institutional employers; nurses & EPMU. So by targeting the small and medium enterprises, not only does National throw a bone to small and medium businesses during straightened times, it avoids mobilising legions of directly affected pissed off unionists. It's too early in the term to have rampaging mobs of placard-weilding pram-pushers on Lambton Quay.

On the subject of pram pushers, it's an interesting precedent that Tony Ryall has set on the Herceptin decision. Funding drugs from the main Health budget and not from the Pharmac one is a novel solution to the problem. I wonder if Ryall is keen to go beyond the Pharmac model for access to medicinal cannabis too.

But I digress. I don't think that the threat of marchers antagonised by the effects of the Fire at Will Bill is the reason National has put it under urgency. The Act itself won't come into effect until April 1st 2009, but the implications and certainty of its start date will give many employers food for thought over the summer barbecues. Instead of bunkering down for the hard landing, they might think twice about not hiring staff if they have little to risk.

I'm cautiously supportive of the bill for personal reasons too. As an unemployee, I might even start looking for work again. The realm of the unemployed is growing quickly, and the range of skills and experience on offer at the slave market is already flooded. It's a hirers' market for team players, upsellers, 3D CV bearers and superlative interview sitters. Alas, my list of references is shorter than a bee's toenails, my work history a Jackson Pollock. Colourful but useless. There's not much demand for an army of one.

But by guaranteeing a low risk opportunity for employers, I might just be able to swing all that. Maybe. It couldn't be worse than the patronisingly slow torture of the Workbridge or Mainstream government programmes, which have been nothing more than false hope.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Little Napoleons of Auckland

When central government gave local government the powers of "general competence" with the Local Government Act 2002, a strange control freak genie popped out of the bottle. If there's any reason why central government has never given the power of arrest to local government, this is one of them. Licensing. Buskers.

Give a local council the ability to micro-manage with clout and they'll go to it with obsessive-compulsive zeal. I had first hand experience with this under John Banks' first reign of error, when the obscene Brothels and Commercial Sex Premises Bylaw was launched. I found the Auckland City Council to be almost completely composed of sour-faced moralisers whose ancestors probably led major sorties on behalf of the Spanish Inquisition.

Paul Goldsmith is no doubt a distant relation of Ghengis Khan. Mad Mongols galloping over the Russian Steppes must have been echoing in his head when he came up with his final solution to the homelesses problem in central Auckland. To paraphrase Edward Pearce, if you were hanging from a ledge by your fingers, Paul Goldsmith would stamp on them.

As someone who has slept rough, as well as lived and worked in halfway houses and temporary accommodation ghettoes, I can speak with some understanding for the plight of vagrants. There's a certain safety to be had sleeping in the Queen St company of strangers. Goldsmith may wish the unsightly beggars to bugger off to somewhere off K Rd, where there's fewer suits to offend, at least until late one night when they can get discreetly murdered.

Punitive measures don't work on people with nothing of pecuniary value to lose. So go ahead and fine Bagman X up to $20,000 and see how far you get. Some street people cannot deal with a roof over their heads. They don't trust 'em. Forcing them inside isn't going to do any good. The best you can do is leave a door open for them and hope they come in.

I hope someone can find the money to donate Paul Goldsmith a weekend to Wellington at the Museum Hotel, where he can read the story of Robert Jones, the Man with the Bucket. Maybe get him to sit down with Blanket Man and a peace pipe. Or better yet, can someone kick this guy out at the next local body election?

Buskers, as opposed to the homeless, do not live on the street. They work there. If they haven't talent, they'll eventually see the cost benefit analysis of not returning until they do. Or, if they're desperate or crazy enough to be bad and performing, there's always the same option available as the homeless. Local businesses or passers-by could over-ride their Someone Else's Problem field and pay them to bugger off if the price is right. The everlasting lightning storm of the credit crunch will be with us for a while yet. It behooves us all to remember that there but for Fortuna, it could be you.

The Pope of Irony

While the Wall Street Journal and New York Times commemorate the 75th anniversary of the repeal of alcohol prohibition in the US, NZ's deputy police commissioner Rob Pope has opinion piece on getting tough on drug runners. With only a few hundred million dollars more in public resourcing for police, and increased data sharing between government departments and a gullible public, he can get tough on organised crime and, presumably, wipe it out.

The Independent quotes HL Mencken on prohibition: "The human suffering that it [Prohibition] entailed must have been a fair match for that of the Black Death and Thirty Years War." Over thirty years of drug prohibition here in NZ, and what have we got to show for it? Record levels of incarceration, addiction and anguish. What will you accomplish with all your strength, Mr Pope?

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Hunterville Welcomes You

In previous times, NZ towns welcomed travellers with a simple sign paid and maintained by the various badges affixed around the kia ora. Lions, Jaycees, Rotary, etc. These have largely fallen by the wayside now. The more likely welcome most places now will be a Road Transport sign featuring a car accident. Welcome to Taihape! Don't die here! So, I'm trying to keep an open mind on the proposed Hook of Maui idea for the entrance to Wellington.

It's almost good. I dig what it's getting at, but I'm not convinced that it's the right place for it. There's stuff all images to go off, just the two included with the DomPost story. Curiously, I can't find a damned thing about it on the City Council's website. The only thing that pops up from Receding Waters and Hook of Maui seems to conclude that the most appropriate place for the sculture is at Red Rocks, with the laser pointing to the South Island. It could also double as a light house and an observatory for geologists to meausure in real time the distance between the two islands. However, the seals might get pissed off with the night light. Somehow, the seals' sleeping patterns would be considered more important than the humans who will have to put up with it in the harbour.

There's also the matter of scale. Motorway travellers won't be in a position to appreciate the Hookiness of the sculpture. To them, it will be a set of jaws in daytime, a Sky Tower-like light prick at night. It's hard to tell accurately from the shot, but the best sightlines to appreciate the true effect seem to be in Khandallah, waterfront offices, high rise office blocks and Oriental Bay. In short, it seems a bit like the rich putting their garden gnome on everyone's back lawn. Try to sticking that hook in Oriental Bay and see how far you get.

Arriving in Wellington is one of the best dramatic flourishes in NZ topography. Down the gullet of Ngauranga, under the railway bridge that unintentionally lowers one's expectations, a slow bend that unveils the entire harbour in all its glory. It is its own story without the embellishment of a bloody great hook along the way.

As for the Terrace Tunnel, there's less harm done there. It's watercolours on a pig's arsehole, so anything is better than nothing but concrete. But if there's going to be large-scale virtual waterworks, the Council should get more public toilets around the place. New arrivals will have an urgent urge to pee, and diurnal urinals are hard to find.

I'm looking forward to what Eye of the Fish can add to the debate!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Doctors able to prescribe handgun on prescription

If the assault rifle with the chainsaw bayonet wasn't too out there for you, how about a new determination by the US Food and Drug Administration that classifies a gun as a medical device, available on prescription?
We thought you might be interested to learn that the FDA has completed its “Device/Not a Device” determination and concluded the handgun will be listed as a Class I Medical Device, exempt from 510(k) Pre-Market Notification in accordance with 21 CFR 890.5050 “Daily Activity Assist Device.”

We have now submitted an application to the CMS contractor Noridian for a DME (Durable Medical Equipment) Coding Verification in order to be assigned an HCPCS code. Once assigned , physicians will be able to prescribe the Palm Pistol for qualified patients who may seek reimbursement through Medicare or private health insurance companies.
Hat Tip /.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Where Westies come from

A somewhat unscientific poll has been conducted on what music mothers play to babies to put them to sleep. The most popular bedtime tune is Take That's Patience. The Top Ten features other pop ballads such as GnR's Sweet Child o' Mine and Oasis' Wonderwall. Where's all the traditional lullabies? "The poll also revealed 13% of mothers thought lullabies were too old-fashioned, while one in 10 said they could not remember the words to any of them."

I'm no baby expert, but the whole point of lullabies is to lull the sprogs to sleep. Words, no matter how inspiring, don't matter to babies. Otherwise Rock a Bye Baby would have more psychologically damaging consequences. When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall? Guaranteed anxiety in youngsters. A bassline and rousing chorus might go down well with the chav Mums, but something more ambient is better for the wee blighters. If you must play pop music at them, try the range of twinkling rock and pop covers from Rockabye Baby (Hat Tip Spare Room).

Hercules Returns

For the best in-flight announcement since the Newmans "Good morning, this is your cleaner speaking" ad, have a read of Grumpy Gill.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Whistleblower Overture

While we have to wait for January 20 2009 to kick start the litany of constitutional abuses that occurred under the Bush regime in the US, the lies, deception and deceit of Helen Clark's Labour administration are starting to become apparent.

The $1 billion underfunding of ACC's budget, which officials have known about since May, somehow managed to avoid a mention in the pre-election fiscal update. John Key is launching a Ministerial Inquiry into how $1 billion managed to fall off the balance sheet. "But my top priority is to offer an assurance to those who rely on ACC that their services will be maintained, despite warnings that the Non-Earners Account will run out of money by March."

Meantime, the Chief Ombudsmen's annual report shames but does not name some sectors of the public service who have taken great liberties with Official Information Act requests:
Beverley Wakem says the Office has observed an increasing tendency by a few government departments and Ministerial offices to ignore the provisions of the Official Information Act over the timing of responses to requesters.
Here's a list of the major offenders:

Here's a list of their major mistakes (pdf). Roar Prawn supports this statement, adding:
Poor old govt prawn says he had to write an answer for a fairly innocuous OIA request. He gave a good full answer but the Ministerial co-ordinator for the Ministry changed it and edited it back. He told government prawn that there was no need to provide full answers.
This is why Labour lost the election. They had completely lost sight of who the hell they were working for. For Labour's sake, there had better be no more unexploded grenades left lying about. Otherwise next year's Question Time is going to be a minefield for them.

And it was good to see Beverley Wakem on the telly having a go at the state of the mental health services in prison. Coming so soon after the damning literacy and numeracy prisoner statistics (Hat Tip Big News), hopefully someone in the MSM can find a story in this mess.

Monday, December 01, 2008

1000 words for $15

A few years back, my best mate was made redundant from his well-paid job in London. Head office was moving to Istanbul, largely due to the competitive price of the labour market there. Telecom's call centre is now based in the Philippines. Take this trend to the nth degree, and what do you get? Maureen Dowd writes about the outsourcing of local stories in Pasadena Now to India. At US$7.50 for 1000 words, that's value for money that few NZ writers can live with.

Selling one's soul to Santa

While the Falun Gong were successfully banned from the annual Farmers Santa Parade once again, the NZ Herald has a slideshow of yesterday's Auckland parade. Witness the true meaning of Christmas: SpongeBob Squarepants, Ronald McDonald, Homer and Bart, Wall E, rugby league players, cheerleaders, Popsicles and Tyson the outreach therapy cat. For that unique blend of consumption and compassion, you can't beat the Farmers Santa Parade.