Mad Teddy's website: Strange days indeed...

Mad Teddy's web-pages


Strange days indeed...

This page added on Monday, 6th October 2008


"There's a UFO over New York and I ain't too surprised"...?

No, it's not, actually - it's a phenomenon called crepuscular rays which appeared over toward Mount Barrow on Saturday, 5th April this year. I was quick enough to get some shots while the effect lasted. (This was taken looking east from my front garden.)

I've seen these before on occasion, and been baffled by them. (I used to think that the sun's rays were in some weird way undergoing extreme refraction while passing through the lower atmosphere, but I know better now.) It looks for all the world as though there is indeed a large and mysterious object up there, shining a wide, diverging beam of light down through a break in the clouds. Incongruously, the four words which always come to mind when I see such a thing are "Beam me up, Scotty!"

It's an illusion, of course. The sun's rays are shining above the clouds, and then ultimately down through the hole, at a fairly shallow angle - not straight downwards at all! (Note, however, that there is nothing else illusory in this picture - in particular, the hydroelectric pole which has by now become familiar from other pictures within my website, most recently in this page.)

To see a good explanation of crepuscular rays, click here or here. To see some other striking pictures taken in various parts of the world, visit this page.

So what's my angle (pun intended )?  Precisely this:

While illusions may be interesting, or even beautiful, basing one's life on them can lead to disaster. As George Harrison said in his gorgeous song "Beware of Darkness" (from his 1970 triple album "All Things Must Pass"):


Beware of Maya...


If you've browsed through this website before, you may know that I've made reference to that song in an earlier page (about three-quarters of the way down). However, I make no apology for mentioning it again, because it is now more relevant than ever. As I pointed out then, "Maya" is a Sanskrit word which means "illusion".

It's taken a long time; but finally, it seems, the "financial world" is starting to wake up to the colossal damage it has inflicted over these past several years.

If you've visited either of my web-pages whose links appear above, you'll know that one of the major themes of this site has been an attempt to draw attention to these matters. So can I reasonably claim that my "rants" have had much effect - or, indeed, any at all?

I don't know. Probably not; since I launched the site in July 2006, my home page has scored only some 1,700 hits. So it would probably be just hubris for me to suggest that I've had a major input into the "debate". However, on a personal level, may I say that I find the feeling of vindication very welcome.

I was just eleven years old in 1964 when the movie "Mary Poppins" screened at Launceston's drive-in theatre (remember drive-in's?). As I'm sure you know, it's the story of a "magic nanny" who had the ability to fly using her umbrella as some kind of flying-machine-cum-parachute and to slide up bannisters, among many other neat tricks.

On one level, it was a kids' film; but on another, it had plenty of in-built wit and wisdom for their parents (much as A.A.Milne's "Winnie the Pooh" can be read at two levels). As it turns out, Mary P.'s mission is not so much to be a governess for two lively children (Michael and Jane) as to sort out their mixed-up father, Mr. Banks, who (of course) works in a bank.

There are many striking scenes in the film, but perhaps the most startling - even for eleven-year-old me - was the one in which Mr. Banks takes the kids to his work-place, to try and impress upon them the need for prudent financial behaviour. Michael has two pennies (the old English term tuppence is used) with which he wants to buy bird-seed to feed some of London's pigeons. (Now why does that remind me of Nikola Tesla?)

One of the film's famous songs is all about this: "Feed the birds, tuppence a bag..."

Oh no, say the sensible, responsible adults, you ought to invest your tuppence. At a critical point, the bank manager snatches the two pennies out of Michael's open hand, making a short "welcome" speech. Michael's shocked response is:

"GIVE IT BACK!!!"

When other bank customers hear the kerfuffle, panic sets in, as they gain the impression that the bank is refusing to give someone their money. They demand that the bank immediately hand over all their money - and the bank promptly shuts down all the tellers' windows. A "run on the bank" - very dramatic, and quite frightening in its own way.

I want to move on; but first, may I invite you to have a good, hard look at what another commentator has to say about this, by clicking here and then scrolling down a bit until you find the Mary Poppins picture. (You can't miss it - look for the behatted umbrella-and-carpet-bag-wielding flying lady, against the background of lots and lots of old-fashioned English chimneys. ) Read on from there.

When I was at university in the 1970's, it was my ambition to become a mathematics teacher (which did indeed happen). I did a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree, with a major in pure mathematics, followed by a Diploma of Education (Dip.Ed.).

Most of my uni. friends were doing either science or arts, many with the intention of also becoming teachers. There was a fair bit of more-or-less good-natured ribbing beween the two camps: the science students viewed the arts as basically "waffle" and "soft options", while the arts students' point of view was that we science-types were simply getting a training, rather than an education.

To be sure, others in my circle of friends were doing engineering, medicine, or agricultural science, all of which I could relate to. There were also some nurses (in those days nursing training was hospital-based, rather than university-based); but if I'm honest, I'd have to admit that it was the nurses per se, rather than what they did, that interested me.  

I was also aware of such things as law and economics. No-one I really knew well was doing law; but a few friends were indeed studying for their B.Ec. degrees. It was all a bit of a mystery to me. How could anyone find anything particularly interesting in talking and thinking about nothing but money?

At the men's residential college where I stayed for some of my uni. career, people you disrespected were often known as "wackers". (By replacing one letter with an "n", you'll arrive at another word which is now more common but which has much the same meaning. ) Special provision was made for economics students, who were sometimes referred to as "eco-wackers".

So I didn't take too much notice of economics. (At a pinch, I'd have been more interested in law.) I never thought I would have to be very much bothered with such matters.

Silly me. If only I'd known. Now the world is run by the economists - and just look at the mess they've got us into.

Even I, the "mad scientist", knew there was trouble coming. When I wrote my "new millenium" page back in March this year, in the wake of Australia's change of federal government from John Howard's conservative régime to Kevin Rudd's Labor, I alluded to such matters as interest rates and the US's sub-prime mortgage crisis, suspecting that we were all in for a rough ride. I was right - the bubble was finally bursting.

It was like something out of a comic strip - except that it wasn't funny. Big financial institutions with goofy-sounding names like "Fannie Mae" and "Freddie Mac" were in real trouble. The term "bailout" has come into common parlance; click here to see a relevant ABC News article published on 8th September. That was just under a month ago; and still the news is full of the continuing fiasco.

A brief digression, if I may - in 1984, US folk singer Arlo Guthrie toured Australia with the band Shenandoah. They performed in Adelaide and Sydney; the concerts were broadcast over ABC-FM radio, and I was fortunate enough to hear them. One of the songs was Tom Paxton's "Changing My Name to Chrysler". It's all about bailouts; click here to read the lyrics. Fun - but deadly serious, too.

UPDATE, 25th December 2008 (that's right - Christmas day!)

My original Windows 95 computer "died" over a year ago, and I've been using a Windows 98 machine ever since. (So don't call me a "Luddite", OK?!   )

ANYWAY, the point is that I only found out a few days ago - almost by accident - that it's actually possible for me to run a good enough version of Flash to view YouTube videos and similar. It's opened up a whole new vista for me - what fun!

Just a few days ago I posted my new page about Christmas (here, if you're interested). While hunting for an Arlo Guthrie video link to include there, I also found a link to an excellent video of him (with Shenandoah) performing "Changing My Name to Chrysler". Click here to see it - it's a ripper.

- And of course, because of the much-vaunted "global economy", the whole world is affected. The global stock market doesn't appear to know what to do; to use a phrase first coined (to my knowledge) by former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke, it's "up and down like a toilet-seat".

It's not my purpose here to give a blow-by-blow description of what's happening, or to predict how (if at all) it's going to end. I simply wish to make the point, again, that it's basically down to one thing:

GREED

It does have its comic aspects, though. Who'd have thought that words like "socialism" would be bandied about regarding the US administration's bailout of the banks?!

Just one example: Have a look at this web-page. Note: I'm not getting involved with this debate one way or the other. To me, "socialism" is just another "ism", along with "capitalism" and "communism". In the final analysis, words are just words; it's ideas that matter.

What's really interesting about all this is that, finally, we're hearing media reports that actually sound as though they make sense to the ordinary person. A spade is being called a spade. Odd terms like "short selling" are being explained to us lesser mortals in words we can actually understand - and be horrified by. Best of all, "credit" is actually being called by its real name: DEBT.

Just maybe we'll all come out of this a lot wiser, if somewhat poorer in monetary terms. Perhaps the public won't be bluffed so easily in future by the "spin-language" of the greedy financiers. But I don't think we're there yet.

In Australia, over the last few days, there's been talk of an interest rate cut. But there's a catch. Have a look at this article.

That's right - the Governor of the Reserve Bank and the Prime Minister, bless 'em, agree about an official interest rate cut of 0.5% (WOW!) - but don't want to put pressure on the banks to "pass it on" fully to their customers! How about that?

Is it because the banks, poor darlings, really can't afford to give their long-suffering customers a break? Give me a break!!!

There is the beginning of public anger about this. People are very cynical about how interest rate hikes are passed on immediately, but cuts - if and when they occur at all - can apparently only exist "on paper", if it suits the power-brokers' ends.

But what's really intriguing about this is that the federal opposition - the remnants of John Howard's former government, basically - have taken up the matter and want the cut passed on in full to the beleaguered public! How about that? - from former members of the highest-taxing government in Australia's history, less than a year ago? (Click here to read more.)

"Strange days indeed - MOST peculiar, mama!"

At the end of next month, it will be a year since Kevin Rudd's federal Labor Government took office - with a bit of help from yours truly. I'm thinking of giving them an "e-report card", right here in this website. Stay tuned.

Earlier in this page, I mentioned the movie "Mary Poppins", and provided a link to another commentator on the movie. ( Here's the link again, for convenience.) In that page, the author makes the point that banks need their customers' confidence in order to function; and that without it - as in the case of young Michael Banks - they cannot operate. Perhaps the banks should take note of that, and just pass the interest rate cuts on, regardless of what the "shot-callers" say - because I don't believe that the public are going to have any more confidence in illusion - or what I prefer, in this context, to call "hot air and BS" (and you know what BS means).

So what can I say about the global financial system, from my own perspective?

Well, I've already had quite a bit to say on the subject in several pages within this website, including those whose links appear in this one. In fact, around 2000, when it was just starting to become a major issue, I wrote an angry song about it called "The Loan Sharks", which you can see (and hear) by visiting this page.

I'm still trying to get my head around it, and crystallize my thoughts. This page represents my most recent thinking about the matter. I don't intend to stop mulling over it for as long as the need persists.

I'll be honest: my heart says that I'd like it simply to die ASAP, and be completely rebuilt from the ground up, with ordinary citizens the big winners and the financiers very tightly reined in, with tough legislation to enforce strict controls on their activities and harsh penalties for those who don't measure up. (I cheered when I saw on my TV screen, a few nights ago, US protesters holding placards saying "JAIL THEM - DON'T BAIL THEM".) Also, international safeguards should be built in to ensure that if one country's economy goes "belly up", other countries are insulated from the effects. Most importantly of all, however, no individual country's autonomy as a nation should ever be subservient to any kind of world-wide economic system. The overreaching global economy, in its present form, is quite simply an abomination.

On the other hand, my head says that the required changes probably won't - and couldn't - really happen in quite so traumatic a manner. Major surgery is needed, and the ends I've just espoused must happen - but it will take time.

I just hope the world learns from the current crisis - that the financial markets (including banks and stock exchanges) can no longer be allowed to continue on their merry way, peddling nothing more than "hot air and BS". That's OUR money they're playing with, and they need to be held accountable.

What worries me is that, over time, people will forget. As I mentioned in my Why is Mad Teddy mad? page, a third of a century ago my generation didn't finish the job we'd set ourselves, and thought we could just take it easy ("She'll be right, mate!" is the classic Aussie expression); and now we're paying the price for our lack of focus.

Is it really too much to expect the world's people not to forget the current lunacy, and resolve never to tolerate it again? - To really "Beware of MAYA"?

I wonder.

While researching this page, I ran across a web-page which discusses the place of outfits like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in all this. Well worth a read; click here to do so.

I ended my "new millenium" page (mentioned earlier) with this quote from a song by Jimi Hendrix:


...castles made of sand
fall in the sea
eventually...


Well, it's happened, as I knew it had to, even back in March this year when I wrote that page. Is there another well-known song which expresses a hope for a new beginning?

Perhaps. Although I'd never have thought so at the time, the 1986 movie "Mad Max - Beyond Thunderdome" contains a wonderful Tina Turner song which I think captures the mood I'd like to express here.

Some of the lyrics from "We Don't Need Another Hero":

"Looking for something we can rely on -
There's got to be something better out there.
Love and compassion, their day is coming;
All else are castles built in the air -
And I wonder when we are ever gonna change it,
Living under the fear till nothing else remains..."

UPDATE, Tuesday 7th October

Well, I don't think I've ever before updated a web-page so soon after posting it! I only put this on the web last night, and I've just watched the ABC-TV Midday News - so that's quite a bit less than 24 hours later. But, as the saying goes, "it's all happening..." - so here I am again.

Two items:

Firstly, the big bailout clearly isn't working. The stock market is going down, not up - and quite dramatically. US President George W. Bush was on the telly, saying "Restoring confidence will take time".

Well, credit where it's due - he got that right, even if it is simply a case of stating the "bleeding obvious"!

Secondly, our Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, was also on the box, defending his decision not to insist that the banks fully pass on the new interest rate cut to the public. It seems that it's too early to Google any links to the story yet; but I did find this link to a page in "The Australian" newspaper's website, in which Kevin Rudd is reported as saying essentially the same thing late last week. Have a look.

That page was posted last Friday, 3rd October 2008 - just four days ago. The story starts as follows:

"K[evin] Rudd has stared down criticism of his refusal to insist banks pass on in full any cut in interest rates, saying his job is to ensure the health of the financial sector."

WRONG. Kevin Rudd's job is to be the Prime Minister of Australia, not to take the side of the banks against the interests of the Australian people!!!

These are indeed strange days. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I'd be championing a statement by a lame-duck Republican US President over one by an Australian Labor Prime Minister for whose new government I voted less than a year ago.

It's very simple. The answer is to be found in the "Mary Poppins" story. If politicians, public servants (and I'm thinking very specifically of the Reserve Bank Governor), and the financial sector's leading figures want to restore confidence, they are going to have to start treating the public with some respect - because there is no other way they'll ever regain it.

- And the matter is urgent, because the stakes are high. As young Michael Banks said:

"GIVE IT BACK!!!"

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

SECOND UPDATE, Tuesday 7th October

Well - I can't believe this. I've just watched the evening news, and it's not a measly 0.5% interest rate cut - it's actually 1%!

That's a real surprise. Admittedly, not all of it is being passed on to borrowers; but even so, it's had an immediate impact - the Aussie stock market started to pick up immediately, and finished the day on a much happier note than anyone had thought possible.

So while the US bailout appears to have no effect (no positive effect, anyway), just putting a bit of extra cash back into the pockets of Joe Public down here has performed a minor miracle! I'm just wondering - is it remotely possible that some of our "big nobs" are actually reading and taking notice of my website? Or is it just coincidence...?

UPDATE, Saturday 25th October 2008

I like computers. My first experience with a computer was in 1971, my first year at university, when for the first time a small subject worth three points (a full year's study was 36 points) named "Introduction to Computing" was offered by the Uni. of Tasmania's Mathematics Department.

I enjoyed the subject. We were taught to program in Algol. This was the language from which PASCAL later grew; whereas PASCAL is a schoolmarmish language which promotes "good" programming habits over everything else, with heavy emphasis on such things as top-down modular programming and structure, and strong disapproval of "spaghetti programming", Algol was a "nerdy" language essentially designed for scientific use. Its "arcane-ness", and the ability to do neat tricks within it, appealed to me greatly.

"The Computer", an Elliott 503 machine, was housed in the chemistry building. The main unit was a rectangular block like a large fridge on its side, complete with blinking lights and a tape reader which accepted information (programs and data) in the form of rows of eight holes at a time (one byte), previously punched in a paper tape using a large, noisy typewriter-like machine called a flexowriter. The tape was rolled up using a special gadget with a crank-handle, and fed into The Computer, which read it and then spat the tape out very dramatically, ready to be rolled up again. The Computer would "think" for a little while, and then a tallish, clattery object called a line printer, attached to The Computer by a cable, would spring into action, and you'd get your printout. Oh, yes - those were the glory days!

Actually, the students weren't allowed to use the computer directly. (The only reason I know what it actually looked like was that the staff held an "at-home" one evening early in the year, when we were all served coffee in pyrex chemistry beakers - new ones, we were told! - and allowed to see the monster in operation.)

We were required to write our programs by hand, put them in a large brown appropriately-marked envelope, and place them in a cardboard box in the Maths Department labelled

JOB PUNCHING

A day or two later, you'd collect your envelope containing your original hand-written program along with a typed-up version and a rolled-up paper tape, both produced by a member of the office staff using a flexowriter, from another cardboard box labelled

PUNCHED JOBS

Also in the envelope would be a printout resulting from a run of your program; with a bit of luck it had "worked" and given you the result you wanted (very unlikely, for the first run at least!). You had three chances (or was it only two?) to edit out any progamming errors and put it through the system again; the final result, complete with the most recent program listing and paper tape, was to be placed in a third box for assessment by the due date. (I can't remember what that third box was labelled; it might have been

JOB SUBMISSIONS

- or something similar).


My goodness - how things have changed.

When the internet arrived on the scene in the 1990's, there were posts from users proclaiming that we should fight to keep it purely for free exchange of information, decrying any suggestion that there should be commercial activity on it. As long as it was all Usenet and FTP, that was pretty much how it was; but once the web arrived (via a program called Mosaic, an early version of Netscape) and you no longer needed to be a nerd - or even a geek - to get involved, it wasn't long before the financial floodgates were opened.

- And here we are, not much more than a decade later, and just look at the result. Click here to see another web-page addressing the issue. That web-mistress (I dislike the trendy terms "blog" and "blogger") addresses the issue of how what is supposed to be "wealth" is now merely bits, bytes, and glowing pixels on a computer screen, with no real, substantial existence at all. (Just hot air and BS, as I said earlier.)

She also uses the term "Humpty Dumpty world economy". Actually, it's very easy to find lots of web-pages which refer to "the economy" in Humpty-Dumpty terms. (Have a look at this page, for example.) Then again, only a few days ago, I saw on TV a senior US financial figure (I can't remember precisely who) saying "We have to put Humpty Dumpty together again" (or something very similar).

On yesterday's TV news, we saw former US Federal Reserve chief Alan Greenspan admitting - finally - that he got it wrong. In the unlikely event that you missed it, click here to read all about it.

For far too long, the people on whom the financial world has relied to regulate its affairs have adopted a "hands-off" or laissez-faire attitude, in the hope that the "players" would regulate themselves; and, of course, it hasn't happened. Instead, greed has ruled for many years, and now we are all paying the price. (It's not just me saying this, although I have been saying it for a very long time - the "movers and shakers" are now actually admitting it themselves! What took them so long??!)

The above graphic, which I created many years ago on my old Commodore 64, has appeared earlier in this website, in my Humpty Dumpty Book page. I thought it was appropriate to give it another airing here.

So - do we just put Humpty Dumpty together again?

- And re-live all this nonsense, a few years or decades later? From my perspective: no, thanks!!! That particular incarnation of Humpty Dumpty is dead.

I'll be frank: as far as I'm concerned, economics as a field of human endeavour has failed us. If we just patch things up and carry on as usual - if we refuse to learn from our mistakes - it will simply serve us right when it all goes pear-shaped again next time. I've already had a fair bit to say about it in these pages; and I'm convinced that recent events have proved me right. We simply have to find a better way.

We ordinary citizens - the "Joe Public"'s or "Joe the Plumber"'s of this world - deserve better. Let's work toward a just solution, and then never allow the rich, greedy and irresponsible to wreck our world again.

UPDATE, Sunday 30th November 2008

Every so often I browse through this website, mainly looking for outside links I've included that don't work any more. Sometimes I find one; if possible, I'll generally try to fix it by Googling to see if its URL has changed. Occasionally I find a link whose target seems to have completely disappeared. (On the positive side, rarely I'll find one that's gone away and then come back later!)

[I'm rambling again, aren't I? Back on track...]

Just today I've read through my All that glisters page, which contains one of my rants about matters economic. That page starts out by talking about gold, and then moves on to other matters - in particular, the stock market.

One reason for revisiting the page was that someone I know mentioned yesterday that, with the current global meltdown, people are taking an interest in gold again. Apparently this information came from something called "Daily Reckoning". I just typed that into Google, along with "gold" - and this page popped up. Apparently it was posted on 5th June this year (2008), when all the current trouble was just starting to look like something really serious.

I'll admit, I can't really figure out what that page's author is on about. Unless I'm mistaken, he/she seems to be championing gold as an investment - or am I missing some subtle irony? (See what you make of it!) But more to the point: while looking through my "glisters" page, I revisited a link I put there when I posted the page in 2006. That's one link that (at the time of writing) still works; and in the light of the current crisis I think it's well worth a look, if you haven't seen it before - or even if you have, because it's right "on the button". Here's its URL:

https://newint.org/features/1998/10/05/introduction

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