Tag Archives: USD

It was thebadrash wot won it! Barack Obama takes US presidency

Last night, as I went to bed, the very first precints were announcing results in the US Presidential election. From small areas of eastern states, after about 12,000 votes had been counted, Obama stood at 48% while McCain had 52%. I went to bed with those numbers in my head, convinced that it was impossible for McCain to win but also allowing myself a few fleeting thoughts of just what it would mean if America rejected change for an old man clearly under the spell of the most divisive elements of a radicalising Republican party.

But I needn't have worried. Ever since my original endorsement of Mr. Obama, in February 2007, he has achieved good results in the polls. Now, I'm not saying that part of his victory doesn't come down to the $500m of donations he received, the huge voter registration drive or the support he received from diverse elements of the electorate. But let's face it: there are different degrees of importance when you look at these matters. And my endorsement was one of the important ones.

Seriously though, for those of you who worry that Obama's just not far enough from McCain and the Republicans in terms of policy: you may well be right. But the important thing here is that positivity seems to have won out against the politics of fear, which is, if nothing else, a firm rejection of everything that nasty prick Bush (and his foul team of acolytes) stood for.

Bush remains president until late January next year. He's apparently busy signing anti-environment legislation, destruction of the environment being something close to his heart.

My life as a door to door salesman

Some time back, I spent the best part of a year living in Australia. The majority of this temporary residence was spent living at Gun House, a military residence in Fremantle, Western Australia. I was an exceptionally lazy young man and spent most of this 'gap year' spongeing from my father and stepmother, listening to music and chatting with girls rather than finding gainful employment. I like to imagine that this is what most 19 year-olds will do, given half the chance… but I was probably worse than most.

The only job I did during my 8 months in Fremantle was a 3 1/2 month stint working as a door to door salesman for Primus, a company which offered cheaper phone calls in comparison with Telstra, the Australian national phone company. I'd like to state for the record here that we weren't selling moon dust or snake oil. There was a genuine opportunity for people to save money on their phone bills by opting for another company when phoning interstate or overseas. That said, I probably would have done the job even if it was a scam. It was one of the best, and one of the worst, times of my life. I've been thinking about it again recently, so I thought I'd try to collect my memories of the time.

Aparna, my stepmum's cousin helped me get to the interview which was somewhere near the Northbridge district of Perth. I know that as part of her task to help me settle in in Perth, she had also to try and get me employed. I turned up at the interview in baggy jeans and t-shirt and although the interview was full of warnings about hard work, commitment and so on it was pretty obvious from the start that if I could write, recite the pitch and above all, walk, then I had a job. They asked me to start immediately and so the next day, I was there in cheap trousers, cheap shirt, cheap tie and trainers. My training consisted of half an hour's orientation and then we were in the car. There was myself, Will, an ambitious Cambodian-born Australian and a couple of other guys who were just starting out.

Will was my mentor for a few days, taking me along with him as he convinced the citizens of one district after another to sign up for cheaper interstate calls. As we started our beat, he immediately criticised my tie, letting me know that it looked cheap. He was wearing a $100 suit, with a nice tie and probably some cufflinks. His shoes (every door to door salesman needs strong, easily polished, durable shoes), were sturdy but showed signs of wear. He signed about eight households up to the service, using the same pitch each time, "Good afternoon, my name's Will and we're just in the neighbourhood checking that everyone's signed up with Primus for cheaper phone calls. Oh you haven't? Well I'll tell you about the service and then we'll get the paperwork sorted". The pitch was cunningly engineered to make people think it was something that they'd almost forgotten about. Something they'd meant to do, even if they didn't realise or remember.

I can't be sure but I suppose we visited a hundred houses or so each day, of which we were expected to sign up about 12-18. Each sign-up was worth around $12 to us, on which we paid no taxes or social security ('self-employed contractors' as we were). We used the same pitch on each house, giving the person who'd answered the door little chance to speak or even think. We launched straight from the pitch into the sign-up process as an attempt to get the hapless customer to believe that they'd already agreed to the deal. Sometimes that worked and other times, we'd have to answer their questions about how much it would cost to call Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, England, China, India, New Zealand or Vietnam.

It wasn't hard to pick up the pitch, or the attitude you needed to use with it. Grinning, chuckling, smarmy comments and winks were, perhaps surprisingly, as useful as they are in the movies. I guess that having grown up in Devon, where very few (if any) salesmen came to the door, I was more surprised by the way the stereotype really applied than I would have been had I grown up in a big town.

Every day at about 11am, we'd leave our office near Northbridge in Perth and set off for the suburbs. We worked from Rockingham to Two Rocks, and covered much territory in between. Some areas we covered were well-to-do districts (not great for doorstep sales), some were fairly built-up (lots of flats equals lots of sales) and some were low-income outer suburbs (redback spiders above the doors). I saw it all, from swarms of bees to bored housewives, from kangaroos to gold miners (a trio of whom once insisted on giving me a bong before they signd up… I was so stoned for the rest of the day that I didn't make any more sales in the remaining two hours). I stopped at Aboriginal houses which were empty, as all life went on in the garden, and plush beach villas, most of which were empty just because it wasn't the holidays. But most of our targets were in the low-income white suburbs… these were the people who really wanted to save money, after all.

Abuse was a fairly common thing. This ranged from the odd, simple "Fuck off!" to a man threatening that he'd "have [my] balls for breakfast", to an Asian colleague being chased down the street by a gentleman with a metal bar. Some triad boys once threatened me with knives. But I also experienced a lot of kindness. The kindness of strangers is, to misquote, oddly reliable. I was treated for sunstroke by a kindly widow, I was given a bellyful of beer by a couple of proper ockers who asked me what I thought of their wives; I was given a cuppa and a chip butty by some Yorkshire expats. In fact, kindness definitely outweighed abuse. But abuse gets to you.

What really ended up pissing me off about the job was my colleagues. Some of them were lovely: Simon, a fellow Englishman who became a good friend, for example. But then there were the wide boys, like Miguel and Jermaine. These two wanted to be gangsters (one of them probably is now, if he's not dead), and pushed my patience to superhuman levels. And my boss, Alex. This guy was getting about $16 for every sale I made. For every sale I got $12 and he got $16. A good business for him but utterly demoralising for me.

All we did with our pay was drink, party and eat fast food. We went to a karaoke bar called Seoul Karaoke and nicked bottles from the storage area by the loos. Everyone took speed and ecstasy at the weekend and many of us would start work hungover… it was a highly unhealthy lifestyle. And that's without mentioning my unpleasant experience with Rohypnol.

I'm not sure why I've written this, other than to relive an experience I'll hopefully never have to go through again. If any prospective door-to-door salesmen read this, I have one piece of advice: if you must do it, do it. But get out as soon as you can. Doorstep sales is a depressing, dehumanising job.

What's the worst job you've ever had?

Donald Trump: Housing market is still alive!

Those of you struggling to meet your mortgage payments, terrified of what might happen if food and fuel get even more expensive, calm down! There's a man here who'd like to show you that it's not all doom and gloom.

Donald Trump, a well known and very rich man, has just sold his 5km sq. beach-front property to another very rich man for a record breaking $95 million. Trump said of the sale:

In an age of so many people getting hurt in real estate, it shows that you can still do well in real estate. I think it's a great sign for the area, a great sign for Palm Beach and all that Palm Beach represents.

So next time you start to moan about your rent and food bills going up, or the fact that you can't take a holiday this year, just remember: maybe if you worked a little harder, you'd be in possession of a $95 million mansion in Palm Beach. Think on.

(Coming next week: I will explain why banks deserve billions of dollars of government handouts but the working poor don't. And I'm reliably informed that Iberian Notes isn't frothing at the mouth about 'nationalising the banks' which always used to be his yardstick for the end of the world and the rise of the Bolshevik terror. I guess it's OK when it's done by people with whom you share what amounts to being a kind of a political philosophy).

UPDATED: Microsoft bids to buy Yahoo!

OK so this is breaking news and there aren't many details out yet. But apparently, Microsoft has made an offer to buy Yahoo! for about $44.6bn. They're valuing the web firm at about 60% more per share than the current price, which obviously makes this a staggering move. If it goes ahead (would it be allowed?!), this is the biggest story to hit the web since forever.

It looks to me like this might just go ahead. They've obviously already talked about it.

By the way: I work in this industry and I'm genuinely worried by what this might mean. For various language-related reasons, there's a good chance that plenty of programmers could go jobless if this mega-monopoly deal goes through.

More news as it comes..

Update: Here's the text of the letter Steve Balmer wrote to Yahoo (after the fold):

Continue reading

iPhone annouced – at last

iphone-2.jpgThis evening, Apple finally announced what must be the most highly awaited product in the company's history. The iPhone, a combination iPod, mobile phone and portable internet device looks stunning.

The whole thing is one big touch-screen (no physical buttons), comes with either 4GB or 8GB of storage, runs MacOS x (which means it links up perfectly with your new iMac/PowerBook, if you have one), features WiFi, BlueTooth, iTunes, and all other stuff.

Potential problems: touch-screens get dirty/smudged/scratched really quickly. It's not clear if they've done anything to deal with this. Also, battery life is noted as 5 hours. That had better be talk time… otherwise this thing will be pretty unreliable.

Price: $499 for 4GB, $599 for 8GB. Available in Europe: end of 2007.


Well *I* liked it

I've got to admit that the best film I saw this year was the new Bond film, Casino Royale. I'm not saying that it was the best executed, acted, written or produced… probably it wasn't. But it was by far the most enjoyable and quite frankly, I've kind of given up on watching films which are supposed to trigger some sort of emotional or intellectual response.

This process began with Donnie Darko, a movie which was made for people like me (drop-out, pot-smoking philosophy students who listen to independent record labels). Anyway, lots of people I knew loved it and eagerly recommended it to me so I watched it and thought it was completely abysmal. It just seemed so pointless that I didn't care enough to 'unravel' the 'secrets' of the film. Ooh the old lady and the tunnels and the rabbit… it's all so cryptic and yet full of imagery!

I felt sorry for George Clooney when the press started going on about Syriana and saying it was an indictment of US petro-policy and so on. Well, I didn't exactly feel sorry for him: he's an incredibly wealthy movie star who can do whatever he likes. But I did think 'Oh no, poor old George is going to have a lot to live up to after all this attention'. And I was right: Syriana, whatever it was intended to do or say, did and said nothing to me. It was a jumbled, waffly, trite, emotive work in mental masturbation. It said "See, we've made the world shit" in the way that only a $50 million movie can.

I'm afraid that I was also singularly underwhelmed by this year's smash hit, Pan's Labyrinth (El Labarinto del Fauno). This film was made half to appeal to me and half to appeal to mental people like Gemma's cousin in C.R. who believe in pixies and fairies (which they insist on spelling 'faeries') and other such nonsense. The half that was supposed to appeal to me was the fact that it was set in post Civil War Spain and there were nasty Franquistas running about everywhere.

The thing is: this is one of the least talked about periods of recent history here. After the Civil War which you can argue about for decades and never agree, Franco formed a dictatorship and set about rebuilding a heavily traumatised Spain in his own image. I've never seen a film which dealt with this subject matter and was interested to see Pan's Labyrinth and how it treated this delicate, fascinating subject matter. Thing is, the film is set then but doesn't really say anything about it. The setting is pretty much irrelevant to the plot – and as such doesn't interfere with the delicate, magical story surrounding the little girl who's the main character. The problem is that I can't abide mythical beasts or any of that stuff and so even though I got what was going on, I couldn't stand it.

Bond, on the other hand, was great. Simple, manly action; beautiful, exotic women in low-cut dresses; a dab of betrayal and lost love. It's not a film which will change the world but by heck, it was thrilling and that's what it set out to be.

I used to love the more avant-garde, emotional, witty and moving films made by directors like Godard. Actually, I still do… thing is that no one's making films like that these days and the closest alternative is the pseudo-art-movie. I'd rather eat fresh bangers and home made mash than a pre-cooked fancy ready-meal from Sainsbury.

CES: Google to launch $200 PC?

The buzz is that Google is going to release a new type of PC based on a thin client, running a Google operating system (not Windows) and costing only $200. The story doesn't seem to have been picked up on much but if it happens it would be a revolutionary move. The days are gone when Google could be thought of as some group of upstarts kicking against the pricks and innovating for humankind. Now they appear to sit on the brink of becoming the great tech behemoth.

New iPod launched!

So, this'll probably be the next model I get. My current iPod is stuttering occasionally, and will probably have to be replaced before too long.

From engadget.com, the latest news:

New iPod announced! The new iPod, as speculated, features video capabilities and the wider display, but it’s still a music-first device.

The device will feature a 2.5-inch display, QVGA resolution (320 x 240), and will MPEG-4 h.264 (natch), and presumably Quicktime.

The new iPod will be 30% thinner than the current 20GB iPod (making it 0.44-inches thick—say wha?), and will feature a 60GB version (which should be thinner than the current 0.63-inch thick 20GB iPod), and editions of both in black.

The 20GB should go for $299, and the 60GB for $399. They’ll be shipping next week.

What’s the device named, you ask? The iPod. That’s it, just The iPod. Well spare you the Prince jokes. The iPod will have TV out.

Stevie has iTunes 6.0 up there—only about a month after introducing iTunes 5.0.

iTunes 6.0 will also feature video and the iTunes Music Store will feature video downloads (big surprise, right?)—at launch over 2,000 music videos will be made available at a cost of $1.99 apiece.

Oil production set to peak. One more time?

In August last year, I read a Guardian opinion piece by lovable looney George Monbiot about how oil production had peaked. He quoted the unlikely-named Texan oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens as saying "Never again will we pump more than 82 million barrels." well you can read the rest of the story here. Monbiot is great. he writes these opinion pieces from the old school of lefty-green fatalism and makes these wonderfully final statements like 'it's the end of the modern age' and they just come true.

But George has competition. John Vidal writes for the… er… Guardian as well. And today he has written a wonderfully pessimistic article about how oil production is about to peak. Sometime next year, he reckons. So we are actually still in the modern age. Now don't get me wrong. I enjoy reading about the end of the world as much as the next smug pseudo-socialist (I am on the way to becoming an archetypal Champagne socialist, the only issue being that I drink Cava – living as I do in Catalunya). What would prove us all more right than the utter collapse of capitalist society?

John Vidal makes the sensible point that oil is necessary for our way of life. I've asked friends and colleagues many times: what do we do when the oil runs out? It's not merely a fuel. nearly every aspect of our lives is partly reliant on plastics of the multitude of other chemicals we manage to extract from that gorgeous black milk. Gemma's response is usually "they'll find something" – and I suppose she must be right. The truth is that necessity has always bred invention. So there'll be a period of what? years, decades? And then things will be OK again.

But that could be my whole life. Living like Mad Max. I hate Mel Gibson.

On the positive side, T. Boone pickens was saying that we'd never pump 82 million barrels a day again. Well John Vidal says we're now pumping 83 million a day. So none of the predictions are that reliable.

One hint: put a decent fuel tax in place in the USA. The average price per litre of octane 85 unleaded petrol in the UK costs 80.5 pence. In the USA, customers pay an average of 27.05 pence* for the same stuff. It doesn't take a genius to realise that a decent fuel levy in America might help reduce consumption… and also raise the necessary dollars to invest in correcting the $7.7 trillion defecit. I know things aren't quite that simple, but they ain't that complex neither. Radical ideas need to be considered, or it's off to the Thunderdome for the lot of us.
* World petrol prices from the AA.

US Aid

The aid effort to tsunami hit Asia is now fully underway. As might be expected, the US bloggers are full of pride for their great nation's contributions and righteous indignation that they could ever be criticised for anything. The fact is that prior to today's military assistance, the US had contributed relatively little to the aid effort. The 2001 attacks on New York merited $5 bn of aid. The Asian tsunami merited $350 m of aid. There is no reason, no excuse and no argument for this gross discrepancy. It certainly looks as if some lives are more valuable than others.

While I have your attention, please remember to donate!

Right-Wing mentalists make films

"Quit whining about Hollywood, quit threatening these meaningless boycotts, get into the market of ideas and fight for what you believe. There was just such a shortage of films and documentaries that represented a conservative world view. For some reason, conservatives don't go into film. They don't tend to be artists. I don't know why. That's just a tendency."

Hubbard has been described by the media as a wealthy Dallas attorney, although he isn't. He's from Arkansas, not long out of law school, and has done various jobs, including restaurateur and schoolteacher. He told me he and his wife slept on a $200 futon from Wal-Mart. Ellen Hubbard did not seem happy he told me this.

The Hubbards set up the festival – mainly, they say, with money from family and friends – after going to an arthouse cinema one night and being faced with a choice between Michael Moore's Bowling For Columbine and Frieda, a film about Frieda Kahlo – "a film about a communist artist," as Hubbard put it. "Neither of those films reflected our world view."

– two small points: people who have right wing politics don't usually become artists because they have little interest in the world, beyond what it can do for them. They generally disapprove of philosophers and academic-sounding talk (cf George Bush in the White House and General Astray, the fascist general in the Spanish civil war). On the other hand, Hitler painted.

Secondly, Hubbard doesn't like films which do not reflect his 'wordlview'. This may also help to explain why right-wingers don't make many films. Look to your worldview and you may find the problem. Besides which, Hubbard has made clear that he feels that all entertainment and art he consumes must coincide with his political viewpoint. What a stupid bastard! Did he watch the Freida film? Salma Hayek's very good in it. She bares her breasts a few times, and they're very nice, Jim. How does that fit with your worldview, dickhead?

Acebes claims transparency after March 11th

After the post-fascist PP rushed to blame ETA for the Madrid bombings, the Spanish people reacted with disgust and anger. The Partido Popular/Popular Party (PP) lost in the general election days later.

Now, Angel Acebes has claimed that he told the truth. He claims that there still could have been some ETA involvement (despite the fact that there is absolutely no evidence to support such a claim). He also states that while the PP maintained the moral high ground with complete transparency, other groups used the bombings as an excuse to rouse the people of Spain, solely for their own political ambitions.

These 'others' are essentially the groups José Maria Aznar referred to as "the PSOE [a mainstream socialist party], the anarchists and the communists" – a telling remark with the very clear intention of harking back to a time when everyone was either a good catholic or a raving Stalinist – those happy days known as the dictatorship, during which Aznar's and most of the former PP ministers' families benefited from patronage and support for Franco's illegal regime.

In fact the PP tried to use the bombings for their own political gain, but in a far more sinister way than those on the left wing who merely supported independent and genuinely spontaneous demonstrations. On the eve of the election day (the 14th of March), Aznar and his deputies attempted to force through a temporary law which would have suspended the general elections until further notice. The significance of this attempt cannot be overestimated. Nor should the PP's attempts to make itself seem like a centrist party cloud the truth that most party members and ministers were at some time dedicated followers of the dictatorship which overthrew a democratic republic in the 1930s.

Manuel Fraga, PP grandee and president of Galicia, frequently addressed major PP conferences with all major party leaders present (including Aznar and Acebes along with the imbecilic former foreign minister Ana Palacio). Before the reintroduction of democracy, Fraga had another job. He was the minister of propaganda and information under General Franco, and many saw him as the number three fascist in the Spanish junta.

So this is the PP, a party that Tony Blair was happy to do considerable business with, despite the fact that it openly harboured elements with similar ideas to those of the BNP. The PP oversaw numerous policies with roots directly in the dictatorship including the re-introduction of compulsory catholic religious education in schools (now to be repealed), and the establishment of the 'Plan Hidratico' which would divert the precious water of the Ebre (which benefits the farms and valleys of Catalunya and Castellón) to benefit instead the farms and valleys of the far more Spanish South.

Besides this, Aznar used public money to fund not only his own daughter's wedding (at which Blair was a witness, effectively feasting and gorging off the work of Spanish workers) and spent an incredible $2 million of state funds in his efforts to get the Congressional Medal of Honor.

And these are the people who gripe about a terrorist group (ETA) with allegedly fewer than 1000 members. The real danger to Spain over the last seven years – indeed, since the 1930's – is the presence of a far right wing minority so shameless and malicious that they intentionally hurt autonomous regions of Spain with poor investment, high taxes and a sort of smirky hatred.

The PP represent everything that is wrong with Spain: cruelty, arrogance, racism, fascism, greed and corruption. That they were thrown out by the Spanish people is something that should be celebrated and remembered.

ah man

i am so knak-knak-knackered with this new job.
what i do is this: receive orders from one 'major oil company' to one 'major computer company', check them, log them and send them on their way. serious.
said oil company orders around 50,000 to 100,000 u.s. dollars worth of computers for its various departments (only the ones in europe thought, cos that's all i handle) EVERY DAY. how? what do they do with them? someone should tell said oil company that chucking computers away after a week isn't v economical or ecological, but on the other hand they hardly need to worry on the first count, and on the second they obviously don't care anyway! yay!
i haven't signed my contract yet, but I can see some future in the job; and it makes it possible for me to visit oz again next year! (hopefully take G to Perth-o and Fre-o too, but will need somewhere to stay).

pizza save me

[Listening to: Bummer in the Summer – Love – Forever Changes (02:25)]