Friday, October 24, 2008

Alpaca lunch - you bringa Marx

Best in show - equal first amongst equals

Money makes me nervous
. When the current financial crisis hit, Anatole Kaletsky observed in The Times,

The wonder of financial crises is how events can move straight from impossible to inevitable without ever passing through improbable.

This is the sort of thing that keeps sleep at bay. We all knew it could happen but no one had the bollocks to risk manage it. Anyone in a position to do so was making too much money from it. The world is now waking up to what many of us have known for a long, long time – that rich people aren’t necessarily smart people, in fact they’re much more likely to be fatally stupid. This is why their stranglehold on the commodities that keep us alive has been so terrifying. Anyone who’s ever closely watched the film Wall Street will know that the much quoted Gordon Gecko grab that morphed its way into the paradigm that devoured common sense is actually,

Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.

Let’s consider that qualifier – for a lack of a better word. Is it possible that if Gordon Gecko had been a more articulate man, we might have been spared two decades of the culturecide that is rampant capitalism? What if the better word he lacked was, for example aspiration or passion? What if building a better world involves a more substantial act than buying more white goods? I’m a big fan of the Australian economist Clive Hamilton and his rage against affluenza. He’s been banging on for ever about the untenability of economic growth being the benchmark of a healthy society. Clearly citizens of the world, no matter how patriotic, can’t keep increasing their rate of personal consumption. At some point they will run out of money or storage space or trouser sizes or all three.

Here’s how smart all these financial gurus who’ve been taking home the equivalent of Cuba’s GDP in annual bonuses are. Most of them have no idea of the ingredients that constitute the ‘financial products’ they’ve been so zealously flogging. The only quality these ‘products’ possessed was their desirability. And people say women who love diamonds are vacuous. How gorgeous would you look with a string of junk bonds draped around your neck? So now it’s all gone the way of the pear, it’s slowly dawning on all those smugly superannuated early retirees that their pension funds have gone on sabbatical in a south sea bubble leaving them waving helplessly from sinking sand. Does the idea of a universal National Insurance system funded by full-term, full-time workers, employers and profits from tangible assets like efficient public transport and sustainable utility services appeal to anyone?

And what about those Ma and Pa Kettle mortgages threatening global financial viability? The lenders knew that the people who took out those insane loans wouldn’t be able to meet the payments, so they sold the debt on. Greed is one of the seven deadly sins for a reason. It absolves itself of the responsibility to do what is right, in the sense that it fails to accept that one person’s gain, if it results in a loss for other individuals or organisations, will likely have negative social consequences that will be compounded by its serial replication. So greed was a cataclysmic disaster in the end because, like Anatole says, when the debt suddenly stopped moving around, it had to crash and burn somewhere. The money everyone thought they had, wasn’t ever really there. The low-wage slaves who bought six-bedroomed houses did so on the premise that their houses would gain in value, i.e. move from one arbitrary fantasy figure to a higher arbitrary fantasy figure, remaining one vital step ahead of foreclosure. And, as Clive says, at some point, a critical mass was inevitably reached.

Oprah Winfrey. I’ve said it before, I don’t give this dangereuse nearly enough attention. Presented with the challenge of solving world poverty, what does Oprah do? Why dang it, she gets on to all her friends who make shit and asks them to double their shit quota and then she hauls Bono out of whatever twilight home for the perpetually addled he normally inhabits and drags him around the glittering emporia of Chicago, gleefully buying ten of every custom i-thing and t-thing that retail hell can conjure. Buy even more shit to help the poor – it could only have come from Oprah. I'll bet the starving Sudanese are using the last of their strength to compose thank you songs and dances even as I write. Of course she seems ridiculous and laughable but, like all the other idiots with wallets the size of Winnepeg she’s treated like some grand duchess of wisdom. If she’s got that much money, she must be smart, right? Besides, she’s swallowed a library of self-improvement books over the years so she must know something. Maybe things will change now. If admiration for this kind of profligacy not to mention indecent disrespect for the palpable suffering for which it is partly responsible in the first place turns to disdain, then the turmoil will have been worth every phantom cent.

At the risk of colonising the moral high ground, House of Pants is a cash economy. It’s surprising how much respectably acquired income you can sock away if you’re not paying interest to lots of people who persuaded you to have something you didn’t want and don’t need now rather than when you’ve saved up enough money and have had the time to think it through thoroughly. Apart from the ill-conceived purchase of a hypoallergenic owly-cat some years ago – a mistake I won’t be making again in a hurry. (Barney – I won’t tell you again, step away from the combine harvester. That marijuana crop belongs to Stinky Pete and he will not be happy if he comes back from his Hell’s Angels road trip to find you’ve snaffled up his future-proofing scheme). Where was I? Mistakes. Yep, Barney was my rock bottom in that department. Apart from that moment of madness, I pretty much stick to the principle of simple taste equals minimal waste. I do think Stinky Pete’s on to something though. Drugs are a good investment in the future. We’re all going to need plenty of them in the months to come, if only to endure the chorus of groans from peers who thought they were so much cleverer than us 'investing' their inflated salaries in hedge funds and putting off seeing the world until they could afford to go first class. As the grey nomad army puts up in trailer parks across the western world and besieges local supermarkets for shelf-stacking jobs, I hope to be firmly ensconced in the unmortgaged new Seat of Pants nostalgically pasting my coach tickets into scrapbooks.

It was JP Getty who said, ‘the meek shall inherit the earth but not its mineral rights.’ Well watch those mining shares plummet and see who’s going to be smiling in the new reality. At this juncture, it seems absurd to be trying to tie in the picture above taken at the recent Birregurra Festival by a glasserless Ms O'Dyne but it calls to mind a television show I once saw advancing the theory that the most successful economies were built on the backs of beasts of burden, a concept illustrated with the scene of conquistadors ravaging the South American continent while a herd of startled alpacas looked on in consternation. I’m with the alpaca – don’t be coming near me with no saddle, pal. I started out by saying money makes me nervous. It’s probably truer to say incomplete transactions and the involvement of other people in them make me nervous. My crypticism is due to an inexplicable dependency on superstition. I cannot reveal all at the moment but it is a bit of a saga … Barney, do not even think about walking under that ladder…

Friday, October 10, 2008

Maidens all for Lorne

If idylls are your bag...

The perfidy of strangers is not to be underestimated. The upstanding institution formerly known as House of Pants has crumbled into a pantry of paranoia over the last tumultuous year. Never before have its assets been entirely liquid and all I’ve been able to think about is that someone would just steal the whole kaboodle because it’s sitting like a duck in a soup, all in the one place – a bank! Little did I realise that my portents were in fact prophesies. Someone or something is trying to steal everyone’s money out of banks. The sooner the Pantsfolio gets sunk into land, the better. It’s considerably harder for strange forces of indeterminate inter-global evil to walk away with your house.

News reportage on the financial crisis occupies the same sanctum of creepiness as the Halloween movies for me so I’m only able to watch through splayed fingers and that has an odd impact on the numbers. I know it’s all jolly scary but I’m thrilled that Gordon ‘Scrooge McDuck’ Brown has moved to part nationalise British banks before they do a KLF on everyone’s pension. If ever there was a time to have a dreary tightwad at the helm it’s now. Plod away Scroogie. I do hope Australia follows this prudent lead as I have recently transferred the Pants retirement fund over, fearing it might not be safe in Europe!

But there is also occasional wondrous beneficence in this uncertain world. Ms O’Dyne, as you may know has taken me and Barney under her wing and put up with a shandrydan of shenanigans (mostly from Barney obviously) without a shred of complaint. It must be said that Ms O’Dyne does have some eccentric ways so there’s a degree of give and take. Incidentally, Barney does most of the taking and that has led to some friction, particularly in small rural towns where an owly-cat doesn’t readily blend into the scenery. It’s not as if you can say, ‘oh, he’s just out on remand and hasn’t quite got to grips with the right and wrong thing yet,’ and expect people to just grumble and go back to fiddling with their iPhones. Country folk want to know where you’ve come from, where you’re going and what you plan to do with the psychotic aunt you have locked in your cellar. Plans are something that Barney and I briefly consider we should make before one of us gets the bright idea to pour a G&T and put everything off until tomorrow. However, having surveyed the treasury of literary prizes on offer in Australia, Barney has now decided to pen his memoirs. He plans to call his opus The Owly-Cat in the Attic. I have advised him to get a little more life experience first – actually, make that a lot. I could use the break and the possums have been crying out for company.

The milky loveliness of generosity recently extended itself almost untenably as Ms O’Dyne was offered the use of a fabulous cliff-side mansion along the Great Ocean Road just outside of Lorne and asked us to join her. Barney quickly volunteered the services of the Pantiebago to transport the circus that is us to the seaside and, before you could say I left my wahini in Wangaratta, we were installed in mega-star luxury and supping G&Ts on the balcony, ingesting the gobsmacking views. We invited a few friends around for supper and it did get a bit lairy. Barney, of course, was in his element. He prides himself on getting down and dirty with the locals and needs very little encouragement to lick food off floors, tables, hands and frankly anything its able to stick to.

Unlike Barney, I’ve never wanted to be rich. There are some lifestyle trappings associated with the well-off however that I wouldn’t turn down. The new Seat of Pants is definitely going to have decent water views. They won’t be anything like this amazing villa where it feels like you're occupying the penthouse of a giant ocean liner, but my perspective will be of the same ocean. Good washing facilities too – the showers in this place were my idea of the perfect wet dream. Heating, obviously – my fingers and toes are in roughly the same condition as Sir Ranulph’s when he got back from Everest. And the only other thing I want is decent knives. When one has an owly-cat, one needs to prepare for any eventuality.

Please enjoy a selection of our holiday snaps below with captions by Barney.

Birdie Num-Nums

This Kookaburra doesn’t mince his words

Cock-a-hoop, the bar snacks are gratis!

Parrot Fashion

Foo Flighters - Enlarge this one to get the full meaning
Pity us, our lives are awful...