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Archive for the ‘Thoughts’ Category

I have a friend who is a bit left-leaning. A lot left-leaning actually. Bosses exploit the workers, socialism is a fairer system, etc, etc.

Then she opened a shop. Of course, it is one of those trendy organic food, fair trade coffee, home made soap type places, but I respect anyone who risks their own money and puts in the massive time and effort it takes to get a business started.

She is doing quite well. Well enough to need to employ someone. That lasted two weeks.

When I asked her what had happened, she told me she had gotten fed up with paying her employee twice as much as she was earning, for doing half the work. And, she added indignantly, her employee hadn’t even put any money into the business.

I couldn’t help a little snicker.

Final update to the JBC scam saga.

For background see the two earlier articles.

David reported in comments that he has written to ASIC. He has had a response which I cannot detail here. But they are taking his complaint seriously.

What is not so good has been the response from his bank.

Apparently Mastercard have a system called Mastercard Secure, or Securecode. This is supposed to provide protection for cardholders against fraudulent transactions, and protection for merchants against false chargeback claims.

I have been a Mastercard user for years and had never heard of this scheme.

If a merchant is a member of Mastercard Secure, and they attempt to ‘authenticate’ a transaction through this system, then even though there is no communication with the cardholder, the merchant is protected against any chargeback claim. 

JBC has heard of it, and are registered for Mastercard Secure.

I have checked with Mastercard, and I was amazed when I heard what this scheme means in practice.

What the Mastercard Secure system means is that any merchant who is registered under the scheme can deduct any amount from your card at any time. As long as the merchant attempts to ‘authenticate’ the transaction through the system, you, the cardholder, have no protection at all.

Mastercard will not attempt to communicate with you unless you have also joined Mastercard Secure. They will simply confirm the transaction as legitimate without checking with you, and you then have no recourse, even if, as in JBC’s case, the merchant is a known scammer.

This scheme, whatever its intended purpose, protects fraudulent merchants or scammers from genuine chargeback requests at the expense of cardholders.

I for one will be moving on from Mastercard.

Update:

David reports the fraudulent debit to his Mastercard has been refunded. The Securecode system does not protect merchants who deduct funds without authorisation, or transactions which are dishonest, as JBC’s debit to his account was.

He also reports discussions with the Australian Securities and Investment Commsission. Without discussing any individual business, they assured him that they and the Federal Police actively pursue scam sellers of sports betting or share price prediction software.

The smooth patter and glossy advertising material that promoted the JBC software was normal for scammers. Most people would see through that, or at least, still have questions. What made JBC more convincing to ordinary people was the fake websites they had set up. These were calculated to give even someone who checked carefully the impression that JBC was a legitimate and well-respected business.

Setting up fake websites to give your product an air of respectability it does not deserve is deliberately dishonest. These people are thieves, nothing more, despite their fancy advertising.

A brief update to my earlier article on JBC.

Others have been caught by this scam.

JBC have set up fake websites to give their share trading /stock trading software credibility. This is dishonest.  It shows clearly that this is not simply a product that does not work for some people, but a deliberate scam.

You can complain via the Australian Securities and Investment Commission.

Or via the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Or Scamwatch.

Since JBC is based in NSW, you could also lodge a complaint online at the NSW Fair Trading site.

Please email me or comment if you have been contacted by JBC, or if you have purchased their product. The more people who write or complain about JBC, the sooner they will be shut down, and the more people will be saved from losing hard earned savings or superannuation.

I know, I’ve said it a thousand times before, almost all subsidies are a waste of time, and end up costing more than any benefit they provide.

There are three reasons:

First, if you are getting a subsidy, you don’t have to worry so much about careful planning, or financial responsibility (because someone else – the taxpayer, usually – is picking up the bills), or whether anyone will like or buy what you produce. In other words, subsidies enourage a lack of efficiency, and the production of goods and services which nobody wants.

Secondly, subsidies are inefficient. Subsidies mean taking money off some people and giving it to other people at the whim of a politician or lobby group. This bad enough, but the process itself, its planning, administration and record-keeping, all cost time and money – which means substantially more money is taken from the taxpayer than ends up in the hands of the recipient. In some instances, the cost of assessing a person or group’s eligibility for a subsidy is more than the value of the subsidy itself.

Thirdly, subsidies (and food and clothing and other material aid, except in the most dire emergencies) discourage potentially viable businesses, and therefore discourage investment of both time and money in creativity, in business, in research and industry. The long term consequence of this is that businesses, artists, causes, etc, that might be successful on their own merits are disadvantaged.

In developing nations, local business people cannot compete with shiploads of food and clothing aid. So the West’s generous subsidies mean local people have no incentive to invest in developing the primary production, trade and industry which produce long-term wealth.

In relation to art, it is sometimes argued that good art is not necessarily commercial. Something may not sell well, and yet be worthy of support.

But who decides this? If no-one wants something enough to pay money for it, on what basis is it judged to be good?

I cannot think of a single piece of visual art or music, or a play or film that people have wanted and enjoyed, or which has shown itself to have lasting value, which depended on subsidies for its production.

On the other hand, there are hundreds of talented artists, musicians and playwrights who stand on their own feet, and who have made the world a more interesting place, by showing us truth or beauty or meaning where we had not seen it before.

My friend Neil Sheppard is one. Neil makes a good living from producing good paintings – that is, paintings that say something worthwhile, and that people enjoy enough to be willing to pay for.

Neil’s (Shep’s) website is on visualartist.info, but you can see more of his work on Flickr.

Enjoy!

The two major Australian grocery retailers are both currently running offensively sexist ads.

The Coles ad is the less offensive of the two. ‘You shouldn’t be taxed for being a woman’ it says. So Coles will pay the GST on the whole range of feminine hygiene products.

How nice. I don’t think I should be taxed for being a man, either. So why aren’t they paying the GST on shaving products, or hair restoring products?

I also don’t think I should be taxed for having to eat, or having to wear clothes, but I doubt any retailer is going to say ‘Well that’s unfair, we”ll pay the GST on life’s essentials.’

Women spend most of the family income, so it is natural that retailers should target advertising to women. But suggesting that women are somehow being victimised by the taxation system, and that they, Coles, are bravely and generously remedying this injustice is dishonest nonsense.

The Woolworths ad is even worse.

A woman is making scones. She talks about the ingredients, and then says that recipe doesn’t say anything about fancy packaging. Then she looks at her husband, and says ‘I’ve never been worried about fancy packaging.’

Imagine the uproar if the ad went like this instead:

A bloke is in his toolshed. He says that every tool is in its place, and every tool has its purpose. He adds that tools don’t need fancy packaging, and then looks at his wife and says ‘I’ve never been worried about fancy packaging.’

People would recognise this for what it was – a deliberate putdown. They would complain. And they would be right to do so.

So why is it OK for advertisers to belittle men?

Last Monday I had half an hour to spare on my way from Adelaide to catch the ferry back to KI.

I stopped at Second Valley, which is about five minutes off the main road. It was just about sunset.

I thought you might like this photo, taken with my Nokia N95:

Sunset at Second Valley, South Australia

Sunset at Second Valley, South Australia

This story about the ernormous cost (over $1,000 per taxpayer) of the US’ proposed fast rail system is a few days old. And I like trains. Oh, I said that.

But even so, it is more proof of my view that anything that needs to be subsidised probably shouldn’t be.

That certainly includes wind power, and the arts. Or is that a tautology?

Anyway, governments subsidise things because otherwise they would not be successful. If they would not be sucessful without subsidies, they won’t be successful for long even with subsidies.

In the meantime, they cost you money even if you don’t use them, and cost jobs as well.

Frank Devine, Christian and journalist, is dead at age 77. Frank was born in New Zealand (as I was) but was a genuine Australian.

Like his adopted country, he was dry, beautiful (for his character and his writing), harsh (sometimes) and big of heart.

I looked always forward to reading his next column, and will miss them, and his warmth, honesty and intelligence. I am grateful, too, for his unashamed expresssions of love for his wife Jacqueline, and his championing, from his own experiences, of the value of marriage and of faith.

A heart-felt tribute here from Peter Coleman. Andrew Bolt records a similar expression of thanks and regret from former Prime Minister John Howard.

He was a man of faith and integrity. May God grant him rest with the saints, and joy everlasting.

That could be the headline for a story about Michael Jackson, but it isn’t.

There is an interesting and moving story here of the women’s orchestra at Auschwitz.

In August 1943, the Austrian musician Alma Rose was coincidentally discovered at the experimental medical station. She was named as the new conductor, despite the fact that she was Jewish. The thirty-seven-year-old violin virtuoso was the daughter of Arnold Rose and the niece of Gustav Mahler.

Rose’s fellow prisoners described her as an extremely charismatic woman. The SS treated Rose with respect, often referring to her as Frau Alma (Mrs. Alma). From the beginning, Rose was the protégé of Hoessler and
Mandl. They placed an entire barrack at the musicians’ disposal for their personal and work use. Alma Rose was even allowed to exchange the old instruments for newer ones with better tone; she herself was given a particularly valuable instrument.

Through diplomatic maneuvers, Rose was slowly able to obtain better living conditions for all members of the orchestra. Each woman had her own relatively clean cover, straw mattress, sheet, and slept on her own plank bed. The musicians were able to wash daily and use the provisional toilet.

Nonetheless, music was forced labour, and Rose died before the war ended, probably by poisoning.

But music was also a means of survival, both in the sense of providing some security or (minimal) protection when surrounded by sudden death and unsepakable horror, and as way of finding hope and humanity and beauty.

Some tips from someone who has never made any money out of shares.

But I bet it is as good as any advice you will get from a broker or multi-thousand dollar charting package.

1.  Unless you invest in blue-chip stocks and plan to leave your money in the same stocks for years, trading in stocks is gambling. As in any form of gambling, don’t put in more than you can afford to lose.

2.  Buy when everyone else is selling, sell when everyone else is buying. The same applies to real estate.

3.  Stocks at historic low prices may be a great investment if the company is financially sound. But keep in mind, dead cats don’t bounce.

4.  Don’t panic over minor day to day price variations.

5. Low value stocks (penny stocks) may give high profits. If you invest $1,000 in a stock at 2c and it goes up 1c, you have made $500. But if it goes down 1c, you have lost $500.

6.  Tracking stock price cycles through charting is a bit like following the racing form guide. Don’t put any more faith in it than that. It isn’t science.

7.  Despite all the above, if you watch the news, think about what is happening in the world, what the weather is doing (this affects grain and exploration, amongst other things), and where the cycles are in stock prices (both general trends and the price cycle for the particular stock you are considering), it possible to make a better return on capital trading stocks than any other legitimate investment.

I never paid much attention to Farah Fawcett. I wasn’t fond of Charlie’s Angels, and when I did watch it, enjoyed Kate Jackson more.

Farah was indeed beautiful, and was an actress of considerable ability. But those are not the most important things about who she was.

Years ago I watched Brideshead Revisited with Jeremy Irons and Laurence Olivier. I had read the book as a teenager and loved it. The series was as good as the book – and that is saying something.

The climax of the story is when Lord Marchmain, who has violently rejected the Catholic faith in which he was raised, is lying on his death bed, and at the last moment, makes the sign of the cross.

That scene brought tears to my eyes. It told us that hope and redemption were possible, only a step away, no matter how far we might have strayed.

Now watch this video news story about Farah Fawcett:

Tears again, even though I did not know her. Hope and redemption and joy.

The most important thing about Farah Fawcett was that she was a woman of faith.

Rest eternal grant to her, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon her.

You’ve seen the ads. Invest a few dollars on our easy guide, and you’ll be making more money from home in a few hours a week than you ever did in your boring office /factory /farm /driving /whatever job.

Most of those schemes involve selling schemes telling other people how to make money on the internet

So before investing your money and giving up your real job, you might like to read the Work at Home Truth website first.

Avoiding scams is mostly common sense, and not being lazy or greedy. But there are also some non-obvious pointers, and some interesting ideas about home marketing and adsense plans which might actually work.

Google often changes its logo to match the day – public holidays, festivals, even sports get their own logo de jour.

On June 6th 2008 Google remembered the birthday of Spanish painter Diego Velasquez.

I like Velasquez. Las Meninas, the painting suggested in the logo, is a wonderfully rich image that draws in the viewer, and almost forces him or her to wonder, to ask questions, to participate in the painting. It really is one of those rare paintings you can lose yourself in.

On June 6th 2009 Google remembered the invention of the game Tetris. Tetris was a milestone in computer games. It is simple to play, highly addictive, and has probably been played by more people than any other video game.

But hang on. Important as those things might be, June 6th is the anniversary of D-Day.

2009 is the 65th anniversary of the day on which allied forces, mostly men from the US and UK, landed on beaches in Normandy and began to roll back the horror of the Nazi domination of Europe. The beaches were more heavily defended than expected, and losses were horrific.

The film Saving Private Ryan gives a frighteningly accurate portrayal of the conditions under which the landings took place.

I am not the only person to think there is something wrong at Google HQ if D-Day can be consistently considered less important to remember than a painter or a video game. (There is something wrong at Wikipedia as well, but that’s a post for another time).

On June 6th 2009 Bing had a photo of a Normandy beach.

Time to change search engines.

One of my friends is a dizzy blonde beauty therapist. She spends a considerable amount of time ripping hair off people’s private parts.

Last night she showed me a brochure for a new product – lightening gel for sensitive areas.

Apparently with so many people now permanently hairless down under, looking one’s best everywhere has become a major concern. You don’t want to look brown. Pink is the go.

So you smear this cream on your rectum and it goes a nice pink colour. Celebrites are ordering with confidence, according to the South Beach website.

The process is also known as anal bleaching.

But why would you do it? Who would be looking?

The Tragedy of The Diocese Of The Murray.

You have never cared about me. Nobody likes me. But I am still your bishop, so do what I say. Or give me $1 million and I will leave.

That was the message from Bishop Ross Davies to members of the Anglican Diocese of The Murray at their annual meeting (synod) a week ago.

The Anglican Diocese of The Murray is a small (by Australian standards) diocese in South Australia.

I have known Ross Davies for nearly thirty years. He is an intelligent man, and a capable speaker and administrator.

He was consecrated bishop in March 2002.

At that time I was Rector of Naracoorte and Rural Dean of the South East. I was on the Bishop Election Committee. So was Bishop Ross, who was then Vicar-General of the diocese.

It was not appropriate for him to remain on the committee after his name was put forward. But he did remain, and did not excuse himself when his nomination was being discussed.

Nonetheless, he was elected, and I was happy with the result.

I preached at the Bishop’s consecration at St Peter’s cathedral. Shortly after, I was asked to be the first Dean of The Murray. I declined, believing I was still called to serve in Naracoorte. A year later I was asked again and accepted.

The bishop and I are both conservative anglo-catholics. We were of similar mind in terms of the central issues of the faith, and the role of the Diocese of The Murray in the life of the Anglican Church of Australia, and the wider Anglican Communion.

These, and our long standing friendship, were strong reasons for me to want him to succeed.

Problems began very quickly after the consecration. The Bishop had difficulty keeping his temper, and those who disagreed with him were treated like enemies. Both clergy and lay people reported feeling hurt and confused by his behaviour towards them.

Over a period of time I raised some of these concerns with him, only to be sworn at myself, and told that I had been ‘opposing him at every turn.’

I still supported the Bishop, though often with considerable embarrassment and internal conflict, in relation to some of his public actions, such as participation in the consecration of bishops for the Traditional Anglican Communion, and at his treatment of people who did not instantly agree with him, or were slow to do as he wished.

Eventually ill-feeling in the diocese rose to such a point that I wrote to the Archbishop of Adelaide and to the Primate, listing some of the major issues, and asking them to speak to Bishop Ross.

This did not happen.

As time went on the situation became completely unworkable, with the Bishop increasingly expressing resentment against the people he was called to serve, experienced clergy leaving or being sacked, and lay people refusing to come to church if the Bishop was present.

Claims that allegations of a pattern of predatory sexual abuse of women by the then Vicar-General had been ignored, or worse, deliberately covered up, were the last straw for many faithful worshippers.

The Bishop has been largely absent from the diocese for the last eighteen months.

A number of parishes have made it clear he is no longer welcome. It has been reported that the Diocesan Council has passed a vote of no confidence in his leadership. But Bishop Davies has refused to leave until he is given a payout of close to $1 million.

The Archbishop of Adelaide has complied with a request from the diocesan council of the Diocese of The Murray to open an independent investigation into Bishop Davies’ behaviour. The investigator may then recommend that a tribunal be set up which would have the power to dismiss Bishop Davies.

Bishop Davies disputes the Archbishop’s right to set up such an investigation, and the authority of any tribunal established as a result.

The categories of behaviour which a tribunal can investigate are very limited. They do not include simply being unable or unwilling to do the job of Bishop.

However, Bishop Davies is an employee of the diocese. If he is not able or willing to do the job he was appointed to do, and all attempts at negotiation have failed, the diocese is within its rights to dismiss him.

This has been suggested before, and the response has been that this would be a harsh and unforgiving thing to do. It would not.

There is much to be forgiven. And much has been forgiven. But the question is the suitability of Ross Davies to be Bishop.

It is not unforgiving to recognise that someone is not suited to the position to which he has been appointed. The last five years have been miserable for Bishop Davies and his family as well as for the diocese. The longer this crisis continues, the more harm will be done.

It is time to call an end.