Thursday, September 30, 2010

On The Move

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Most of the teenage males I know are mad on computer gaming. I can understand what attracts them because, in spite my age, I too feel the adrenalin rush urging me to join in. The graphics are amazing. They have now reached the point where it is getting very hard to see the difference between animation and reality.

Alas, I remain a closet gamer. I have yet to meet someone who can show me the ropes without making me feel like a handicapped dinosaur. One way of coping, is to tell myself that I have better things to do with my time. Which is true of course. Even so, it is getting harder and harder to resist the primitive urges that computer gaming companies know lurk within all of us.

For example, they are now including interactive hand held controllers in their products that are taking gaming away from keyboards and into our living rooms. It began with PlayStation and Xbox and now Nintendo’s Wii has opened up new territory with devices that respond to our body movements. My daughter has one and she keeps fit using her Wii as a kind of personal trainer.

Sony has not sat on its PlayStation laurels and intends to give the Wii a challenge with its new “Move” device. The TV ads look very impressive and claim to give PlayStation gamers additional tactile experiences. You can actually swing the controller like a golf club and send a digital golf ball across a digital green that is shown on your TV screen (the bigger the better naturally, to max the buzz).

It comes with other similar games as well like: archery, ping-pong and volleyball. For guys and macho gals, there is a boxing game where you can beat the digital daylights out of an opponent or ruthlessly machine-gun them down in a war zone.

Of particular interest to me is the painting game where you can make shapes and colour them in remotely on a TV. Who knows, one day I might be able to wave a Move device around and draw my cartoons in bed on Sunday mornings. At present, painting on the Move looks like graffiti from a spray can, but it is bound to get more sophisticated as they refine the technology.

Much of this has been already available to gamers. However, where the Move breaks new ground is the way uses its PlayStation Eye. It is a very sophisticated webcam that appears to be capable of mapping a 3D picture and shows a mirror image of players in real time who can be seen carrying weapons and tennis rackets etc.

There have seen plenty of humorous comments about the shape and appearance of Sony’s Move on the Internet. Some have described it as a lollipop. It reminds me of a comment made to me by a woman supermarket worker who laughed when I accidentally upset a display of shampoo bottles, “Obviously designed by men - always falling over when you need it!”

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Dear John

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Some readers might need to know that “The Secret life of Walter Mitty” is the title of a famous film starring Danny Kaye. Walter could not control his daydreaming and he had hilarious imaginary adventures that sadly ended when he woke up to a boring life.

Dear Mr.Key,
It has been very obvious that earthquakes and finance company collapses have taken up most of your time lately. I hope you are getting plenty of sleep and do not get struck down with crisis management overload. By the way, if you need a hand to sort out minor issues, like the employment of accused CV faker Stephen Wilce as a top Defense Department chief – then perhaps we can help.

Here at ‘Walter Mitty Anonymous’ we have plenty of experienced people to deal with fellow sufferers like Mr. Wilce. We welcome them with open arms to all our clinics. They usually are very grateful to find asylum from an unsympathetic world that is over flowing with pragmatic realists.

Instead of repressing it, we encourage people with Walter Mitty Syndrome (WMS) to let their condition fully express itself in a safe environment. If you are familiar with “Primal Scream” (re-enacting your birth) and “Happy Clapper” (talking in tongues) therapies, then you will appreciate its effectiveness.

Most of our members make a full recovery and some even re-direct their talents into noble professions such as writing, music, cartooning, architecture, visual arts, and even politics. In fact, when it comes to politics we have noticed quite a few untreated WMS suffers in your own party.

Some tell tale signs of WMS that are easy to detect are obsessive desires to; privatize prisons, cut welfare payments, introduce educational vouchers, remove school zoning, allow Waitangi claims to all the coastlines, let floating exchange rates dictate business profitability and allow unrestricted foreign control of land and Kiwi owned enterprises.

Just send them over to us and we will guaranty to restore the daydreaming/real life balance. Our fees you will have noticed are moderate when compared with lawyers, dentists and resource management consultants. However, we have still managed to acquire the latest WMS scanners that enable us to make an accurate diagnosis.

Recent advances in radiographic technology means we can now determine the amount of pragmatism emitted from WMS patients. If they present early enough, any monetarist tendencies can be realigned with cognitive psychotherapy. Extreme cases might require micro-laser surgery to zap offending cells and neural pathways to encourage pragmatic regeneration.

We can assure you that our strict security procedures will ensure complete confidentiality, but please book in early to get the best response. Our services are proving to be very popular lately in Australia and we could soon be completely booked out for months ahead. Regards Walt.

PS If you ring us and hear a strange noise on the phone, it will be the snooze tone. Please leave a message and be assured that you will be the first in line to get the next available wake up call.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Financial Fiascos

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The collapse of so many finance companies in our country has revealed one of our persistent weaknesses. When it comes to handling savings, many Kiwis are slow learners. The latest head on the block is the sad face of Allan Hubbard who was once one of the richest men in New Zealand.

He established and controlled the South Canterbury Finance Company (SCF) and until recently, it was apparently well managed. In the last few years it grew very rapidly. Unfortunately, it appears that the management team took their eye off the ball and indulged in some reckless speculation. They then took a king hit from the credit crunch in the latest recession and are now in receivership.

The exact details of how this happened have yet to be revealed. SCF investors have been luckier than most because Bill English, as Minister of Finance, has become a reluctant guardian angel. He has forked out a 1.6 billion dollar guaranty of taxpayer’s money to prevent a fire sale of SCF assets. What is even more surprising is that many investors are not only going to get their money back – but with interest as well.

To quote an old saying (when the dollar was worth more), “If you owe the bank a thousand dollars, the bank controls you. If you owe the bank a million dollars you control the bank.” In today’s financial markets, perhaps you could tack on, “If you owe the bank over a billion dollars, you control the Government!”

It is interesting to see that governments, such as the USA, Britain and NZ, who followed monetarist economic advice (deregulated markets), are now changing their minds. To fight off a depression, they are resorting to Keynesian intervention (public spending and borrowing) to avoid huge private enterprise losses. Fortunately, in New Zealand our public debt levels are low, but that is changing as large amounts of private debt are being shifted into the public sector.

I think our Government is trying to maintain confidence to prevent a crash in private equity (e.g. land and buildings) while the massive amounts of private debt are being lowered. Even so, the scale of the SCF rescue package is very large when you realize that every kiwi citizen will be risking $400 of their taxes to stabilize the market.

New Zealand governments have of course done much the same, to a greater or lesser degree, in the past. However, when the economy finally picked up, they eventually let speculating weasels wreck the hard won prosperity again by letting them run amuck in the fowl house.

Some might say that is human nature doing its thing and so why fight against the inevitable roller-coaster rides of capitalism when government intervention has its failures too. Well, all I can say is that our “Billion Dollar” Bill English is doing his best with his fiscal shotgun to keep the weasels away for now. Hopefully, his leader’s “Keysian” approach to government will inspire the economically productive chooks left to keep laying.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Save Your last Dance For Me

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The recent Australian election has made me appreciate how fortunate we are with MMP in New Zealand. We now have less of the bitter factional fighting that goes on behind the scenes in Aussie political parties. Under MMP, factions tend to break off and recombine as new parties to make up coalitions after each election.

This gives us a clearer idea of what politicians really want to do and makes Parliament more transparent. However, the press seems to insist that we also need to know about personal relationships as well. The latest episodes are the dancing sessions in the Act Party spaghetti western “Royhide”.

Rodney Hide was made to appear as a kind of gun slinging sheriff, who had every right to terrorize the Act Party Saloon. It was probably the vote loaded Epsom Seat 45 on his hip that gave him his confidence. All his rivals could manage to carry were water pistols.

On one fateful day, the saloon doors swung open and in strode Rodney Hide’s deputy, Heather Annie-Oakley Roy, with an icy cold look in her eye. It had been whispered around the town that she had caught Rodney cheating at cards and it was time for a showdown.

“I hears you’ve bin tellin’ folks I’ve bin cheatin”, sez Rodney who was finishing his bourbon at the bar. Heather was about to reply, but in the blink of an eye, Rodney’s Epsom 45 was in his hand and with one shot Heather lay sprawling on the saloon floor.

Rodney lifted his gun and blew the smoke from the barrel. “My next deputy will have to be more careful won’t he”. He said grimly as he cast his most fierce glare at his cowering audience. Turning to the quivering Barman he barked, “Fill it again Sam!”

While Rodney had his back turned, Roger Douglas drummed up enough courage to drag Heather out onto the street and valiantly tried to resuscitate her. He then noticed the dent made by Rodney’s bullet in her deputy’s badge that had saved her life. Gazing skyward he cried out “Oh Miracle of miracles! Is this some special sign that she has been chosen to live?”

Meanwhile, back in the Act Party Saloon, Rodney’s mood had lifted. “The drinks are on me fellas! Here’s to my new deputy!”

The celebration did not last long though, because they were once again silenced when the bar doors swung open to announce the second coming of Heather Roy. All eyes fell on Rodney Hide and it was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. To everyone’s surprise an apologetic Rodney jumped up, bowed and said how impressed he was by her resilience.

He extended his hand to Heather to dance and the man on the honky tonk piano played the Party’s anthem as they all joined in with “Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’. We’ll keep this party rolling Royhide. Through rain and windy weather we’ll always stay together. Royh-i-i-ide. Yee-Haa!”

Friday, September 3, 2010

She Aint Nothin' But A Hound Dog

If you had suggested to me ten years ago that I would one day own a dog, I can imagine myself saying, ”You must be joking – no way!” In those days, I was convinced that dogs should only be kept by people who really needed their help - like the police, farmers, customs officers and the sight impaired etc.

We had close friends who had a Springer Spaniel and their visits reinforced my rather rigid anti-dog opinions. “Friend” would rocket out of their van and head straight for the swampy creek at the back of our place. He then would return to share his fun by splattering stinking mud over us. After they left, our garden looked like a battlefield and our house was full of dog hair and muddy footprints if we forgot to shut the door.

I often swore that, “I’ll never have one of those stinking, crapping, flea infested mongrels in my house as a pet”. Whenever my family suggested that they would like a puppy I would show them newspapers with stories of dogs attacking children and adults. Armed with this sort of horrific evidence, I would then rattle on with something like, “There, you can see for yourselves what can happen. They eat almost as much as a person and some of them want to eat us as well.”

In time of course, my kids grew older and became teenagers. I was eventually out voted and ‘Cheka’ arrived as a pup from the Animal Shelter. She was supposed to be a “medium sized dog”, but I could tell from her huge paws that this was unlikely. Sure enough, her Alsatian, Lab. and Rhodesian Ridgeback genes were revealed when she grew into a rather large adult dog (tipping the scales at 45kgs).

Cheka blew away all my hardened attitudes about owning dogs and turned out to be a wonderful member of our family. Mind you, I had learnt from years of looking after guinea pigs, cats, chooks and mice that were abandoned into my care. This time around, I insisted that the rest of my family should take of all Cheka’s needs and they did – albeit somewhat reluctantly at times.

It is worth remembering though, that all dogs are descended from wolves and they must at all times be treated with caution. The “Call of the wild” is still strong and most of them have not yet lost their predatory instincts. Our dog left our chooks and cats alone, but showed no restraint when visiting other households.

I discussed this with a female friend of mine once and her response was, “Yeah right! You can say much the same about all men being hunters and likewise they can be just as dangerous I can tell you!” She gave me a meaningful look and continued, “If I had my way I’d have all you guys tagged and registered so we could know who you belong to… aaand throw any untagged strays into the pound.