Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Chomsky comments on handling of crisis

The following is an excerpt from a Press TV interview with political analyst Noam Chomsky on January 24, 2009:

...when Indonesia has a crisis, Argentina and everyone else, they are supposed to raise interest rates very high and privatize the economy, and cut down on public spending, measures like that. In the West, it is the exact opposite: lower interest rates to zero, move towards nationalization if necessary, pour money into the economy, have huge debts.

That is exactly the opposite of how the Third World is supposed to pay off its debts, and that this seems to pass without comment is remarkable.

Having read Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine, I noticed this convenient departure from the usual IMF "recipe for recovery" right away, and commented on it in this blog.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

In praise of credit cards

The other day, I received a $100 voucher from Visa, to be spent at a local department store. As I held it in my hands, and calculated I could buy about five pairs of pants with it, I reflected on the benefits of the credit-card system — provided you use it in a cold-blooded, disciplined manner.

Shortly after I got my card in 1998, I found that if you shamelessly bought everything on credit, maximized your number of reward points, periodically converted your points into clothing vouchers, and always paid your accumulated debt as soon as it fell due, you could make a tidy profit on your operation of the system.

Of course, if everyone did that, Visa, MasterCard, et al., would have to charge a lot more in annual card fees. But they know that most people are weak and stupid, will buy more than they can afford, and will incur a growing debt that attracts interest at a rate of about 20 percent.

With everyone predicting a tough year ahead, it's time we all started thinking and acting smarter.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Our summer holiday: three hotels reviewed

My daughter and I stayed at three hotels during our five-day holiday this week:

1. Kingsgate Hotel, The Avenue, Wanganui. If you grew up in the 1950s, and feel nostalgic for the decor/fittings of the period, this is the place for you. The bathroom washbasin didn't even have a water mixer: just two taps, so that we had either hot or cold. Our evening meals were super-sized, which meant we ended up leaving about half the food on our plates. (I nearly choked on my mountain of fries.) The beds were uncomfortable, and the pillows large and hard. We had to turn off the noisy refrigerator.

2. The Waterfront Hotel, New Plymouth. This is the poshest place in town, with room rates to match its status. We paid $240 a night for a room with a view of the sea. Everything was glass, chrome, fake marble, and fashionable shades of gray. The evening meals, though not as stupendous as those at the Kingsgate, were still a little overwhelming. But as you would expect in a new hotel, everything was spotless. The beds were large and comfortable, the room cooler worked well, and the refrigerator was so quiet we barely noticed it.

3. Mountain House, Pembroke Road, Stratford. This place, which is run by a German, is about a third of the way up Mt Taranaki, a dormant volcano, and is surrounded by dense native bush. We were put into a detached chalet, a three-minute walk from the main building. Shortly after we had settled in, the girl from Reception arrived with a flower for our empty vase and some complimentary fruit and nuts for the wooden bowl on the bedside table. She told us that we could drink the contents of the refrigerator without incurring any extra charge. Following the map she had also given to us, we set off on an hour-long tramp through the bush — following a route that took us, via some nice new wooden bridges, over numerous streams and gullies. That evening, while waiting for our dinner, we were invited to sample some homemade German bread, which was delicious. The food was excellent, and came in sensible portions, which meant we could leave the table without feeling bloated. We noted the antique skis and old horns (from Germany?) on the walls, while we admired the view of the bush through the large dining-room window. In our simple, neat room, the beds were a little on the small side. But, hey, you can't have everything. I was particularly impressed by the hotel's readiness to trust us: There was no demand for a credit card as soon as we stepped through the door, and we were not required to sign chits after our meals.