Wednesday, 28 August 2013

A wigwam for a goose’s bridle

It never fails to amaze me how gullible people can sometimes be. It is a shame I don’t have more cheek than I do, because it seems that the snake oil salesmen are having a great time these days.

For every wacko idea you can think of there seems to be somebody marketing it and selling it and for some reason they never seem to run out of suckers to buy it. Some of the schemes are downright evil and some very trusting albeit naive people get sucked in and spat out and they are often pretty knocked about by the experience. For the peddlers of such goods and services horsewhipping is too good.

However every once in a while somebody comes along with a really wacky idea that is taken up by people who should know better and I for one can’t help but chuckle at both the audacity of the vendor and the stupidity of the buyer.

One such scheme was dreamed up by a bloke called Gary Bolton. Now before I go any further I should make it clear that I think horsewhipping is also too good for Bolton because his little scheme had some catastrophic downstream effects. However he is far from the only culpable party here. Bolton’s outrageous plan could have been scuppered long before any harm was done if certain bodies including the U.K. Government and various police and military forces had done their jobs properly.

Bolton is the bloke who came up with the idea of selling bomb detectors and made over three million quid selling them to police and military clients in Mexico, Thailand, Pakistan, China, India, the Philippines, Singapore, Egypt and Tunisia. Good idea, you might think until you learn that these devices were completely bogus.

Based upon a golf ball finder the device consisted of a box with a handle and antennae attached and some pieces of plastic inside it. It was first launched in 1999 and tested by the Royal Engineers whose opinion was that was only accurate about 30 percent of the time, which of course means that the other 70 percent of the time you were likely to get blown up. In other words probably no better than guesswork at detecting bombs.

It would seem Mr Bolt-On took this assessment with a pinch of salt and a lot more twink and as a result his publicity material for his marvellous machine explained that the device worked by locking onto the atomic structure of the suspicious parcel or substance and then giving its exact location. He claimed it worked on static electricity, which would seem to me to be a rather dangerous thing to have around explosive devices (think cellphone and petrol station). Under the circumstances Bolt-On seems an appropriate name for this modern day mad inventor.

Our backyard amateur engineer also claimed his device had a range of 766 yards at ground level and 2.5 miles in the air and could penetrate lead lined and metal walls, water and earth, but not apparently the brains of certain armies, police and trade missions. Okay, I made those last couple up.

The British judiciary has just jailed Bolt-On for seven years for his fraud and it was claimed at his trial that people had lost their lives as a result of relying upon his machines, which if true is definitely not funny.

But what I can’t get over is why it took the law enforcement agencies over a decade to catch up with this bloke considering he was marketing these machines to law enforcement agencies and the military. I am also gobsmacked that the U.K. Government offered support to his enterprise and Whitehall’s sales and export division even introduced clients to him and allowed him to use their premises for demonstrations. One can only assume that he used a genuine bomb detector for these demos otherwise it is hard to see how anyone – even the police or military could be fooled. And they wonder why military intelligence is one of the best examples of an oxymoron you can find.

Let us not forget that this bloke’s clients were people who were ‘in the business’ so to speak. So how come they were so comprehensively hoodwinked and shouldn’t they all be appearing before the beak charged with criminal negligence for buying the bloody things and putting them into service? At the very least heads should roll (or be blown off) in every agency that bought them.

Mr Bolt-On was not working alone; he had a partner-in-crime called Jim McCormick who was obviously a better salesman than him and who was jailed in May this year for selling 50 million quid’s worth of the contraptions, mainly to Iraq. Expect a fatwa on that dude when he emerges from jail.

But the real punch line comes at the end as it does with every good story. Our enterprising duo was nothing if not cheeky; they were selling their devices for £15,000 each yet they only cost £1.82 each to make. 

Is this the ultimate in cynical disregard for human life or what? 

Monday, 19 August 2013

Finding a final resting place

There comes a time in our life when old age suddenly dawns upon us. There are exceptions of course. Those who die young never experience old age and those whose health deteriorates comparatively early, no doubt have more warning of the approach of old age.

For me it is still on the horizon and not actually here yet (silence you rude buggers!). However for my parents it has definitely arrived. Now old age doesn’t need to be a bad thing, but one thing is for certain; it definitely changes a lot of things.

Sadly none of the Governments of the last fifty years seem to have paid much attention to the changing demographic make-up of our country. They have all told us plenty of times along the way that we were heading towards a time when the oldies would outnumber the young ‘uns, but they seem to have taken very little account of it in their planning.

What this has led to is a very messy situation in regards to the needs of those older people. Health services for the elderly are notoriously complicated and difficult to access and unless as an older person you have a tenacious advocate working for you it is likely you will miss out on many things you could be entitled to and get ignored by many agencies that would have us believe they are there to help older people.

Rules have been devised to ensure assistance is not wasted on those who have amassed fortunes along the way, but those rules have been developed without a broader overview of the developing situation. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the area of housing for the elderly.

I will share some of what I have found out over the course of the last couple of years in the hopes that some of my readers might be saved some of the grief I have encountered while trying to negotiate this slippery path.

The options when an older person can’t live in their own home any longer are as follows:
·         Move in with kids
·         Council housing
·         Retirement village
·         Rest home care
·         Renter units in a retirement village or rest home

The first of these is often not possible for any number of reasons. The house might not be suitable for example it might have stairs; it might not be large enough to accommodate two extra people; the kids might not live anywhere suitable; or they might not be able to afford to stop working and look after their parents. In many cases more than one of these factors will prevent this option from being a goer.

Council housing
The option of council housing is only available to those with absolutely no means, so unless your folks are absolutely boracic this one is out of the picture. The asset limits might differ slightly around the country, but in Tauranga for example the limit is $30,000. This means if your parents have just sold their house they will be well outside those limits.

Retirement villages
Retirement villages have a lot of obvious benefits and several hidden fish-hooks. Here your parents will have a chance to ‘buy’ a small villa, apartment or cottage within a secure environment with a lot of useful age-related services available on-site. But don’t ever let them sign up for one of these without very carefully examining the licence to occupy yourself or getting your solicitor to do so if legal documents are not your thing.

The fish-hooks you will need to look out for are pretty damned sharp and you need to know what their implications will be. For example they are not actually ‘buying’ the property in the normal sense we Kiwis understand. They are entering into a licence to occupy which means the property can only ever be sold back to the company that owns the village. It therefore follows that at the very most they will only get back the amount that company has specified in the agreement at the outset.

In other words they will not see any capital gain from their investment and in some cases they could actually lose on the deal. I have seen one such agreement where, if the unit cannot fetch the same amount from the next occupant then the outgoing one takes the loss rather than the company.

Now that might sound fair enough, but when you realise that at the end of tenure, the company also charges a further 30% of the ‘purchase price’ back to the outgoing occupants you begin to get the picture of a greedy corporate ripping off vulnerable elderly people. Some agreements even require the outgoing occupant (actually this is usually their heirs as there is normally only one way you leave these places), to redecorate before the new occupant comes in and often they are forced to use contractors chosen by the village owners, so no chance to make any savings there either.

There is also a weekly fee of about $100pw to see that the windows are washed rubbish is collected, and as a part contribution to general village maintenance and access to various village facilities.

Rest home care
Rest homes involve a good deal of preparatory work and can also be a trap for the unwary. Of course a rest home environment means they will only have one small room to live out of and will have to get rid of nearly all of their personal stuff due to the space constraints involved with that.

If you are considering such an option you will first require an assessment carried out on behalf of the DHB to establish what level of care is required. An assessment level indicates whether or not they are entitled to subsidised care. This is very important because if they are not entitled to subsidised care the full costs will have to be borne privately.

The assessment involves three basic criteria; care needs; asset levels; and income. Assets cannot exceed approximately $230,000 for a couple, which if they have just sold a house means they will probably not qualify. Income will not be a problem if their only source is NZ Superannuation, or a benefit for a widow, invalid or service veteran.

The care needs category is the where the assessors have the most scope to disqualify. Problems arise when one half of a couple qualifies for care and the other does not and trying to find out exactly what qualifies is damned near impossible as the actual criteria are shrouded in DHB jargon and mystery. I can only conclude the DHB is suffering from a variety of paranoia which causes them to keep this stuff secret in case anyone learns how to qualify and constructs an elaborate opera to act out to achieve their ends. Good luck to anyone trying to do that with an old person who has forgotten what you told them ten minutes ago!

However what I have been able to learn is that unless your parent has dementia – and good luck getting a diagnosis of that despite tons of visible evidence – or an inability to feed or dress themselves, they will almost certainly be classified as fit to look after themselves and ineligible for subsidised rest home care.

Fair enough; you might think. Why not just pay for their care? For the uninitiated I will now reveal the cost of care in such establishments when the subsidy is not available. Are you sitting down?  For just one person to be cared for in a rest home you are likely to be paying between $800 and $1200 per week (between $41,600 and $62,400 per year).

That sum probably isn’t unreasonable when you consider all their needs are theoretically being met, but on an affordability level it can be another matter altogether.

Hospital level care in a rest home falls into the same price range.

Renter units in a retirement village
Renter units sound like a good option when contrasted against the costs of rest home care if a subsidy is not available. But at around $500pw ($26,000 per year) they can be costly if your relative stands a good chance of living for some while yet.

It’s a minefield dear readers and one which some of us have already almost had our legs blown off on and which many more of you will have to negotiate sometime in the future.

After seeing all the options, the retirement village option doesn’t seem so bad. Just make sure you check that agreement first.

Good luck, guys and gals. You will need it.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Spy vs Spy and other funnies

If it wasn’t for the fact that this is ‘real life’ the antics of Jianqi’s spies would be almost as funny as the Spy vs Spy comic strips in Mad Magazine used to be.

There is certainly an equivalent amount of bungling going on anyway, all of which goes to show that our Minister of Spies couldn’t organise the proverbial piss-up in a brewery.

Call me naive, but I always thought that the point about spying is that nobody knows you are doing it. Stealth and subterfuge are the cornerstones of spying, surely? Spies are often referred to (at least in British TV shows) as ‘the funny people’, except I don’t think that was supposed to mean they act like the Keystone Cops. In this case I think the word funny had the meaning of funny peculiar rather than funny ha-ha.

However it seems that Jianqi’s funny people really are hilarious. Their idea of subterfuge would appear to be closing their eyes and saying, “You can’t see me”.

Of course we now live in the digital age and most of us are aware that we leave a large digital footprint almost everywhere we go, both in the real and cyberworlds. All sorts of people have been spying on us for ages. It’s just that most of them up to now have been comparatively harmless.

Advertisers and marketers have been dredging the cybercanals for a couple of decades trying to find the right fit for each of us so they can deluge us with special offers and products they think we can be convinced to buy. Annoying though this is, it is for the most part, pretty harmless for all of us apart from the truly gullible. But at the end of the day it is impossible to protect the truly stupid from the consequences of their own actions. We shouldn’t even try anyway, because as long as they exist it gives us all a chance to feel a little more secure about ourselves.

So what is likely to come out of this current furore about Jianqi and his funny people snorting up every tiny grain of information they can on everyone they think might pose a problem for them?

Probably not a lot, I am sorry to say, at least not from Parliament. Yes there will be a series of tiresome and expensive inquiries and a few more departmental heads will be dropping into the basket, but unless we are really fortunate it is unlikely that the power behind the drones will be brought to account. We can only hope and pray that the voters make up for that in 2014 – always providing Jianqi is not at this very moment attending the Robert Mugabe School of electoral practices.

If the opposition was sufficiently organised and ACTUALLY WANTED TO they could really make things tough and work on Peter Dung and get him to vote down the GCSB bill which seeks to legalise the illegal acts the Government has been caught out doing.

Sadly when it comes to matters of national security many people are easily captured by scare tactics and seem to think there are shadowy figures out there who might steal away our freedoms if we don’t implement all sorts of regulations and surrender our right to privacy in order to stop them.

Well, hello! There are such people but they ain’t so shadowy. They currently occupy the Government benches of this land and they have already travelled a long way down that path towards Big Brother. Doublespeak has been a feature of their speeches for a very long time.

But whenever a government is questioned about introducing these types of measures their first reaction is to try and justify their lunacy rather than deny the activity is taking place. No better example of that can be found in Jianqi’s rambling nonsense on his favourite (read most compliant and National Party friendly) radio station More FM. He tore a large leaf out of the George Dubbyah book of crowd control by claiming he had to give the GCSB more powers because there were people undergoing terrorist training in Yemen with the implication they were going to return to Godzone, blow us all to pieces and take over the country.

Duhhh! Let’s face it; with the devious lot we have running this country (into the ground) anyone who wanted to take it over would only need to chuck them 30 pieces of silver and it would be theirs. If you don’t believe me just look at how many large multi-national corporations have already picked up the deeds to much of our industry and land with full co-operation from the Government. Several have even had laws changed to suit them.

The other argument that has been put forward to try and justify these intrusions into our freedom is that if we don’t have anything to hide, then we don’t have anything to worry about. The trouble with that one is that not so long ago I can recall a couple of politicians who were apoplectic when they thought their little tete-a-tete had been overheard by a journalist. But surely you had nothing to hide, boys, so where was the harm?

I won’t be holding my breath for the combined opposition to do the damage to Jianqi, although I will be delighted if I am proven wrong about that. But what does give me some hope in all of this is that Jianqi has made one of the most fundamental blunders a polly can make. He has threatened the freedom of the press.

Now I have been very critical of the job the NZ press has been doing in terms of bringing this government to account, and I have suggested in the past that it is because they are poorly trained and lack the mongrel journos once had. I still think that is the case, but I have always known that they hold the principle of freedom of the press very close to their hearts even if they are rather slack about going after the rabbit.

Jianqi has foolishly assumed that because they have let him get away with murder before they won’t have the balls to stand up for themselves when he impinges on this final bastion of their pride. Wrong! Most journos see this sort of intrusion as the equivalent of doing something unspeakable to their mother. They will (and already are) going after him with implements designed to nip off the bits that offended them and they will not stop until something much bigger comes along. Already the papers are full of stories with unflattering pictures and little editorialising comments throughout them. Words like bungling and blunder are being liberally used and it is quite apparent that they are going after him.

There is an unspoken rule in politics which any politician should know. It is that you don’t upset the press because if they take a dislike to you they can and will make you look stupid. You can get away with being rude to them and failing to front for interviews but if you touch the sacred cow of press freedom, then you had better find another career because this one is over.   

Watch your papers and television news programmes over the next few months. The new game in town will be Pin the Tail on the Jianqi and when they’ve finished he won’t want to sit in parliament again.