Monday, July 18, 2016

24 tips for buying your first home

1. Skip buying your first home, which is clearly impossible, and move directly into buying the second or third.

2. Attend every open home in your preferred area. Once you have found one you really like in somebody else’s price range, sit down at the kitchen table and refuse to leave.

3. Stop buying coffee out. In no time you'll be able to afford a home in the $4.50 to $9.00 range.

4. Cancel your Sky Television subscription. This won’t really help you buy a house, but is a good idea generally.

5. Go to the Treasury with a recording of the Q&A programme in which the Finance Minister claimed that first home buyers wishing to get into the property market 'need to have patience'. Proceed to demand that your vast store of patience be converted into the deposit for a median price home.

6. Build a relationship with your bank, to show them you're a committed saver and a good risk. Show up with flowers or a small gift. Put out every once in a while.

7. We’ve all been at a party where someone boasts that they bought a house in need of major work and then flicked it off for a massive profit after some minor cosmetic renovations, but sometimes at the end of the story we have neglected to punch them in the face.

8. Try harder to save. If you put away just $5 a week for a year, you’ll be able to rent a getaway car with which to rob your nearest bank.

9. Consider buying a property that is able to generate its own cash flow to help with mortgage repayments. Remember that when the ad says “home plus income”, it means you can easily find room for a methamphetamine lab.

10. Be prepared to make sacrifices. If necessary, become a druid.

11. Lower the price of a house during a public visit by making derogatory comments about the quality of the fittings, or periodically shouting ‘Is this the room where all the murders happened?’

12. You may have heard that Auckland's stratified median house price rose NZ$40,737 in the month of June to That's NZ$1,358 per day or NZ$57 per hour. At those rates of increase, consider that you would not be owning a house. The house would be owning you.

13. Be like young Auckland homeonwer Gary Lin, as featured in The New Zealand Herald, who said: “Work hard, work smart, save hard, and invest smart. Wealth creation is not rocket science - perseverance and hard work can get you there." Mr Lin bought his first property in June 2010 with a $200,000 wedding gift from his father.

14. If you can’t be born into a wealthy family, ask yourself: can you marry into one?

15. Be like young Dunedin homeowner Ondine Grace, as featured on the Sorted website. Among the stratagems she employed to accumulate the deposit for a house, Ondine lived with her parents and avoided drinking alcohol, which saved a lot of money. And if she did it, you too can move in with Ms Grace’s parents.

16. Be like Renee Van Veen, 27, and Kurt Jameson, 29, as featured on the Stuff website, who refused to be defeated and forked out $785,000 for a three-bedroom home on a cross-lease section in Unsworth Heights. Their mortgage is very large but at least they now have a foot in the door, slowly getting crushed.

17. A home in Mangere, council valuation $1.2 million, sold over the weekend for $4.7million. This is not a tip for buying your first home, I just wanted to see you cry.

18. Know how much you can afford. If the answer is “not a home”, try to put this fact out of your mind.

19. Attend a first-time home buyer's seminar. This won’t help you buy a house, but tea and coffee at these events are generally free.

20. Okay, you may never own your own home but on the plus side you have very beautiful eyes.

21. Have you ever heard of “negative gearing”? Me neither.

22. Have reasonable expectations. Peter Thompson, the head of Barfoot & Thompson, said young people needed to change their mindset because their suburb choice, size of the house and its amenities or desire to own property within a normal human life span were often totally unrealistic.

22b. Here’s a test to assess whether your expectations are too high. Look at the recent, actual 'for sale' ad below.

If you reaction is “Why are you showing me pictures of a dungeon?” it means your expectations are too high. If your reaction is “This house is no longer on fire, I’ll take it!” it means your expectations are realistic.

23. Remember, you're not buying your dream home, you're getting on the property ladder. The constant supply of people sufficiently desperate to get onto the ladder is essential in order to keep people like Peter Thompson, the head of Barfoot & Thompson, in the lifestyle they’re accustomed to. And this is what is truly important.

24. Finally, recognise that this isn’t a generational war, but an old-fashioned class war that just so happens to coincide with a periodic downward revision of the social contract and of the economic expectations for ordinary citizens entering the work force – be they whether they will own a home today or receive a pension in forty years' time. Organise with other people in your situation, agitate, demand profound and lasting political change.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Against boredom

Boredom is always counter-revolutionary. Always.
(Guy Debord)

There is a meme routinely shared on social media of passengers aboard a train, each absorbed in their own personal information and entertainment device. The caption reads ‘All this technology is making us antisocial’. The joke is that it is a very old photograph; what the passengers are holding are newspapers. It is generally posted without comment, as an ironic reminder of the cyclical nature of debates about dominant forms of communication, and about our social and personal habits.

Here is a typical, timeless complaint: nowadays we have lost the capacity to enjoy moments of calm or to engage in quiet contemplation. Bertrand Russell once wrote that children should be spared excessive trips to the theatre. Later it became comic books or pulp fiction. Then cinema and television. Then the internet. Now it is smartphones and the iPad. Every epoch has its technologies of distraction, and each time a new one comes around, we are told that younger generations are losing what the parents once enjoyed in abundance: boredom. Cue a steady, incessant stream of think pieces of varying length in defence or praise of this maligned emotion.

As in the case of the picture of the train passengers, it is not very clear what the ideal baseline level of societal boredom should be. The pattern of the complaint is that the each new technology shifts the boundary. Thus television – the passive diversion that once banished useful boredom from our lives – is said to have been usurped by newer technologies. But added on is a layer of nostalgia: commentators will recall with fondness the time they spent watching bad television in their childhood.

Evil nowadays resides in portable networked devices, which in the current crop of think pieces are often granted worrying levels of agency. ‘Our phones hurt us by killing our ability to listen to boredom,’ writes Mónica Guzmán in GeekWire. ‘The iPhone killed my creativity,’ intones Brian Hall in another defence of boredom for ReadWrite. This alarmist language masks an impoverished notion of what boredom is and how it affects different people.

The idea that creative thinking requires letting one’s mind wonder in repose has deep roots in the literature and may deserve some credit – all the more since the study of neuroscience is beginning to validate the philosophers’ theories. But what is being systematically elided here – in the process of granting supernatural levels of agency to our screens – are the material and historical dimensions of the question.

The closest common ancestor to most of these think pieces is Joseph Brodsky’s 1989 commencement address at Dartmouth College, entitled ‘Listening to Boredom’. It’s a worthy if maddening read, culminating in the Kierkegaardian insight that boredom is ‘a window on time’s infinity’ that ‘teaches you the most valuable lesson of your life: the lesson of your utter insignificance.’ And a lesson worth heeding it may be. However, consider how this message might sound if it had been delivered to an audience of fast-food workers or office clerks, rather than to the assembled freshmen of an Ivy League university.

The pursuit of creativity, with the attendant need to cultivate spaces for contemplation and reflection, is not available to everyone equally. And for the vast majority of people, boredom has a very different inflection.

I grew up between two worlds: the big city where my parents lived and where I went to school, and the rural village where my grandparents lived and where I spent every second weekend and part of the summer holidays. It is to the latter that I owe my strongest recollections of childhood boredom: interminable days spent idling or searching vainly for something – anything – to do.

Having grown into a literate adult, I may be tempted to romanticise this experience, and credit it with granting me a heightened sensibility for the quotidian and for what the French master Georges Perec called ‘the infra-ordinary’. But in that village without libraries or theatres, without social or cultural clubs, in that stolidly anti-intellectual place, I saw boredom turn directly into violence. I remember how a friend with whom I had laboured to while away those summer afternoons drove a motorcycle at speed into an iron gate as soon as he was old enough to do so.

My mother escaped the village and its lethal boredom through books: the fiction and school texts she consumed as a child gave her a literal way out – first to a neighbouring town with a high school, then to a city with a university and a different kind of life. She never romanticised those beginnings, and loathed any talk of the ‘good old days’. She became an intermediate school teacher and always blamed misbehaviour among her students as her own failure to awaken their interest.

If we must talk about boredom, we should start by talking about the cultural and social opportunities that might enable us to view it as a positive value worthy of recapturing, and – if we want to bring technology into it – of its role in foreclosing or opening up such opportunities. This would be a conversation worth having.

Originally published at Overland

Monday, July 4, 2016

Of cosmic truths and related content

This week the world celebrates World Disclosure Day, a focal point for people and organizations to come together to assert their right to know and demand cosmic truths being withheld from them by their governments regarding an extraterrestrial presence engaging the human race. I know this because of a Facebook post shared by someone who added me this week.

Like most people, when I get a friend request from a stranger I quickly check their timeline to see what kind of human they are. Now it may be the vagaries of shared friendships and Facebook algorithms, or an impression produced by personal bias, but the percentage of people sharing this sort of story is staggeringly high. Yet sometimes I click on a particularly egregious link. And then sometimes I click on the related stories that are listed beside and under the first story. It is always a perplexing and fascinating journey, with some recurring features.

On this occasion, World Disclosure Day leads me to the former Italian oncologist Tullio Simoncini, who claims that cancer is a fungus, called Candida albicans, and that it can be treated using sodium bicarbonate. From there I learn of the 13 most influential families on Earth and how they orchestrate the New World Order, or NWO. The next article is a perfectly reasonable summary of news report on the massive drawing of water from Lake Michigan to replenish municipal aquifers, but it’s only an interlude. It’s time to learn about the six secrets that ‘they’ don’t want you (that is to say, ‘us’) to know. These are as follows (in descending order):

6. ‘They’ Control the Earth’s Environment (by manipulating the ionosphere, ‘the place where free electrons exist’)

5. Tap Water Makes You Poor (on account of the fluoride, that makes you slovenly and apathetic)

4. Chemtrails Spray Us With Fluoride (as well as: aluminium, arsenic, barium and boron)

3. GMOs Are Destroying All Humanity (by causing ‘the greatest disbalance’ nature has ever seen)

2. Sacred Geometry is The Language of The Universe and Beauty (‘they’ don’t want you to know about the golden ratio)

1. Music Makes You Competitive (This one is actually great. In 1955 the International Organization for Standardization set 440 Hz – that is to say, the A above middle C – as the general tuning standard for musical pitch. This in the past had been 432 Hz, which ‘makes the sound of music more harmonious, calm, promotes happiness and deep understanding’, while 440 Hz is ‘440 Hz is more energetic, faster, it is almost like racing’. This leads to over-activity and competitiveness. And yes I know the guy just said they were giving us fluoride to make us lethargic.)

No time to ponder about any of that: it’s time to learn about galactic cosmic rays gushing out of supermassive black holes in an article quoting a number of actual physicists about actual cosmological research after having alluded to ‘the source of Light and life for this Galaxy, the Galactic Goddess, the Pleroma, the Galactic Central Sun’ supposedly sitting at the centre of the Milky Way. And while the story about the five pains you should never ignore – on account of the fact they could point to serious illness – seems entirely legitimate, it segues straight to the ‘Complete List of BANKS Owned or Controlled by the Rothschild Family’, which is anything but. Stretching the notorious pseudo-factoid that the United States Federal Reserve is a privately owned company, the article claims that ‘the United States of America is a corporation ruled from abroad’, and more precisely by the Vatican and the British Crown, who the US Presidents serve as appointed CEOs.

Appropriately enough, the next article declares that the European Union is a conspiracy by the CIA, but by now I’ve had enough, and so I save it for later.

I don’t know if my hunch is true, and if the sharing of this kind of stories is on the rise among people who wish to friend me on Facebook. I also hesitate to see it as a sign of the rise of full-blown conspiracism. I see plenty of that in the social media output connected to left wing movements and causes, but not all people who share these stories are actual conspiracists. It’s more that conspiracism is the same shape as the internet. Hyperlinks connect disparate topics and ideas in a way that is analogous – if only by accident – to conspiracist thinking. One thing follows another, therefore one must cause the other.

You can see how some of these ideas germinate and spread. It is true that in 1955 the International Organization for Standardization set 440 Hz as the general tuning standard for musical pitch, and if that day you happen to have been reading about the New World Order or even the Great Financial Crisis you might be conditioned to believe that this was because of a sinister reason. And then someone else might read the story and then share it simply because they found it curious, or didn’t quite think it through. Besides, claims to truth formulated in a certain way, using the language of science reporting or even just a web page template that resembles that of a respectable newspaper, are surprisingly believable. I know a number of intelligent people who shared the story of the great toxic rains poised to destroy North America believing it to be, if not true, at least plausible. And here the shape of our information systems matches the increasingly fractured patterns of everyday life, in which reading about world affairs and potential cataclysms happens or the bus, or in between work tasks, and one often lacks the time not just to investigate the validity of a set of claims but also to think before sharing. Most of us will have done that, at some point. We are all potential accidental conspiracists.

Yet I stay away from people on Facebook who share those stories. Casual conspiracism is also casual anti-semitism – it never takes more than three jumps to find the first mention of the Rothschild family – and a lot of other bad things besides. Few of the stories are harmless, and certainly not the one of the former oncologist who claims that cancer is a fungus and that you can cure it with bicarbonate of soda: Tullio Simoncini is a real person, and has faced criminal proceedings in two countries for manslaughter and fraud. People have quite literally died for believing him. But I’m not even saying that these dangerous falsehoods are more easily believed than they ever were. I simply don’t know. Maybe they are just more accessible and visible. Besides, the crisis of the traditional systems for validating knowledge is not altogether a bad thing – they could certainly use a shake-up. I just wonder, sometimes, about the cumulative effects of all those apparently innocent acts of reading, and if some day I’ll turn around and ask in earnest: ‘Wait a minute – why are they keeping the golden ratio hidden from us?’

Pictured at the top of the post is the stairwell of the Torre dei Lamberti, Verona, photographed by Lorenzo Caretta