They are now employing such young people in America’s Silicon Valley that one of them recently confessed that not only could he not go to schmooze parties for his company because, at 20, he’s not old enough to drink, but his fake ID  was recently confiscated. He’s still waiting for his two new fake IDs to arrive from China.

Well, sorry, he is. Or that’s what I read on-line and from a reliable source, Reuters.

It makes sense of some thoughts I’ve had after interviewing some super bright whipper-snappers lately. I think I’ve worked out how to solve the problem of what to do with older workers.

We just need to copy all the tactics and cossetting that firms, companies and governments routinely use to ensure they net the best whipper-snappers.

Do unto that lot as you do unto this lot.

Here’s an easy example. At the moment, people say things like: “They’ve just appointed a new CEO, and guess what? He’s only 32.” Or the headlines run: “New managing editor of Time is 18! – analysts say time is right for new energy.”

We need to see a few headlines that say things like: “Fortune 500 company appoints 76-year-old boss – analysts applaud return to experience”.

Or, “Vanity Fair appoints 65 year old ex-film director as picture editor”.

In the wake of the Queensland ALP scandal, with its 21 year old and under candidates breeding like mice, we need to hear that at least one branch has just triumphantly pre-selected an 80 year old.

When the bright young ones head into the world, they’re looking for what are called “entry level” jobs. We need to offer more “exit level” jobs. That is, positions where people are hired for their experience, learned skills and memory precisely because they will only be around for a few years. Maybe even one or two.

Companies and governments have been offering scholarships, prizes and other lures to the whipper-snappers for decades. What’s wrong with handing over a few such goodies to the over-fifties, over-sixties, even over-seventies?

The annual News Limited scholarship for journalists over 70; the Westpac fellowship for assistant bank managers over 80.

Numerous studies argue that older workers can show quicker returns on investment than younger employees. (That would be because they’re at ease with spelling, reading, concentrating and loyalty perhaps.) The Australian recently reported: “Economies with a high proportion of healthy, older workers do better and there is little difference between the productivity of older and younger employees.”

A story about older workers in London has a 53 year old saying the bleeding obvious: “We’ve got skill sets that are transferable that some of the younger kids don’t have. Dealing with management, problem-solving and taking pride in making sure the job gets done.”

I know that in one of my management jobs, I got so frustrated by clueless young workers who got even more clueless after nights in dance clubs that I made a secret and illegal vow to hunt for future employees whose birth certificate promised they were over 40.

It’s not an either/or situation though, as Susan Ryan, this country’s first ever Age Discrimination commissioner knows. Sometimes whipper-snappers with IQs of 200 and c.vs longer than the Pope’s are exactly right for the job in hand. But there are plenty of jobs where bosses and boards might feel as if Nanny has just arrived to tuck them safely into bed if they were allowed to hire someone wise who’s been there, done that.

And just how young can our work force go anyway? I keep thinking of the Titanic, or maybe the Costa Concordia, with older workers trying to scramble up the vertical sides as the ship edges deeper and deeper into the water below.

In the Reuters article about Silicon Valley, one venture capitalist said, “At a certain point, they can’t get much younger or we’re going to be investing in preschool.”

He also commented, “… more than one young entrepreneur has asked… ‘What did Netscape do again?’”

I almost get why Silicon Valley is so youth-oriented given the technological divide that means a chunk of the population grew up with computers and others had to learn them, but there’s a bit of me that wonders if the race for really, really young employees everywhere-else has more to do with two things going on at CEO, board and upper management level.

The first is that few of us can forget the joke about needing a six year old to explain our smartphone to us. The second – and this is more primeval, more erky – is this: in a culture where youthfulness and wrinkle-free faces are worshipped, do older executives, of both sexes, feel the need to surround themselves with young flesh to tell themselves they still have it, whatever “it” is.

Do baby-boomers think that having young execs around them is the smarter, less painful, equivalent of having a face and bottom lift?

Of course, there are plenty of oldies around who give age a bad name: Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe jubilantly celebrating his 88th birthday for one. For another, the recent revelation that the Academy members who choose the Oscar winners are nearly all over 50 (and white and male, thus helping to explain why of last year’s 45 nominees for the six key awards, not one was black, and why in 83 years, only one woman has won Best Director).

But here’s one final argument for age: I don’t know one smart former whizz-kid, whipper-snapper who doesn’t wince or blush now when he or she remembers what they were like when they were in their twenties.


Every now and then I read some claptrap quote in a magazine designed for young women and I have to remember, with relief, that there are bright young twenty-somethings out there who won’t believe any of it for a moment. The latest offender is ethicist Dr Leslie Cannold who, in the February issue of marie claire magazine was advising readers to keep quiet about their pregnancy when they’re applying for jobs.

She is quoted, saying: “It’s not lying. It’s just non-disclosure of information [that the interviewer] is not entitled to know.”

The practice must be ethical, for Cannold is an ethicist.

But is it decent behaviour?

And do we think that such behaviour will make things worse or better for female workers in the long-run, given the weird prejudices and beliefs that already dog women every day in the workplace?

Here’s a bigger question: has ethics become such a huge and convoluted industry today, that it no longer knows what decent behaviour actually is?


Actor Christian Bale is currently copping it for appearing in the most expensive Chinese film ever made, The Flowers of War, about the Japanese takeover of Nanjing in December, 1937. One Los Angeles Times feature, reprinted in The Sydney Morning Herald, included this glib line without further question: “The film … has been criticized as an overly propagandist depiction of the Japanese occupation …”


This would be like writing that the Israelis had made an overly propagandist film about the Warsaw Ghetto. Or that the Tutsis had made an overly propagandist film about the Rwanda genocide.

The Japanese occupation of Nanjing, then Nanking, was bloodthirsty, horrific. It’s widely believed that between 100,000 and 300,000 Chinese were murdered during seven weeks of deliberately inflicted terror. Thousands and thousands of women were raped and tortured and then killed. Figures there range from between 20,000 and 80,000.

But ever since it happened, there have been fierce and determined efforts to cover it up, or play it down or deny it ever occurred. There have been claims from Japanese nationalists that “only” 20,000 or 40,000 died.

In 1997, on the 60th anniversary of the massacre, Chinese-American author Iris Chang infuriated the extreme right in Japan and that country’s militaristic elements with her detailed account, The Rape of Nanking.

By the looks of this film’s reception, in the United States at least, the deniers have had their effect in some quarters. One source, AFP, in coverage that was carried around the world, casually put the Nanking death toll at “tens of thousands”. Not exactly wrong given even 300,000 is made up of tens of thousands, but misleading.

Nor has the film made it to this year’s Oscars. It was selected as China’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film but did not make the final shortlist for the Sunday/Monday ceremony.

It’s possible the film is too schmaltzy or corny, as some say, but there’s an undertone of something else here that’s to do with an induced muzziness about what really happened. Not all of this should be laid at the feet of Japanese extremists and revisionists of course; many Americans are mightily worried about China’s rising power and act and think accordingly.

It’s worth remembering that this massacre has been called World War II’s other holocaust, or the “forgotten holocaust”.

In a feature about Chang, who committed suicide in 2004, I called her book about Nanking, “a handbook from hell” because of its ghastly descriptions and archival photographs. Chang herself wrote: “Nothing prepared me for these pictures – stark black and white images of decapitated heads, bellies ripped open and nude women forced by their rapists into various pornographic poses …”

One elderly Japanese doctor, a participant, confessed to Chang that babies had been bayoneted and thrown into boiling water.

“I beheaded people, starved them to death, and buried them alive … I was truly a devil,” he told Chang. She discovered not just footage, photographs and records but a previously unknown collection of documents, notes and correspondence from an eye-witness, German businessman and Nazi party member John Rabe (now honoured for saving thousands of Nanking Chinese).

Until the publication of Chang’s book, most of the world had forgotten – or ignored, or never been told – what had happened. Only the Chinese, and then only some of them, had passed down the stories. The Chinese leadership was embarrassed that it had not been able to protect its people and so, in the war’s aftermath, stayed mum. America, meanwhile, was keen in the cold war climate to keep the Japanese on-side, against Communist China and Russia. A small but powerful industry developed in Japan, devoted to denying the facts of the massacre.

It’s true academics have been critical of minor errors of fact and dates in Chang’s passionate book, and of her tone, and a couple of her horrifying photographs proved to have been taken elsewhere but as The New York Times commented, the book is a “powerful landmark”.

Chang was also always at pains to stress she was attacking one strand of a militaristic culture, not Japan as a whole. She wrote that she had been in a panic, “that this terrifying disrespect for death and dying … would be reduced to a footnote in history.”

But here we go, 15 years later, and some in the West are concerned such a film might be, um, unfair. The Wall Street Journal complained about the film’s “nuanced portraits” of the Chinese characters while the Japanese are portrayed as “monochrome monsters”.

Try to imagine the WSJ saying the same thing about a film about the Jewish uprising against the Nazis in the Warsaw ghetto.

At least some journals like The New York Observer and Boxoffice Magazine, gave the film high scores and right now, there’s a lot of arguing on American blogs and websites.

So, this saga, boys and girls, is yet another reason to keep your reading and reasoning skills up to speed.

They are the only real weapons against the insidiousness of propaganda.

And you can still buy Chang’s book on-line at the Book Depository – current price $13.06 – or try your local bookshop or library.


Did you actually watch that video of Kevin Rudd swearing?

Who swears with such a cherubic smile on their face? Oh please. And how weird was it that Rudd was railing against something that most Australians loathe: flowery, obfuscatory language. Indeed, as you might remember, it was the very thing most Australians couldn’t stand about Rudd as prime minister.

And isn’t it interesting that most commentators are now saying the release of the video actually helped Rudd.

So, good on feminist Eva Cox for being one of the very few to question the video’s provenance. As she remarked on the ABC’s Q and A on Monday night, there was something about the video that was suspiciously stilted.


Anyhow, this is what happens when the jargon monster does get out of its box. (Is this you?)