Monthly Archives: December 2009

Yankees Update 24/12/09

A Good Year

So I haven’t done one of these in a while because I’m still basking in the afterglow, and more realistically, I’ve been adjusting to the idea that this year’s World Series win might have been more of a last stand for the “Core 4” than another signpost on another dynastic run. For a start, Derek Jeter is about to enter the last season of his 10 year contract that makes the last decade look like one big great adventure that’s coming to a close. Andy Pettitte might retain his value, as might Mariano Rivera, but expecting more greatness out of Jorge Posada as well is perhaps a little too much. For hism to produce at the level of his career norms to date, he’s essentially going to have to be Carlton Fisk, and there’s only ever been one Carlton Fisk.

In any case, the most  likely outcome is that the ‘Core 4’ will ave problems to do with aging as all athletes do. I’m not expecting the Yankees to repeat. If they do, I’d be mightily impressed, but realistic projections would say otherwise. In that spirit, I’ve been stretching out my afterglow as long as it can last, and heck, I’ve made it to Christmas Eve. Can’t complain about such good luck, nor am I looking to complain, thank you very much!

I guess I’ve been wrestling with the length of time between the 2000 and 2009 championships and pondering the events in between. It turned out to be a long decade for Yankee fans.

Anyway, these are the moves Brian Cashman made this winter so far…

Didn’t Offer Arbitration To Chien-Ming Wang

Actually, he didn’t offer arbitration to Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui either. It’s interesting that they’re letting Wang walk.

Brian Bruney Goes To Washington

This was a bit disappointing, after the great salvation job the Yankees pulled with Bruney. They got a PTNBL later which turned out to be the Rule 5 draft pick of the Nats, who happens to be Jaime Hoffman. Hoffman’s a CF with some pop against lefties, so presumably he was acquired to be the caddy for Curtis Granderson who is not so good against lefties.

If he sticks, this would be a great trade because anytime you get any position player for a reliever, you’ve got to chalk that up as a win. If not, well, Brian Bruney was the odd man out in a crowded Bullpen picture. He’s also the immediate candidate for a closer for the Nats. Bruney said that at least he got a ring with the Yankees. Got to hand it to a guy who has some perspective. 🙂

The Curtis Granderson Trade

Other people have gone and done the numbers on it. Granderson essentially replaces Johnny Damon, is younger and costs less. To get him, the Yankees parted with IPK, Austin Jackson, Phil Coke, but you have to say it was worth the price. The upside of Jackson was Granderson, so that alone makes enough sense. IPK had no place in the rotation going forwards so it was worth cashing in that chip. Interestingly enough, the Yankees drew the line at Mike Dunn, yet traded Dunn as a package of players for Javier Vazquez.

Nick Johnson Returns

The other bat to leave was Hideki Matsui, who signed a 1 year deal with the Angels. replacing his bat in the lineup is old friend Nick Johnson who was once upon a time known as ‘OBP Jesus’. He brings a higher OBP and lower slug than Matsui, but again, he’s younger.

The interesting thing about the Yankees off-season has been that they’ve gone for more trades than free agent signings. Indeed, Johnson is so far the biggest free Agent the Yankees have signed.

Javier Vazquez, The One That Got Away

Once upon a long time ago, Nick Johnson was traded for Javier Vazquez. Home-run-Javy Vazquez was then shipped out to Arizona for the dying embers of Randy Johnson and we all know how that turned out. I think it turned into a clutch of pitchers including Ross Ohlendorf who eventually turned into a package for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte. It’s been a long succession of not so great trades, but Marte, we can agree on worked out alright in 2009.

So, it’s a little surprising to see Javier Vazquez re-acquired, 5 years down the track. He’ll fit in as the N. 2 or No.3 or No.4 starter, depending on how you see him amongst Burnett and Pettitte and Joba.

Again, it’s a good move for the pitching side of the ledger. Going the other way to Atlanta is Melky Cabrera, Mike Dunn and Arodys Vizcaino.

The Melkman Departs

I’m disappointed to see the Melkman go. I think he’s still got good to great upside. Consider his comps are Curt Flood and Sexto Lezcano. through Age 24, he’s actually very close to Johnny Damon and even comparable to Bernie Williams. Like I said, I’m not saying he’s going to turn into those players, but the door’s certainly not been totally closed on that potential just yet – he’s still 24. No matter how well Vazquez does this time around, I’m going to be bummed if Melky turns into a 3.0 wins above replacement sort of player. As with Bruney, at least he got a ring before he departed.

The Known Unknowns

I’ve no idea what they intend to do with Xavier Nady or Johnny Damon or Wang, if anything at all. That said, it’s been a  very busy and interesting winter so far.

Update: Here’s the RLYW projection o the 2010 roster as it stands. I too love off-seasons like this where the team gets better.

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ATO Rulings

Headscratcher

Pleiades gave me a heads up on this yesterday. It was in the AFR so I can’t link to it, but I’m going to offer up my digest version of it here.

Here I was thinking the ATO hates the film industry, but no, they hate Private Equity firms too. The ATO has decided it’s going to tax private equity firms on the sales of their assets not as Capital Gains but as revenue. They’ve gone in hard against TPG Capital that recently reaped a 1,5billion profit on their sale of their stake in Myer.

I guess if you looked at a Private Equity firm, they buy and sell shares in companies so technically speaking, you could class a sale of an asset as revenue. But then you start to wonder whether, say, a Property Developer who sells his 19th century house could be hit with the sale constituting revenue instead of Capital Gains. Or a car salesman trading in his own car. Wouldn’t the trade-in value of the car constitute revenue, by the same logic? i.e. the stuff you deal in, defines your revenue.

Can that be right?

The larger ramification of the ATO decision is that suddenly all the work that Infrastructure Australia had been doing in Asia, trying to drum up investment into our infrastructure, suddenly just took a major hit. All manner of investors are suddenly balking at putting money into Australian Infrastructure projects. Let’s face it, I’d be cared too; that If they put money into Australian Infrastructure, when they sell them off as assets down the line, they could be hit by the ATO who deems the sale a revenue instead of Capital Gains, based on its own undisclosed principles.

The ATO has also imposed a ban on ‘Tax-Treaty-shopping’  by foreign investors by alleging that TPG capital was trying to dodge taxes by sing an entity in the Netherlands so that the profits could be moved to the Cayman Islands and Luxemborg. This is all making it all too hard for foreign investors.

The AFR closes in saying the government needs to clarify the situation, but really, I don’t see how it can. It makes you wonder if the Federal Government really is exercising any control over the ATO. It wasn’t long ago that I heard from a Federal Minster that the  ATO often implements rulings against the spirit of the legislation, much to the chagrin of the government. At the time people with me were sceptical of the claim by the minister but the more I read about these sorts of things, the more I’m convinced that the said minister was speaking very frankly.

People complain about the ideological bias in the ABC and the media, but they ought to seriously look at the bias in the ATO rulings – Not that regular chumps like you and I are in any position to do anything about it – but I’m just saying. They might be very surprised as to just what the ATO boffins are thinking. 🙂

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Flops! Flops And More Flops!

Every Week Is Despair Week In Australian Cinema!

I saw this article in a newspaper over the weekend and sort of pushed it aside. Today I got an email saying I ought to blog this thing. I guess the salient bit is here:

Screen Producers Association of Australia president Antony Ginnane warned Aussie flicks were putting off audiences and threatening the local trade’s future.

“The whole industry needs to look at itself. It won’t be sustainable … until it considers what audiences want to see,” the 38-year veteran of global film and TV said.

“We need to move away from films that are depressing and unpleasant, and give audiences something it is worth spending $17 on for a ticket – plus parking and a babysitter.

“Audiences want to see movies that take them out of themselves, that are magical and exciting … not ones that are dark, depressing and way too much like reality.”

Well, yeah, you’d think so. It’s the bizarre-ness of the president of SPAA saying we’ve got make more audience-friendly pictures that sums up the terrible, horrible, state the Australian Film Industry finds itself in, after years of abuse.

This week also saw Louis Nowra write an article in The Monthly where he looks at all 33 Australian films this year to get a sense of just where our cinema is at. Pleiades handed me a copy to read. Fortunately, there’s a preview here:

If anything began to trouble me about this year’s crop, it was whether any of these actors could open a film. Would Australians go to see a movie just to watch any of these performers? The answer is probably not. Sometimes, of course, they have been miscast. Matt Day in My Year Without Sex gives his familiar kicked-puppy-dog performance, which is fine for a character actor but can’t carry a film. Weaving’s performance in Last Ride is also one-note. Whereas Day seems to exit his scenes as confused as when he enters them, Weaving seems to begin each scene already knowing how it will end. The bearded Aden Young groans his way through Lucky Country like an Old Testament prophet who has inadvertently ended up in a cowboy movie. There are other examples of miscasting, but even when these actors are perfectly cast, as is Horler, they don’t have the pulling power of Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett. It’s not that these are necessarily better actors than those gracing our screens – it’s because they have achieved fame in Hollywood.

We treat actors differently here. As the many films that have been released this year prove, our cinematographers have superb eyes for figures in a landscape. It’s almost impossible to forget the brooding dark beauty of the Tasmanian wilderness in Van Diemen’s Land, the sight of a boy in red wandering across a vast salt lake in Last Ride, or the majestic Flinders Ranges in Beautiful Kate, silently dominating the humans. There is no doubt that these cinematographers are in our great tradition of landscape artists, but when it comes to shooting the human face they are on less sure ground. So many of the films light actors badly and some directors, like Ana Kokkinos, bathe faces in a cruel, bright, natural light that accentuates wrinkles and skin blemishes. Those of our actors who have found fame in America owe much of it to a distinctive way of grooming actors.

Hollywood makes the human face a dreaming site for the audience. Beauty is enhanced, with imperfections hidden by sympathetic lighting. In Hollywood, actors drive the story; in Australia, actors are the vehicles for the story. If Hollywood treats actors like Rolls-Royces, here they are used like clapped-out Holdens – which is a pity, because audiences here, as everywhere, want to adore those beautiful, fascinating creatures on the screen.

He’s being kind, if only because he probably knows some actors who have done some recent work in Australian films lately. You know, 33 this year and 14 last year and 17 the year before that.

I’m not going to get up on my usual soap box about all this crap. The truth is, we should dismantle government funding bodies for Feature films and delusional bodies such as AFTRS, and start all over again. The world of film markets itself is about to come crumbling down as piracy keeps people at home watching their screens, and high ticket prices drive audiences away.

Screen Australia is not going to behave any differently to the FFC which dashed itself on the rocks of its own incompetence and failures – basically because it has the same people working for it – and the ATO will make sure to keep scaring investors of genuinely commercial projects. All this may be a storm in a teacup when the industry falls to bits in the wake of a NBN that allows rampant piracy. It’s not like anybody has a good answer, but Ginnane is right. We should at least try to make something that might amuse the audience

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The Informant!

Matt Damon!

As if the trailer for ‘Invictus’ wasn’t too much, actually sitting through ‘The Informant!’ was so much more Matt Damon than I wanted to handle.

What’s Good About It

Any time somebody makes a black comedy, I’m happy to watch. This is pretty warped, but I’m not really sure this is quite black. It’s more of a 70s TV kitsch pastiche of events in the 1990s, made to look more distant than they are. All the same, the film has a lot of laughs in it and there’s never really a dull moment.

The film is also though-provoking about the nature of confidential informants and the kind information they can provide investigations. The film goes into some interesting intellectual space regarding the wiring of the informant in order to get incriminating information. The story gets very complicated and therefore more interesting when we realise that the persona of Mark Whitacre played by Matt Damon is more like an onion, with layers of subterfuge going on – and the layers go on and on. It becomes a running gag that Whitacre has somehow not told the entire truth about things as things gradually, and then rapidly spiral out of control.

The film is also a fine study in bipolar disorder, but one also suspect that the bipolar symptoms are being faked, and that Whitacre in this film is in fact personality disordered like nobody else.

What’s Bad About It

The pacing in this story is a little odd. You never get the feeling there’s any momentum to the story, just a sense in which things get dragged on and on with further bizarre complications. It’s not that I think it’s bad as such, but a sign that maybe the film isn’t working too well. Except I don’t know what I would have cut. All of it is necessary to tell the incredibly intricate mess of a story.

What’s Interesting About It

Lysine

Mike Whitacre

ADM

It’s so strange what a film like this makes you look for. I just want to quote this bit of the ADM entry:

ADM’s receipt of federal agricultural subsidies have come under criticism. According to a 1995 report by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, “ADM has cost the American economy billions of dollars since 1980 and has indirectly cost Americans tens of billions of dollars in higher prices and higher taxes over that same period. At least 43 percent of ADM’s annual profits are from products heavily subsidized or protected by the American government. Moreover, every $1 of profits earned by ADM’s corn sweetener operation costs consumers $10, and every $1 of profits earned by its ethanol operation costs taxpayers $30.”[12]
In 1994, the New York Times wrote “the Clinton Administration’s policy on emission-reducing renewable fuels — in essence, ethanol made from corn — is little more than a politically inspired gift to farmers and corn processors, especially the Archer Daniels Midland Company”.[13]
ADM’s lobbying and campaign contributions have encouraged the continuation of the United States federal sugar program (of trade barriers and price supports) by Congress, costing US consumers roughly $3 billion a year.[12] ADM also lobbied to create and perpetuate federal ethanol subsidies. Some commentators have concluded that the ADM experience demonstrates the need for campaign finance reform.[12]

There’s more on that page.

Also, the disagreements about just what kind of person Mark Whitacre is/was is interesting. Clearly the film went with the Eichenwald account, but other accounts think otherwise of the man.

James B. Lieber
The other book, Rats In The Grain, by lawyer James B. Lieber, focused more on ADM’s price-fixing trial and painted a much different picture about Whitacre than Eichenwald (Lieber 2000,[page needed]). Lieber portrayed Whitacre as an American hero who was overpowered by ADM’s vast political clout. James Lieber presented abundant evidence that the U.S. Department of Justice often subjugated itself to ADM’s political power and well-connected attorneys in the prosecution of informant Mark Whitacre for fraud and tax evasion.[citation needed] Lieber reported that Whitacre was the highest-level executive ever to turn whistleblower in U.S. history, and that Whitacre never attempted any type of fraud during all of his years of employment prior to ADM (Lieber 2000,[page needed]). Lieber concluded that Whitacre’s criminal activity and bizarre behavior were a direct result of the pressures which were placed on Whitacre by the FBI, and that Whitacre’s manic-depression became more problematic as a result of working undercover for the FBI (Lieber 2000,[page needed]). Lieber also pointed out that the FBI had much information indicating that ADM former Chairman Dwayne Andreas and former President James Randall knew about crimes going on throughout the company. Yet, the FBI was not allowed to question them. Lieber stated that in 1996, “Mr. Dwayne Andreas told The Washington Post he had known about Whitacre’s frauds for three years”. However, Whitacre was only fired and turned to the federal authorities after ADM learned he had been working as a mole for the FBI. If he knew about it for three years, why didn’t he fire Whitacre immediately, asked Lieber? “There were only two logical explanations for Andreas’ behavior: either he did not think the funds were stolen (in other words, they were approved) or he didn’t care,” wrote Lieber (Lieber 2000,[page needed]). Lieber concluded that fraud was widespread and an accepted practice at ADM during the 1990s.[15] ADM has been under new management for several years (Lieber 2000,[page needed]). Based on the fact that other executives committed frauds at ADM [i.e., financial fraud by a former treasurer and also technology thefts by others] and based on the fact that ADM continued to support them, Lieber concluded that ADM would have not turned Whitacre into the authorities if he had not been a mole for the FBI.[14] Furthermore, Lieber posed the question of where will the government obtain the next Mark Whitacre after potential whistleblowers observe how Whitacre was treated ? (Lieber 2000,[page needed])[23] Like Eichenwald, Lieber also concluded that Whitacre’s lengthy prison sentence was excessive and unjust when one takes into account Whitacre’s unprecedented cooperation with a much larger criminal case.[20][24] Lieber stated that Whitacre should not have received any prison sentence in return for his “multiple years of unprecedented cooperation” on a much larger case (Lieber 2000,[page needed]).

There’s more on the Dean Paisley section on that page that is noteworthy.

What’s interesting about these entries is the degree to which the film plays fast and loose with people who are still alive. The film kicks off with a caveat saying that it manipulates facts to tell a good story, but just how much they play fast and loose become apparent after you walk out the cinema and check out wikipedia.

My own feelings about it pertaining to this film are that maybe it was made too soon after the events when we are yet to weigh up the relative values and merits of all these things – which in turn adds to the confusion in the film. Maybe it’s a film we’re going to understand in 10years’ time more than today.

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At The Movies

Trailer For ‘Invictus’

Remember the 1995 Rugby World Cup? Wouldn’t you know it, Clint Eastwood’s directed a film about the South African team that won it, starring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela and Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar. I only saw the trailer but frankly, it’s all a bit too much.

Okay, it’s pretty cool that these guys are acting that difficult, difficult South African accent but turning that Rugby World Cup into a rousing moment in history made me scream in my head… “Get-the-fuck-outta-here!” I’m sorry, but I just can’t buy into the cultural imperialism, the phony humanism, the warping of historical meaning that’s being peddled.

Yeah, I know 1991 champs  Australia got thumped by the All Blacks that featured the in-his-prime Jonah Lomu; but the word on the streets for years has been how the chef at the hotel the All Blacks were staying in, gave the All Blacks food poisoning so that the Springboks could down them easily. I’m not a Kiwi at all, and yet I feel really bad for them about 1995. I never felt that the win was legit for South Africa in that they never faced the full-strength ferocity of the 1995 All Blacks. It’s harsh, and sour grape-y, but that’s how I feel. The Kiwis was robbed that year.

Look, Clint can direct most anything and I’ll probably like it, but just this once he’s made a film I’m predisposed against.

UPDATE: South Africans are angry with the Morgan Freeman casting.

An Ad With Parrot?

An Ad with a green parrot, that doesn’t learn anything. And its owner’s name is Arthur. I think some ad man’s been peeping into my life.

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Is It News?

Tiger Woods Shags Women

I’m sort of bemused by the degree of sensationalism invested in this week’s news item that Tiger Woods had a car accident as a result of running from his wife who was swinging a golf club at him because he has had extra-marital relations. while his image to date has been incredibly polished and free of such scandals, I’ve been wondering if it’s really all that surprising that any of this is going on.

Regardless of whether he’s a Stanford University product or he is generally considered a spokesman for his sport, the man’s most salient contribution to our world has been as a golfer. That’s it. He’s a jock. And we all know jocks get up to hanky-panky when on the road; And we know that WAGS have a terrible time of it; And we know everybody’s got something to hide except John Lennon and his monkey. So it seems like the news media are getting on to this as if it’s “man bites dog” when clearly it’s a case of “dog bites man”.

I understand that people think it’s a moral issue, but is it a moral issue that needs public scrutiny? A lot of people I’ve run into in the last couple of days have said to me that they think the news media is overstepping the line. They really should leave this stuff alone.

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Party Room Politics

How Politics Functions In Australia

Here’s a great article in the SMH.

Minchin argued repeatedly that Hockey’s position was ridiculous – you can’t have a policy of not having a policy, he said.
At this point,  Abbott declared his hand. ‘‘This is an impossible situation for the colleagues,’’ he said. ‘‘Some want to vote for the ETS, some want to vote against it. You can’t leave it unresolved. The party has to be offered a clear choice.’’
If Hockey would not change his mind, said Abbott, he would stand as the anti-ETS candidate.
About 8pm, Minchin visited Hockey once again. Abbott joined them. Minchin tried once more to find a way to kill the ETS but install Hockey
as leader. He offered a new formula – a secret ballot on the ETS offering three options – in favour of it, against it, or in favour of a conscience vote on it.
Hockey was ready to accept this, but Abbott would not brook anything offering a conscience vote  option.
That night, as the candidates counted their numbers, a Hockey lieutenant contacted Turnbull about 8.30pm to make sure of his undertaking to Hockey that he wouldn’t stand.
He told Hockey that he had received the assurance and had noted the conversation in his diary.
Yet Turnbull publicly vowed, in the strongest of terms, that he would standand fight.
At the Tuesday meeting, the leadership was declared vacant with a vote of 48 to 34, a clear dismissal of Turnbull.
Then  Bishop, as deputy, called for nominations for the leadership. Turnbull was on his feet instantly, followed a second later by Abbott. Hockey rose a moment later. It was to be a three-way contest.
In the first round of voting, Abbott won 35 votes, Turnbull won 26 and Hockey won 23. With the lowest tally, Hockey was eliminated.
The moderate vote had been split between Hockey and Turnbull. Some had abandoned Hockey because of his equivocal position on the threshold issue of the ETS.
Hockey was shocked.
In the run-off, Abbott beat Turnbull by 42 votes to 41. One vote, unbelievably, was informal.

The mind boggles at how all this works to serve the people of Australia. Somehow, the Liberal Party has managed to tie itself into knots where it has offered up the third best prospect at the expense of the better two, all to scuttle the ETS and that’s it. There’s nothing more on the other side but what Tony Abbott might come up with.

Long Live The DLP?

The historical DLP (as opposed to the current DLP) was a bunch of Catholics who were on the left but not left enough to embrace the Communists who were of course “Godless”. They were into spending on health, education and welfare, but totally resisted the Communists, thus supporting Australia’s participation in Vietnam.

The DLP’s policies were traditional Labor policies such as more spending on health, education and pensions, combined with strident opposition to Communism and emphasis for greater defence spending. The DLP strongly supported Australia’s participation in the Vietnam War. (For their part, the Soviet analysts would describe the Democratic Labour Party as ‘the most reactionary party in Australia’.)
From the early 1960s onwards, the DLP also became strong opponents of “permissiveness”, campaigning on issues such as homosexuality, abortion and pornography and drugs, which appealed to many conservative voters as well as the party’s base among Catholics. Some members of the DLP disagreed with this, believing the party should stay focused on anti-communism.[3]
Interestingly, the DLP achieved their highest federal vote (11.11%) with Whitlam as ALP leader at the 1970 half-senate election.
The election of the Whitlam ALP government in the 1972 election brought the DLP’s strategy of keeping the ALP out of power undone. In 1974 Whitlam appointed Gair Ambassador to Ireland in a bid to split the DLP and remove its influence. This tactic was successful and the DLP lost all its Senate seats at the 1974 election. The party was formally wound up in 1978. Soon after, a small group of supporters formed a new Democratic Labor Party, which continues to this day.
Santamaria continued to exercise considerable influence through the National Civic Council (NCC) until his death in 1998.

Its modern day ideological descendants seem to have found refuge in the hard right edge of both the ALP and the Liberal Parties. Tony Abbott, of course is famously a Catholic who once studied to be a priest and is as reactionary a they come. He even says he admired B.A Santamaria. Then there’s the NSW ALP centre-right faction which seems to be dominated by Catholics and Catholic power brokers that have brought us names such as Iemma, Tripodi, Obeid and as an extension, Keneally who seems just as loopily religious as Tony Abbott.

So I’ve been thinking in this week of party room turmoil where the DLP descendants have seized control of the parties, is the Catholic Church and the Pope of Rome making a play for Australian politics? Is this what we’re seeing? Or is this my kind of retro-Renaisance paranoia?

BTW, I’m still furious about this Kristina Keneally as NSW Premier business. It’s adverse, inverse and perverse.

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