Monthly Archives: September 2010

Hobbits Versus MEAA

This Ought To Be Even Better

I present to you, this link:

The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance has joined the Screen Actors Guild and a group of six other international labour unions in calling for a boycott of the movie on the grounds that actors may be employed on inferior non-union contracts.

The MEAA claims to have support from A-listers Cate Blanchett, Sir Ian McKellen and Hugo Weaving, who are said to be involved in $US150 million The Hobbit project.

In an extraordinary step last night, the notoriously media shy Jackson issued an angry four-page statement accusing the Australian-based MEAA of trying to cash in on the success of the New Zealand film industry by holding movie studio Warner Brothers to ransom.

“I can’t see beyond the ugly spectre of an Australian bully-boy using what he perceives as his weak Kiwi cousins to gain a foothold in this country’s film industry. They want greater membership, since they get to increase their bank balance,” Jackson said.

“I feel growing anger at the way this tiny minority is endangering a project that hundreds of people have worked on over the last two years, and the thousands about to be employed for the next four years, [and] the hundreds of millions of Warner Brothers dollars that is about to be spent in our economy.”

I can see both sides of this argument, so I feel rather ill at ease to go into any kind of commentary. Needless to say, it sucks that Peter Jackson would put actors on crappy contracts to save some money, but it also sucks that the MEAA is calling to boycott the film. Both sides have a point and in all honesty you would expect this stuff could get resolved in the negotiating room as opposed on the front pages.

In it all though was this tangential tidbit:

Jackson said the MEAA was using a “small minority” of New Zealand actors to demand that Warner Brothers negotiate an umbrella agreement with all actors on the project – terms the studio could not possibly meet.

“I’ve been told that Disney are no longer bring movies to Australia because of their frustration with the MEAA,” Jackson said.

Not sure why Warner Brothers can’t meet these terms, to be honest. The second bit about Disney is also revealing. It might be more the case that the US film studios are simply too used to exploiting everybody it finds it amazing that a union would say ‘no’. Mind you, the MEAA’s stance probably has done tremendous harm to the Australian film industry so it’s questionable such tough stances are such a good thing. It’s sort of pathetic, when you look at it, with Peter Jackson caught in the middle.

The MEAA really should be picking on actual, authentically/genuinely/truly exploitative bodies like VEA. I mean, whatever happened to that fracas?

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema, Film, Movies

Shadow Of Death

Why We Do Creative Stuff

This isn’t an entry about the artist over at iComp who used to go by the handle Shadow of Death.

This is something else entirely.Just thought I’d get that out of the way first.

I’ve recently been thinking about the mission of the artist a lot, in as much as I have been teaching a class full of novices how to produce videos. It’s a 12 week course that I’m teaching so it’s hard enough getting through all the technical aspects, but I keep on having to digress to talk about the whys and wherefores of approaches. That is to say, I’m busily trying to impart a method, only to be forced back to the raison d’etre of creating anything in any medium.

An artist or writer or musician will come fact to face with their work only a limited number of times in their life. This is why death makes the price of artworks by a particular artist go up. There is no such long tail with cinema and film making, but the opportunities to do anything are even more limited than if one’s means of production were more readily accessible. The flip-side of that it is arguable that every time you pick up something to do anything creative is an important moment.

I’ve also been telling my students that whatever it is that they choose to do or make, they have to work it with the utmost of their artistic convictions – otherwise they are cheating not only the audience but themselves of the opportunity to do something truly transcendent. The good news is that as Frank Zappa says, if you can put a framework around it you can call it a work of art. at one end is the austere challenge of doing something worthwhile and at the other is the liberation for all approaches; I sort of wonder if my students can keep both things in my head.

The truth is, I tell them so many things I don’t know what is sinking in and what is washing off like water off a duck’s back. All the while the elephant in the room seems to be the challenge to do something worthwhile. They asked me if I was a tough marker. I said no, but in looking at how I’ve marked their essays, I have to admit that I am tough. In turn, Ive been sitting on a desk job for 3 years now just to pay the rent and as the summer rolls around, I’m beginning to feel a real yearning to go back to a creative life. Perhaps my own creative frustration is seeping through unfairly.

I don’t offer any new insight into any of this except perhaps all of this is in sharper focus for me this month because I have had to think about this stuff more with students at hand. We do what we do because it pleases us, and we do what we do because we want it to delight somebody. If somebody did a sculpture of a dog turd and called it art, it probably has somebody who takes delight in the object sitting in an art gallery as art. The point is do more, do as many, mean it when you do it because you don’t know how many shots you get at it.

In any case, all our work – be they films, songs, novels and poems – mark out time unto our ultimate ends. All our creative works are done in defiance of the impending doom, affirmations of a life lived under the shadow of death.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema, Contemporary Art, Film, General, Jazz, Literature, Movies, Pop, Prog Rock, Rock, Television, Uncategorized

Racist Article In The Sydney Morning Herald

This Is The Pits

Here’s the article.The damn article is called ‘Segregation in the School System’. I blanched at the word ‘segregation’. She may as well have said apartheid in the school system or holocaust in the school system.

To report that 80 per cent of students in selective high schools come from migrant families – predominantly from east Asia – is valid.

The Herald is not suggesting that students from migrant backgrounds do not deserve, or are not entitled to the success they earn. This is not a discussion about race, ethnicity or biology.

It is a conversation about a clash of cultural attitudes towards the purpose of schooling. It is a debate about an evolving level of competition in education, and it affects all students.

The NSW school system is now clearly segregated. This is to the detriment of all students who are no longer mixing with children from a broad range of abilities and backgrounds.

White students have fled to Catholic schools in small country towns, leaving local public schools almost totally dominated by Aboriginal students. Middle-eastern kids fill some south-Western Sydney schools and Tongan students are over-represented in others. Middle-class white children congregate in homogeneous private schools on Sydney’s northern and eastern suburbs. An increasing number of children are enrolling in Islamic and Exclusive Brethren schools. Greek Orthodox and Jewish schools are also enrolling their own.

Children from China, Korea and Vietnam are over-represented in selective schools.

Get that? It’s valid to report that 80% of students in selective high schools come from migrant families. Why would you say that? Why does it need such a caveat? The author then backpedals and says it’s actually about a clash of cultural values. Really now?

Then comes the claim that NSW schools are now clearly ‘segregated’. ‘Segregated’? You wonder if this alleged segregation is racial or actually meritocratic. The writer then asks if the middle-eastern kids and those of disadvantaged backgrounds are in selective schools.

If the system is fully meritocratic, then it shouldn’t matter what the racial composition is at any time. And if the point is that the system isn’t fully meritocratic, it shouldn’t matter what the race composition of the schools are at any given point. Unless of course race itself is an issue for the author of the article.

What’s wrong with this whole article is that it’s all couched in language of race and racism.  No matter how I read it, I can’t see this article approving of the  80% that consists of Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese kids who made the grade to get into the selective schools. By extension of these figures, the article argues that because of their ‘over-representation’ (her words, not mine), the whole selective school agenda has to be reviewed.

That’s blatantly racist. The article is fully arguing that based on the fragmented demographic of our multi-cultural society, our selective schools are now 80% Asian kids with Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese backgrounds, and this shows that there is ‘segregation’ (as if this was the aim of the government) and therefore the selective schooling system is somehow broken. Presumably, judging from the tone of the article, if the selective schools were filled with white kids, it would be working fine.

Frankly I can’t believe I’m reading this shit in the SMH. I can’t.

Leave a comment

Filed under General

Scoping China

Ambitious And Hopeful

There was this article by Peter Hartcher in the SMH today. Makes for an interesting read because it is refracted through the eyes of Australia, an ex-white-colony out in the Asian sphere of influence.

In Australia, a former deputy secretary of Defence, Hugh White, has called for Australia to rethink its US alliance: ”It has been easy to believe American power would continue indefinitely to keep Asia peaceful and Australia safe. That has been a cardinal mistake,” he writes in the current Quarterly Essay.

We all know that China is rising, but White, a professor at the Australian National University who used to write Australia’s defence policy, thinks we fail to grasp the real meaning of this moment. China’s continued rise ”may mark the passing of the epoch of Western dominance in Asia that began five centuries ago, in 1498, when Vasco da Gama brought Portuguese naval power to India.

”America’s role today is simply the latest episode of what scholars call the Vasco da Gama epoch. It could also be the last. If China successfully contests American primacy over the next few decades, Western power will no longer hold strategic sway and Asia will be master of its own affairs once more.”

Which ever way you look at the inevitability of China’s rise, it is some cause for anxiety in the Australian polity. It’s even more troublesome when you combine it with the relatively small insight that the Australian diplomatic corp seems to have about the continuity of Chinese history.

Chinese written history stretches back 2500years. Things written at the beginning of Han dynasty can be read and understood by scholars today as if they were written yesterday. This vast continuity reaches back into the time of the Roman Empire in the West. The present they live in is an extension of that cultural tradition. It’s simply not a perspective on history that can be shared with the English speaking world, let alone Australia with its meager 200 years of White settlement.

What’s really scary is that the continuity of thinking that reaches back in time is like having continuity of thought that goes back to the ancient world with its brutalities. 2000-odd years might have passed since the establishment of the Han dynasty, but the end of the Imperial Tyranny only dates back to events in the early 20th century. Some might say the kinds of cruelty meted out by the Chinese state is merely traditional cruelties of states which states are entitled to through history.

All the while, here we are with our post-modern, post-enlightenment guff, totally uncomprehending of the vastness of Chinese literature on statehood and national interest. I don’t think Kevin Rudd’s notion of ‘Zhen You” cut any mustard out in the land where no mustard is ever cut, so to speak. In all honesty, it would be correct to fear China’s ambitions in the South Pacific.

Leave a comment

Filed under General

Nobody Mourns

What Mr. Garrett Didn’t Do

You can count me amongst those who had low expectations for Peter Garrett as Federal Minister for the Arts. He’s been replaced by Simon Crean. It seems to me that if he struck out in two areas that have been his calling card for the better part of then decades – namely the environment and the arts – then it seems to me he really doesn’t have much more of an upside as a politician.

With that I want to share with you a link sent in by Pleiades.

Few seem to be mourning the passing of the old one, Peter Garrett. He might have been the first Australian arts minister in history to have been a working musician, but that doesn’t seem to have won him many friends in the sector. The silence from the arts community on his departure has been deafening – indeed, some arts figures have been openly critical, like Evelyn Richardson of performing arts industry lobby group Live Performance Australia.

News Limited’ s Ashleigh Wilson (no mean musician himself, in his life away from journalism) examines Garrett’s strange unpopularity in an article for The Punch. He rightly points to Garrett’s strangely muted performance during the Bill Henson affair as the source of considerable discontent in the sector. Garrett also mishandled the micro-controversy over funding for the Australian National Academy of Music, and seemed to go silent during other important debates, like the Cooper Review’s recommendation to exclude art as a valid self-managed superannuation investment.

Garrett did have some wins, including some significant legislation in the Resale Royalty Act for Visual Artists, a new law which, for the first time, gives visual artists a royalty each time one of their works is resold.

And that about sums up the relative quietness in seeing off Mr. Garrett.

Leave a comment

Filed under General

Weakening The Yen

Too Much Principle

The weird thing about Japan for the last 20 odd years is that the Bank of Japan has mostly retained a fairly tight policy and not printed money in spite of the flagrant deflation in the economy.During that time, successive Japanese governments have pumped stimulus packages into the markets but it hasn’t really done enough to bring Japan out of the doldrums. It’s a very strange thing because the Bank of Japan has dutifully bought up the bonds issued by the government, just as it has bought US treasury bonds and not let them go.

Today, the Bank of Japan finally went out there and sol Yen to weaken the currency.

Japan has intervened in the foreign-exchange market for the first time since 2004 after a surge in the yen to the strongest against the US dollar in 15 years threatened to stunt the nation’s economic recovery.

Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda confirmed the intervention, speaking to reporters today in Tokyo.

Mr Noda said that Japan had contacted other nations about the step, without specifically saying that today’s measure was taken unilaterally.

The yen tumbled 1 per cent to 83.97 per US dollar. Japan’s currency reached a high of 82.88 earlier today. The benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average jumped 2 per cent on the news, reversing earlier losses.

The yen also weakened against the Australian dollar, dropping to a five-week low. The dollar leaped 1.4 per cent to 79.10 yen after traders spotted the Bank of Japan selling yen in the market in an effort to restrain its export-sapping strength.

For a country that is meant to be suffering dire economic times, its currency the yen has a way of being strong. And while everybody has been complaining about the on-going deflation a a result of the burst property bubble in the early 1990s, the Bank of Japan hasn’t exactly resorted to printing money. One would have thought that the best thing to stave off deflation was to just print money like the Weimar Republic between the wars.

Instead the Bank of Japan has stuck to its principles – whatever they may be – and the net result is that the successive governments have gone into debt instead. In turn, you would think that the on-going deflation would have been cue enough to simply print money to make up for the gap.

If you go to Tokyo, it’s hard to tell there’s this moribund economy, even when the people tell you there it’s tough going. There is a flood of manufactured goods and food everywhere. It just doesn’t look like a nation in decline or a place that’s been in the doldrums or 15-20 years. Sometimes I think the degree to which international observers write off Japan is mere fantasy. After all, why would the nation in decline ave such a strong currency, which in turn rises when there’s bad news? Maybe the real story is that it’s just not that bad. That maybe Japan is affecting this posture of helplessness and uselessness so as not to be forced into some arms race or needless competition.

It’s very strange, is all that I’m saying. The pieces simply don’t fit.

Leave a comment

Filed under General

Whither Coal

The End Of Coal

Pleiades sent in this snippet here from Crikey for which I can’t find the link. It’s here wholus bolus for you:

As the former head of a financial research team, I recall dealing with an exposure to a brown coal-fired power generator. At the time, evidence was mounting that climate change impacts were quite likely, but they seemed to be far enough into the future not to worry us that much. Our debt exposure to the power generator did not mature until 2027; and who could predict what might or might not happen over that period of time?

For this investment, it wasn’t so much the physical effects of climate change that I was concerned about — it was the risk that market or regulatory impacts could make or break the project in the meantime. If we’d factored in a sizeable carbon tax, even in 2015, it would have seriously affected the prospective performance of our investment. When the uncertainty of future cash flows increases, the market value of the investment generally falls.

The emergence of new research from the highly respected Potsdam Institute in Germany has made the issue of market and regulatory impacts resulting from climate change very real. The timeline for significant impacts on investment returns is now finite, with estimates of 2015 becoming a reality. As Paul Gilding and I argue in our forthcoming paper entitled Carbon-Induced Financial Disruption, the investment implications of this research are breathtaking.

The Potsdam Institute research says that, if we are to have a reasonable chance of containing global warming to within 2 degrees, we only have a “budget” of 890 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions. This is a fixed budget, because carbon stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. So what is important is how much we emit — not when we emit it. If we continue to burn fossil fuels in line with our current business-as-usual approach, then we use up our budgeted emissions by 2024!

To add insult to injury, the quantum of fossil fuels required to emit 890 billion tonnes of CO2 is equivalent to only 25% of proven, economically recoverable reserves. This means that, in theory, 75% of known proven and probable reserves have no economic value.

This has startling implications for investors because there will either be (a) some form of global action that will seek to limit warming to 2 degrees; or (b) no effective action, with the consequence being runaway climate change. These are the only two options we have. The first one severely devalues our fossil fuel reserves as we scramble to reconfigure global energy networks; and the second one, while possibly maintaining the market value of those reserves for longer, is like driving off the edge of a cliff.

Coming back to the brown coal-fired power generator for a moment — won’t carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology ride to the rescue? There is little doubt that CCS in combination with coal-fired power generation can work. The problem is that a carbon price of $US50-100 per tonne is required to make it commercially viable. Therefore it is not competitive with investment in energy efficiency and most renewable energy sources. Placing faith in CCS to mitigate carbon exposure is a very risky investment strategy.

There is a commitment by the world’s largest emitters — including the EU, US, China and India — to limit warming to 2 degrees. How this commitment will play out is anyone’s guess. We are, however, left with two clear conclusions:

  • Governments will have to follow through on their commitments to act unless they, and their electorates, prefer more destructive outcomes in the future; and
  • At some stage, markets will price in those policy implications, and they could do so ahead of policy actions.

Now that we have an emissions budget and we comprehend how meagre it is, it puts a sharp limit on the window of time we have for policy actions.

The prospect of large-scale, major change and energy transformation is not automatically bad for long-term economic activity. For example, the International Energy Agency forecasts that $US10.5 trillion in additional capital spending would be required for energy infrastructure under a proactive response to climate change between now and 2030. But we cannot escape the fact that large-scale change will produce a reasonable level of protracted disruption to economies and markets.

This is all interesting because we keep coming to the fork in the road and we always seem to go in the wrong direction. This is really disturbing. Yet, it does bring to fore the problem that if coal is out and devalued as an energy source, then it’s going to impact the structure of our economy greatly – however, if we don’t readjust our usage of coal the environment will force us to undergo a massive readjustment to how our economy operates.

In a related vein, here’s something from NatGeo:

A new study seeks to shake up the assumption that use of coal, the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, is bound to continue its inexorable rise. In fact, the authors predict that world coal production may reach its peak as early as next year, and then begin a permanent decline.

The study, led by Tad Patzek, chairman of the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, and published in the August issue of Energy, predicts that by mid-century, the world’s coal mining will supply only half as much energy as today.

The idea that the world will face “peak coal” as soon as 2011 flies in the face of most earlier estimates and analysis.

(Related: “The High Cost of Cheap Coal”)

The London-based World Coal Institute, an industry group including the largest international coal producers, says “the use of coal will rise 60 percent over the next 20 years,” and that “coal will last us for at least 119 years.” And the U.S. Energy Information Administration, in its most recent international outlook, projects that coal consumption for electricity will grow more than 50 percent by 2035 unless policies are put in place to stop the growth of greenhouse gas emissions.

However, the Patzek study paints a far different picture—and not because people will use up the last of the coal in the ground. Rather, the world will finish off the coal that is easy to reach and high-quality—the coal that produces a large amount of energy per ton, the new study says. What remains will often be of lower quality, and progressively harder to dig up and bring to where it is used.

(Related: “Mine Tragedy Amid Push to Produce More“)

The study’s prediction for the time of the peak—actually a peak in the energy produced by global coal production—may not turn out to be exactly right, Patzek said. “I’m not saying that on July 1, 2011, there will be a peak.”

But the main thrust of the study is stark: “We are near or at the peak right now,” he said.

If true, this could have a vast impact on the world economy.

Coal-fired power plants supply 40 percent of the world’s electricity, and energy for two-thirds of the world’s steel production.

“If we are right,” Patzek’s study said, “major restructuring and shrinking of the global economy will follow.”

Many countries are counting on coal to continue powering their economies for decades to come.

“The United States is the Saudi Arabia of coal,” said President Barack Obama earlier this year, referring to estimates that the United States has the largest coal reserves of any country. Citing the huge stores and the need for clean energy, Obama made the remark at the launch of a task force to study how to deploy technology to “clean up” coal, through carbon capture and storage technology, in the next 10 years.

(Related: “Lighting a Fire Under Clean Coal”)

However, Patzek argues that the reserves estimates of the United States and other countries overstate how much coal is actually practical to mine and use.

“In my study, I disregard completely these [reserve] estimates,” Patzek said. “They’re not credible.”

“The only estimate that’s credible,” he argued, “is what actually comes out of the mines, and how you project that into the future.”

The rest of it makes for interesting reading. Just how are we going to value these resources going forwards?

Leave a comment

Filed under General