Monthly Archives: December 2010

Death Of The Australian Dynasty

The End Of An Era Is Now Official

The Australian side has been sliding for a while but now it is official, the glory years are over. They’re not even an average side. It’s been a 20 year ride of at least serving it to the Poms. If we thought we were going to keep doing that forever eternal, we sure as hell were going to be wrong on that one. There were some mitigating factors for the long run of dominance, and that was the seeming gush of talent that graced the Australian side during that time.I won’t bother listing them, but there was a cluster of historically great players in there.

So, did England get good or did our boys get bad? England was probably overdue for a good side to play well together. The other notable thing is that it’s actually a team full of guys at their peak years with only Strauss and Collingwood in their mid 30s. It’s a team that’s peaking at the right time in stark contrast to Australia who are fielding a group of players whose ages range from 21 to 36 with quite a few in their 30s. I wouldn’t back this side against the dynastic year Aussies but this is not longer the dynastic year Aussies.

A quick back of the envelope calculation will probably show that the current Australian team are probably short of about 150 runs per inning from the dynastic years. They’d be lucky to crack 300 runs in an inning against a decent side, and it would have to be a flat track. The other thing that is a bit troublesome is just how brittle some of the younger guys have been. Phil Hughes is still a work in progress, Steve Smith is 21, so nobody knows what they’re going to get from him on any given day.

There are some guys who should be at peak, but are uncomfortably erratic. Shane Watson and Brad Haddin look scary to me. Plus Michael Clarke’s managed to find moments of true awfulness when you least want it during his career. Michael Hussey is past his prime as are names on the periphery such as Katich and Lee and Bracken.

So this is it. Australia won’t reclaim the Ashes here and they will stagger into Sydney with not much momentum. People are calling for Ponting’s head but it’s hard to see where the plan goes from here. The last time Australian cricket was in such disarray was back in 1986. If Ponting stays, he’s going to have to pull a page out of Allan Border’s book and preside over a complete reconstruction for 2 years. If he doesn’t then the ugly part of reconstruction is going to fall to Michael Clarke. The scary part of that notion is that if there’s one cricketer Clarke reminds me of, it’s Kim Hughes – they have the same flakiness under pressure. Something tells me that a Michael Clarke captaincy will suck.

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Nudity, Crudity And Stupidity

My Way Or The High Way

The scandal surrounding the 4 St. Kilda players and the teenage girl Miss D who is releasing compromising nude pictures of these players has been the buzz of the week for news services in Australia. I’ve stayed clear of reading too much of it but I’ve finally succumbed today and had a read about what all the fuss is about. It’s fascinating, so much so that I am not surprised the media is all over this story like a rash.

I took notice of it mostly because I recognised a name – Nick Dal Santo – from the 2 years I played fantasy AFL with Lola Hoar. Otherwise I might have just shrugged.

Without recapping the details I just want to point out 4 questions of my own:

  1. What kind of friends get naked with each other doing sexual things?
  2. What kind of idiots take photos when they do the above?
  3. What exactly was the girl thinking when the girl posted the pictures, and what did she think would happen?
  4. What do sports administrators around the country think is going to happen in the future when somebody seriously launches ‘Dikileaks’ where sports star peccadilloes and escapades are exposed?

It’s a wonderful parallel to the whole Wikileaks thing where you always suspected there was certain kind of craziness going on behind the facade of institutions but the leak puts you face to face with just how crazy things really happen to be.

The quick answer to my own question 4 is that there isn’t much sports administrators are going to be able to do when in the future, their prized sports stars are going to be exposed as homo-erotically inclined nudists with an obsession with their own genitals. This stuff really writes itself.

One of the more sober aspects of this sport scandal – and the good thing about sport scandal is that they don’t really affect the affairs of the world – has been how this under-aged girl got the photos in the first place. She was either hanging around these men in close proximity for reasons unexplained, or she was in some kind of relationship with one of the men and stole the pictures depending on whose version you trust. The AFL is busily trying to turn this into a case where the girl grossly violated the privacy of these four men, but if this girl is sill in need of a guardian then they’re trying to deflect the media away from the serious question of what the hell she was doing in such close proximity to these stars.

Forget the embarrassment, these four players might have a case to answer. but that’s for some real world journalist out there to get off his butt and chase down. Not me.

Anyway, I was in conversation with pharmakeus last night because he’s in town and the topic of ‘The Beach’ came up. I pointed out I hated the film because the main character makes all the wrong decisions in the first 10minutes which precipitates the events in the film. A smarter person would have at least not made some of the decisions, and events would not unfold in such a way as they do in the film. It is a difficult business trying to untangle events through motivations when you don’t get first hand accounts and even then it’s a dicey proposition, but it seems to me the girl, Miss D, made at least 4 or 5 decisions that no right thinking person would make to get to this point at the tender age of 17. A lot of it could be put down to headstrong-ness or willfullness, and some of it could be put down to a fractious or combative streak (who knows?) but she’s really put herself in a pickle because she is who she is.

I’m not deriding her or belittling her or applauding her or disapproving of her. If anything I am amused by her actions greatly – as I imagine most people are – in a way that I might consume characters in fiction. I’ve been reading ‘The Rocket That Fell To Earth’ this week, thanks to Pleiades who gave it to me for Christmas, and I am struck at how single-minded athletes have to be if they want to succeed. We are a sport nut nation which means we’re used to single-minded people going for number one. Should we be surprised that there is no restraint when it comes to the kind of salaciousness in these sports scandals? It’s who we are as a collective people, right down to the bone.

The Pope

I’m not Catholic nor a lapsed Catholic, and I’m not a victim of child-molestation, but this one got my goat.

The Pope used his annual speech to Rome’s cardinals and bishops to urge the church to reflect on how it let the abuse happen. But he also blamed the influence of the secular morality of child pornography and sex tourism, and a form of moral relativism that influenced Catholic theology in the 1970s.

”We must ask ourselves what we can do to repair as much as possible the injustice that has occurred,” he said. ”We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our proclamation, in our whole way of living the Christian life, to allow such a thing to happen.”

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The Pope said the church was well aware of the gravity of this sin committed by priests, and of the church’s responsibility. But nor could he be silent about ”the context of these times”.

”There is a market in child pornography that seems in some way to be considered more and more normal by society,” he said on Monday. ”The psychological destruction of children, in which human persons are reduced to articles of merchandise, is a terrifying sign of the times.”

He also said he heard from bishop after bishop in developing countries how sex tourism threatened an entire generation, while the problem of drugs was extending ”its octopus tentacles around the entire world”.

He criticised moral relativism from the 1970s that discarded absolutes, leaving only a ”better than” and ”worse than”. ”Morality is replaced by a calculus of consequences, and in the process it ceases to exist.”

The Pope is trying to blame the secular world for providing a market for child pornography through its moral relativism, and this is the context? He is either arguing that it’s not the priests fault because it’s (secular) society’s fault, or that it is capitalism’s fault that his priests succumbed to the temptations of kiddie-fiddling, so the Vatican is not culpable.

Frankly I can’t believe the Pope whose office can always be counted on to bang on and on about morality and moral absolutes can mount a relativist argument through the phrase “the context of these times” at the same time trying to round in on relativism as the real culprit behind his priests doing the kiddie-fiddling. If neither the Pope nor his priests are willing to shoulder moral responsibility for their actions, why on earth should anybody listen to them at all when they go on about morality and moral absolutes?

It’s a bit like a some self-righteous dude fucking his dog and when you catch him doing it he says, it’s society’s fault he’s doing it, and that people shouldn’t do it, and that everybody should do as he says (and not as he does). What kind of moral authority is that?

From the distance I’m at, it seems it is the Pope himself busily working on the project where ”Morality is replaced by a calculus of consequences, and in the process it ceases to exist.” The simpler thing to do for the Pope would be to cop the blame as it stands and you know, atone for the sins of his flock and live up to his job description. I mean, what would Jesus do?

The Melbourne historian Dr Bernard Barrett, who has researched clerical sexual abuse, said it did not begin in the 1970s but spanned the church’s 2000-year history and remained a deep-seated problem.

The witch-hunt for pedophiles is one of the most hysterically pursued causes in our world at the moment. You are more likely to get punched for calling somebody a pedophile than you might for calling the Pope an un-reconstructed Nazi (whether it’s true or not being beside the point).  Still, it’s a funny day when the moral standards of the secular society are clearly superior to that of the organisation peddling morality – and that deserves a note.

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Blast From The Past -17/Dec/2010

I Knew These People

Today’s album is the motherlode album of my hokey playing roots.

I think between Ry Cooder and David Lindley there is a gaggle of about 6 albums where slide guitar is featured extensively and I’ve drawn just about all of my slide savvy from the 6 album. Three of the six are studio albums by David Lindley and El Rayo-X, and the other 3 are the sound tracks Ry Cooder did for ‘Last Man Standing’ ‘Southern Comfort’ and ‘Paris Texas’

And so it is today that I’m bringing up the sound track to ‘Paris Texas’, not to talk about the movie which was haunting and evocative and lonesome-as-the-blues in its images, but it is the sound track in isolation that takes me back to a time when I was trying to copy the way Ry Cooder glissandos and vibratos his way across the fret board.

Maybe it was youthful pretension and self-indulgence that led me to listen to it over and over again, but there is a distinct vibe to this album that happens when you listen to it through headphones as opposed through the air. It is as if the guitar becomes a little replica of the whole universe.

A lot of my memory of listening intently to this album is riding out to AFTRS in a bus, all the way out to North Ryde where it used to be. The film came up in a Screen Analysis class early one and everybody had an opinion on the film, which just so happened to be the most excruciating session of Screen Analysis to sit through. The attempts to articulate the intrinsic gestalt of the film eluded us all.  I didn’t quite squirm, but it was an uncomfortable moment of navel-gazing.

Which, incidentally the film happens to be as well, but when you listen to the music, it’s actually not as inwardly directed as the film. There are whole portions of the refrain and riffs that resemble relics protruding out of the earth, partially intact, but broken down in such a way as to expose the structure. The soundtrack music in isolation is quite instructive – and so I pored over it, trying to copy some of Ry Cooder’s moves.

Of course what happened through that process of digging down into the technique was the belated discovery that technique isn’t just the notes, it’s the touch and articulation and where these things were coming from inside of you as a player. The rawness of the tone in a sense is the expression of the player, which when you tried to emulate, wouldn’t come together in the same way. All that is another story for another day.For today, I just thought I’d dredge up this album for a mention.

 

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Filed under Cinema, Film, Movies, Rock

Killing Phoenix Companies

Four Strikes And You’re Out

ASIC are exploring a four-strikes-and-you’re-out rule to combat Phoenix companies.

Under the current law, the Australian Securities and Investment Commission can seek to ban a director who has been on the board of two or more failed companies and a liquidator has lodged a report regarding the corporation’s inability to pay its debts. A notice is served and the person then has the opportunity to demonstrate why they should not be disqualified.

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Introducing automatic disqualification provisions to include directors involved in four or more company failures where a section 533(1) liquidator report has been lodged for each of those companies would remove those directors without having to go through the disqualification process.

Directors so disqualified would have a right to apply to the court if they sought to continue, or wished to commence managing a company during the disqualification period.

ASIC’s senior executive leader of real economy, Kathrine Morgan-Wicks, told BusinessDay that the regulator was talking to Treasury about further law reform to enable it to automatically ban a director rather than wait to receive a report from a liquidator. It is then up to the government to act on it.

This is long overdue. It’s the bane of small and medium businesses in Australia that just about any small company out there could do this to you. Worse still, there are persistent rumours out there that there are whole organisations that work off this principle whereby they form a company for one event – like the Pope visiting or the Olympics – sell as much merchandise to suit the event while racking up debt and then bankrupting the vehicle and walking away without paying.

There are terrible stories about phoenix-ing companies in the wake of the Sydney Olympics coming to an end. Nobody talked about those at the time the Sydney Olympics were lauded as a great success. I have to tell you some of these first hand accounts I have heard has browned me off small companies in Australia. You might hate the big guys but at least they’re too visible to be doing this stuff.

Swish Group in Melbourne pulled this racket earlier this year as it voluntarily went into receivership, appointed their own receiver (because if you voluntarily go into receivership you can) and got out of paying just about nothing on its debts. Of course,  there’s nothing the creditors can do about this. A few months later, the same bunch bought the company name off the receiver and were back in business as the same business. No shame, no pain, no penalty, nothing. I know about this because Swish Films was part of the Swish Group and they racked up debts in Philadelphia and Sydney which they totally stiffed payments upon.

It’s just some pea and shell game, and that’s not the only instance that I’ve witnessed first hand. Here’s another bit from the same article:

“Using the existing mechanisms we are pushing them strongly, and have seen an increase in director disqualifications. That sends a strong message. People take it seriously,” she said.

ASIC has a three-pronged approach to phoenix activity, including a liquidator assistance program, director disqualification and an investigations program.

I think they should have a national kick-murder squad pulled from prisons in the most violent parts of Latin America to be used against directors who phoenix their companies even once but that’s just me. That might be a proper deterrent.

Anyway, it seems even 4 strikes is too lenient. In a real game of baseball a good batter could do immense damage with 4 strikes up his sleeve. Maybe even hit for a .500 Batting Average in a season of 650 plate appearances. So naturally it seems to me it should be 2 strikes and you’re out with this mob, not 4. Four is overly, overly generous.

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More On Julian Assange

The World Goes Nuts

Back in late July when WikiLeaks leaked the video that caused a commotion, Julian Assange talked about how the blogosphere essentially doesn’t run with the data presented. Instead, we navel gaze. At the time, I made note of that statement because rightfully, I was chastised. That being said, I haven’t exactly dived into all the wonderful documents that have been leaked on WikiLeaks this time either. So once again Mr. Assange is right – most bloggers simply blog to share their values with their friends and nothing more. It is still the case on this blog as anywhere else I imagine.

What’s interesting about the recent turbulent events surrounding Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks, is just how much the US Government is trying to take down the man as well as the site. In the last week it has been reported that no less than Amazon, PayPal and some Swiss bank have all cut him off in a bid to shut down WikiLeaks. It is not clear whether it is because the government is leaning on them heavily or because the CEOs are genuinely conservative nutcases who jump before even being told to jump. While we don’t know these companies and the men who run them, we can read a lot into their actions of trying to force WikiLeaks off air.

So it is welcome news to find various groups fighting the powers that be by taking out punitive actions against companies that withdrew their support for Assange and WikiLeaks. It’s good that they get a dose of medicine from the world that is watching with bated breath. News that the group calling itself Anonymous has attacked Mastercard, VISA and PayPal is a fascinating development in this ever-evolving saga, and it gives you a sense of the global strife that is being created by free flow of information and transparency.

The main thing that I do want everybody to focus on is the actual leaks themselves. We are getting a lot more confirmations on things we suspected about the world, and there may actually be things in there that deserve fine scrutiny – Mark Arbib, for instance springs to mind. How can he keep low now that he has been named as the American government’s inside man?

Indeed questions beyond probity and perhaps loyalty should be directed towards Mr. Arbib in light of these revelations because depending on how you view it, he may have tipped his hand to the US government that he was going to engineer the downfall of Kevin Rudd. And if he did, then how do we know he wasn’t doing America’s bidding? Does anybody see the shades of the Dismissal in 1975 in all of this?

I’ve come to being a great sceptic of the Obama Administration as a result of how the Toyota recall was politicised, but this bit of information is being given a free pass. We should be asking more questions, instead of hosing them down.

In the same vein, the concerted action against WikiLeaks betrays a great bloody-minded drive of the said administration in the White House. Even Malcolm Turnbull – veteran of the 1980s Spycatcher trials thinks making a martyr of Julian Assange won’t do much good. While it is true Mr. Assange is now in custody for allegations of sexual misdemeanors, we’re in the early stages of what might turn out to be a disclosure on some fundamental truths about governments and how they rule above us all.

PS. While I am at it, I should offer up this link that better explains where the allegations come from, and why they are so dodgy.

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Ugliness As A Virtue

Ugly Is As Ugly Does

It’s Festivus (for the rest of us), and at Festivus there is an airing of grievances where we tell each other how others have let them down. Here’s something for all of you who like to tell me how the Australian Film Industry has let you down.

Is it really such a stretch to believe films can be simultaneously enjoyable and smart? Many big-screen ventures manage to be both banal and stupid, so we know beauty and brains aren’t really mutually exclusive.

But these are things you’re not supposed to say out loud. In the more insular circles of Australian film – shielded by the silence of well-meaning but overly cautious critics – there’s always a convenient excuse at hand.

Lack of funding, lazy audiences and an unwillingness to engage with our own culture are but a few of the dubious theories trotted out whenever the calibre of the local industry is called into question.

When The Social Network opened here in late October, I wondered aloud why we didn’t get there first. What is stopping us from making a film that manages to be effortlessly entertaining without insulting the viewer’s intelligence?

No action scenes, blockbuster budget or special effects required. Just some good-old fashioned characterisation and scriptwriting, and a director who managed to earn rave reviews without alienating Friday night crowds at the local multiplex.

It’s hardly the first time an Oscar contender and critical darling has also done big business at the box office. A pretty-and-smart formula that somehow eludes cinema’s powers-that-be closer to home.

“That really is the conundrum that we’ve been dealing with in the industry for the past 30 or 50 years,” says Antony I. Ginnane, president of the Screen Producers Association of Australia.

“Are we making art or are we making entertainment? And is there a way to balance the two? I think the answer is yes.”

Ginnane cites the Australian successes Picnic At Hanging Rock and Kenny as examples of films that managed to achieve both.

The complexity of the issues surrounding the Australian Film Industry are always too numerous to mention, so people end up trying to shorthand the discussion trying to bracket whole discourses on areas that need detailed examination. I’ve attempted to break some of them down here, but even then I have to shorthand so much to cover the ground, just to make it digestible.

The unfortunate reality is that as English speakers, our market will always be subordinate and integral to the American system. The rest of the industry that is meant to be ours is propped up by government in order to service the American one. And while that was not the concept back in 1970, since 2000, that concept has essentially led the industry down to its state.

But you’ve heard it all before from me, so I just note this article in passing, as it too will go largely unheeded. That’s life in the joke known as the Australian Film Industry.

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Blast From The Past – 07/Dec/2010

When You’re Young And In Love

Way back when and once upon a long time ago, I was deeply, deeply drawn to a quintessential North Shore girl. She was so wry and ironic, she even shared her Kingston biscuits and said, “That’s meant to be the perfect North Shore girl’s biscuit.” I never figured out why, but it was. We had long, meandering conversations over coffee and I was kidding myself that what we had was more meaningful than the wasted breath of conversations we were having, but you know how it is. What do you know? I wasn’t ‘her type’.

That’s real life for you. No movie endings and romances for yours truly there.

Anyway, somewhere along the way in those long conversations, she taped this album for me (yes it was back in those days when people taped things for each other – go watch ‘High Fidelity’ if you don’t understand), which then grew on me more and more as the years went on, even when she was long gone from my life.

As it turned out it has been quite difficult to track down in Sydney over the years. I’ve been looking now and then but with this parity thing with the US dollar, I was finally overcome with an urgent nostalgia and ordered it from Amazon and lo and behold it came in from Germany of all places.

This is an amazing album of a cappella works. Slipping it into my CD player and letting it play it brought back all kinds of memories of things and times gone by, but most of all, the unity of vision in these performances just punched out. So it wasn’t just me being sentimental and nostalgic, this album really is a pretty damn fine recording. The standout is still their rendition of ‘Psychokiller’, but the album is full of other unexpected twists and turns.

I don’t know what happened to that girl and don’t really care to look her up. It’s way too late in the game of life to go revisiting stuff like that, but I’m still grateful she introduced me to this album. It’s a gift, really.

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