Monthly Archives: April 2012

They Sure Hate…

They Hate the Unemployed

Here’s an interesting experiment. A WA Greens Senator is attempting to live a week on $35/day.

WA Greens Senator Rachel Siewert is trying to live on $35 a day in a bid to highlight that the meagre dole was causing jobseekers to be sucked into a cycle of poverty.
Rachel Siewert has $12 in her wallet for the rest of the week.
She went shopping on the weekend and bought some basic food items and toilet paper totalling $53, but if she runs out of toothpaste, she will just have to go without.

This week Ms Siewert is living off the average weekly Newstart Allowance payment in a bid to highlight what she says is a system which makes it even more difficult for job seekers to get out of unemployment.

The $244 she started with on Saturday has quickly been taken up by the essentials.
While in reality, she will remain in her four-bedroom, two-bathroom house in the northern suburbs, $125 has been deducted from her budget to pay for the one bedroom unit in Bentley or Armadale, which would be all she could afford on Newstart.

Thankfully for her, the amount has been subsidised down from $185 due to the rent assistance that she would be eligible for as a jobseeker.

The rest of it makes for some painful reading on penny-pinching. Clearly this experiment is trying to highlight this figure of $35 per day.

According to a survey of 500 Australians conducted for the Australia Institute, the amount, when averaged, is $454 a week – about $65 a day.

When 500 people in a separate survey were asked how much unemployed Australians should get from Centrelink they settled on $329 a week, or $47 a day.

But the less-impressive truth is the Newstart allowance peaks at $243 a week – $34.70 a day.

”Most Australians have little idea what unemployed Australians actually get,” the executive director of the Australia Institute, Richard Denniss, said when releasing the survey results. ”They know what their own cost of living is and they think unemployed Australians should get something approaching it, but they would be shocked to find out what a Newstart recipient actually got.”

The $86 gap between Newstart itself and what Australians believe it should be exceeds the $50 increase proposed by a coalition of business, welfare and union organisations led by the Australian Council of Social Service. ACOSS says the increase would cost $1.2 billion a year.

Talk about disconnect. The first paragraph is interesting. People would budget for themselves $18per day more than they would for an abstract stranger. The second paragraph shows that the real figure the government is comfortable with is $12.30 meaner than what the average person dishes out to a stranger. ACOSS then steps up and tells the government it should do something about this gap but it too is $5-6 short of what people think is required.

There are 379 comments under that article, and it is surprising how many people are scornful of the unemployed for being unemployed, as if the unemployed are unemployed by principle. Clearly conservatives hate people they do not know, with as much hatred they can muster.

Think about all this for a moment. What the hell is it to you really if there were 10, 1000, or 10,000 dole bludgers out there, eking their lives out on 35 or 47 or 65 dollars a day? Especially if you are well off? What could it matter?

Now, conservative people? They want them shamed in public, made to work the most humiliating jobs. Why? One can only presume it is because it gives them some kind of sadistic satisfaction. And there’s a mainstream party out there who think this sort of thing is great. The really disappointing part is that the ALP ain’t doing much better than the sadistic psychos.

They Hate The Young

Amanda Vanstone had this opinion piece last month which was so odious I didn’t bother to read it at the time, but seeing that we’re talking about this kind of thing today, I thought I’d have a read and bring it up.

I have no quibble with the investment we make in higher education or in students. I just think that, to be fair, they should have to start paying it back sooner.
The full adult pension, including supplement, is about $19,000 a year. The minimum wage is just under $30,000. So why do we say to students, who get a massive loan at no real interest rate, that they do not have to pay back a cent until they are earning just under $45,000?

Now, if I cast my mind not too far, it is obvious to me that Amanda Vanstone is of the generation that got the Free Education from Gough Whitlam’s Labor government and didn’t have to pay *any* HECS, unlike the Gen-Xers. She writes a whole bunch of personal anecdotes about how some dude driving buggies in Rome taught her a life lesson but seriously, how can a person who didn’t have to suffer the HECS repayments ask this?

The comparison to a pensioner is a spurious apples and oranges argument because pensioners tend to already own stuff, while graduates do not, but it is better for the economy if they spent their money on those things, rather than be taxed as if they did.

The time I was repaying my HECS really sucked. I wad fortunate in that I was repaying it with a job I was trained to do, but it still hurt not to have that bit of money. What it taught me was how difficult it is accept one’s education as having a concrete dollar value. But be that as it may, it incenses me that somebody who didn’t have that experience thinks that these back of the envelope calculations are sufficient justification to make these ambit, loaded political claims.
It’s not just in Australia that the old conservatives are trying to scare off the young from education through taxes. here’s an article in The Economist.

AS I begin this post, the president is across town buttering up University of Iowa students with promises to keep federal student-loan interest rates low. The College Cost Reduction and Access Act, a measure from 2007 that, among other things, lowered the interest rate on federal student loans from 6.8% to 3.4%, is set to expire in July. Messrs Obama and Romney both have come out in favour of supporting an extension of the subsidy for student-loan debtors.

This sort of giveaway may be good politics, but it’s terrible policy. Extending the programme just one year would cost $6 billion. The measure is promoted as a way of making college more affordable, but it will mainly benefit those well out of school, many of whom are relatively well-to-do, mid-career professionals, such as your indebted correspondent. There is a movement afoot to get the government to forgive student-loan debt entirely, and when compared to this, the cost of the scheme to keep student-loan interest rates low looks quite small. Stilll, it’s bad policy for many of the same reasons it would be bad policy to forgive student loans.

Look, maybe they’re right and it’s bad policy, but here’s the thing. Wall Street and the big end of town are getting 0.5% interest charges from the Fed. Why is it even remotely fair that students continue to get slugged with even 3.4%, let alone 6.8% in the current economic climate? What makes the students magically immune from the GFC fallout? It’s easily arguable the big end of town are far more capable of dealing with tough times through the high salaries and established assets and savings compared to university students – and they’re getting 0.5% interest rates!

You wonder about the brains of these conservatives.

They Hate Foreigners

Here’s the latest on Asylum seekers.Ever since the ‘Malaysian Solution’ melted down thanks to the High Court, it’s been weathering the storm of bad press and spin ever since. Even so, if the Liberal Party had any heart, they’d negotiate so that the government can do its proposed Malaysian Solution in exchange for being able to do it Nauru Solution when (I’m pointedly not going to bother saying ‘if’) they get in power.

But no. Tony Abbott has put his kaibosh on any understanding over the legislation and keeps carping that Julia Gillard’s government can’t stop the boats. Well, no, she can’t because Tony, you won’t let her. It gets sillier than that with this:

The Coalition spokesman for border protection, Michael Keenan, welcomed the government’s response but said the potential for a repeat of the tragedy remained until people smuggling was stopped.

Good God. Have they no shame? No embarrassment? I know one needs a thick skin to be a politician, but this is breath-taking.

Oh, look, there’s another boat!

I’m wracking my brains as to when exactly the Liberal Party started playing dirty pool in divisive race politics. Malcolm Fraser as hated as he was in his heyday didn’t stoop to such depth and has since departed the party he led. I don’t remember a single moment where Andrew Peacock or John Hewson saying anything that seemed unseemly; it really did start with John Howard and somehow he’s entrenched it into the Liberal Party culture that it’s okay to play subtle dog-whistle race-baiting. There are days I look at Gladys Berejiklian and I think there’s hope yet for the Liberals and their acceptance of ethnicity, but most days I feel like the Liberal Party has allowed itself into the company of xenophobes.

In case you think I’m just talking out of my rear end, here’s an article you should look at.

Mr Abbott wants to link in the minds of former Howard battlers the asylum seeker issue with a growing population, tapping into community anxiety about urban congestion and water scarcity.

He’ll run these two arguments in parallel, but invite voters to make their own connection with unauthorised boat arrivals and a growing population.

Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis falsely claimed this week that there has always been bipartisan support for immigration, air-brushing from history John Howard’s shameful effort of 1988 to harvest votes by claiming there was too much Asian immigration.

Senator Brandis went on to say that the Coalition wanted a return to the immigration levels achieved when it was last in power, as if this would lead a lower population figure by 2050 than 35 million.  Yet in the last year of the Howard government, net overseas migration was 232,800 – much higher than the 180,000 per annum assumption that Treasury used in the Intergenerational report in arriving at a projected population of 35 million by 2050.

It’s chicken or the egg whether the race-baiting politics of John Howard works because the electorate is racist already, or whether the electorate allows itself to give into their inner xenophobe because there are politicians that enable them. Still, the stench of Xenophobia hasn’t gone away from modern conservatism, and you wonder how in their god’s name they pretend they can have any moral high ground in any of these kinds of policy areas.

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News That’s Fit To Punt – 25/Apr/2012

Trying To Slip His Peter

This Peter Slipper business for the last few days has been a bit of a joke. It’s a scandal for sure, but should he resign?

It’s all a bit messy, what with Andrew Wilkie out there trying to get even for the betrayal, and let’s not forget the spectre of Tony Abbott as PM on the horizon. If he resigns, then surely it puts an early election on the agenda for the government and of course the chances of the ALP wining that are miniscule.

John Birmingham had this snarky paragraph today:

Allow me to exaggerate. The Gillard government is doing itself more damage than Abbott could ever hope to hand them. I’m not talking specifically about the Peter Slipper fiasco here. I’m talking about everything. Pretty much every decision they have made, every action they have taken since they scraped back into power last time, or arguably since they cut down Kevin Rudd, has been calculated to lower not just the standing of the government of the day, but the standing of the party for a generation. Hmm, I know that was exaggeration, and yet it didn’t feel like it.

That pretty much sums up how we’re feeling out here in voter land.

If the point of forming government with Andrew Wilkie led to the pokies legislation which they then side-stepped with placing Peter Slipper in the Speaker’s chair, then surely all this nonsense is merely a function of a hung Parliament. Somehow I think the electorate is going to demand an election if Peter Slipper is made to resign. It’s all so precarious for Julia Gillard.

Gen Y Anger In The SMH?

I’ve seen all this before in Japan where demographics screwed over Ge-X and they’re in a right mess over there. Jessica Irvine has written this thing today – I imagine because the infeasibility of the numbers is hitting home for her, as it hits most others – and it has this tidbit in it worth quoting:

The phenomenon of children resisting the sale of the family home to unlock funds for a parent’s retirement, so that the children can inherit the wealth tax-free – otherwise known as the ”nailing granny to the floor” phenomenon – must also be addressed, possibly through an inheritance tax on housing.
It is true that many young people stand to inherit great wealth in the form of housing. But they’ll do so not because of their labours, or their ability to reinvest it productively, but pure dumb luck as to who their parents are.

It is one of those demographic questions that nobody is addressing. If all this wealth is locked up in housing and a good deal of it belongs to the old, then surely there will be more and more of this ‘nailing granny to the floor’ phenomenon that takes place.

The question is how the aging Baby Boomers will accept the changes to legislation that eases them out of their big empty nests. I imagine with a big ‘no fucking way’ at the ballot box; which means we can probably chalk up the future to more of this kind of ‘nailing granny to the floor’ thing. It’s the new way of sharing the wealth around across generations.

The post-Bubble is going to be drawn out and traumatic. The slow de-leverage model being carried out by the RBA may end up being just another way to die, only, it will be by a thousand cuts rather than one big stab to the heart.

Bad Press Is Better Than No Press

Kazakhstan has finally admitted the Borat sensation was good for their tourism.

Seems like they finally got the joke.

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I Get Asked What I Think Sometimes…

12.8 million For Hugh, Nothing For You

The news this week for film industry types is that Hugh Jackman is going to bring his next Wolverine production back to Sydney. Because the degree of my jadedness – my ad-jade-ment if you will – is at such proportions, I thought I’d just not comment on it until Pleiades brought this little thing to my attention:

You’d have thought that riches to rags story had taught Australian politicians that dumb subsidies don’t work and may have actually damaged the local film industry more than it helped.

Unfortunately not.

Last week the Australian federal government announced $13 million in support for production of Wolverine. The prime minister’s office gushed:

“To attract The Wolverine to Australia, the Gillard government granted the producers a one-off payment of $12.8 million which will result in over $80 million of investment in Australia and create more than 2000 jobs.

“The payment effectively provided The Wolverine a one-off investment package equivalent to an increase in the existing location offset to 30 per cent.

“Without this effective tax offset incentive, the producers of The Wolverine would not have chosen Australia as the location.”

“That’s just the nature of this government,” thundered Pleiades. “It’s all about bribing people. It’s corruption and bribery that’s marked this government.”

I’m inclined to believe it’s true. What’s truly spectacular about this account is that 12.8million can buy you a lot of things in the film industry: development, advertising support, distribution support, publicity. Instead, Julia Gillard’s government has chosen to hand this over to a Hollywood production on the grounds that it’s going to be shot in Australia. Heck, there are any number of good film scripts out there to be made for a flat 12.8million. When you consider that the annual budget at AFTRS used to be 9million p.a. (I think it might even be less now), you think “wow, they really don’t care about the front end of the industry, they only care about the rear end.”

They could have done a lot more things with that money that actually helped.

All this is to say that it is incredibly dubious as to what merit there is in throwing this money at Hugh Jackman’s production which is already funded out of the Hollywood machine. Now, I’m not taking anything away from Hugh Jackman who is able to do so, but you have to seriously question the ALP government where they really stand with regards to the rest of the Australian film industry. It’s nice that some of the crew and special effects houses and post-production houses will get some business coming through, but when it’s done, it’s going to be the breadline for most of those people again. The ALP government can’t be buying temporary jobs like that, they should be trying to re-establish the industry as a industry instead of this public-money-consuming sheltered workshop – assuming they’re serious.

Which, they’re not. So why am I bothering with this today? Oh yes, I got asked what I thought.

More On The Sheltered Workshop Thing

Here’s a more detailed account of what they think they’re doing.

Hugh Jackman is returning to Australia to make The Wolverine, his sixth outing as the Marvel character, thanks to a $12.8 million federal government subsidy.

And while billed as a “one-off”, the local film industry has its fingers crossed that the near-doubling of the standard assistance for a big-budget foreign production is a sign of things to come in next month’s budget.

The Wolverine is set in Japan but will be shot at Fox Studios in Sydney between July and December. Hugh Jackman will star and produce. “It’s so great to bring these big movies down there, to keep people working,” Jackman told the Today program from London, where he is filming Les Miserables for Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech). “I just have to say thanks to Prime Minister Gillard, she was instrumental with this.”

Yikes. Sounds awful already. Set in Japan but shot in Sydney sounds a bit like the Last Samurai which was set in Japan but shot in NZ. Nothing wrong with that, just that it looked really weird in many parts. I’m resigned to there being an alternative universe where there is a Japan that is totally on another planet with totally weird things going on. Even so… let that slide for now.

The patent myth – and outright wishful thinking on the part of SPAA – is that this is going to lead to there being more direct input from the Federal government to lure productions to Australia so that they hire Australian crew and talent. The other patent myth is that once this Wolverine Production starts or finishes in Australia that it’s going to open the flood gates for more productions to come back through the Fox lot that is mostly sitting dormant right now, thanks to the high Aussie Dollar. When you choose to look at the funding through these two rose tinted glasses, then sure, this $12.8million seems like chump change. But as with the generous amount of government money dropped on Baz Luhrman’s ‘Australia’ , there’s nothing that strengthens the industry, nothing that gives it an ongoing mechanism for growth, nothing that allows for the Australian industry itself to grow unless you define the Australian Film Industry as a service industry for Hollywood in which case why are we doing this?

Haven’t we been here before with Baz Luhrman’s number?

The point is, it’s not even good policy to be throwing money at a Hollywood production, just so it comes here to shoot. If they don’t come of their own accord, it’s proof positive that our service part of the film industry isn’t competitive enough. We’re either going to be competitive on the world market on our own merits or not. The producers hoping the government’s going to make a habit of funding these things are uncompetitive swill, sucking on the government teat wanting more. I’m sorry but years and years of public funding has reduced our film industry to these kinds of producers getting the loudest voices.

On a personal note, I struggled greatly to convince the production for Kamui Gaiden to come here when their main objection was cost – and that was when the Australian Dollar was only 70yen. Had somebody handed even 5million on a platter, it probably would have happened here or NZ instead of Okinawa; but nobody was there to do it because it was during the time the FFC was being rolled into Screen Australia, just before the GFC hit. (And really, it was probably the natural course of things that it didn’t happen that way, which was not only my loss but arguably Australia’s film industry’s lost opportunity.) Still, that was the last straw for me.

It goes back to the problem that the people who want the industry don’t know what they’re getting; the people in the industry don’t know what market they’re operating in; and the world really doesn’t like in-between-ers, which is exactly what our film industry is.

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News That’s Fit To Punt – 19/Apr/2012

Entitlement, You Say?

Joe Hockey’s out in the UK thumping his chest. He says Australia and the rest of the west need to wind back welfare and  everybody should fend for themselves like they do in Hong Kong. Tony Abbott chimed in to support his Shadow treasurer by saying ‘the age of entitlements’ has to stop.

The funny thing is, when I see the word ‘entitlement’, I don’t immediately think of people on welfare payments, I think kids in the Eastern Suburbs and North Shore who go to Private Schools and when they hit University, live in those colleges on campus and somehow wrangle fantastic jobs as they come out and scoot ahead in their careers and they all tell you it’s hard work and nothing else and why don’t those lazy dole bludgers and single mums get a job? – when in fact it’s nothing but entitlement for being born to the wealthy.

So colour me Bolshy, if Tony Abbott really wants to end entitlement, he should bring in 100% Death Duties so that nobody gets an entitled leg up by dint of the birth lottery, because that’s the worst kind of entitlement that gives way to the vested interest politics of this country. Truly equal opportunity would give rise to a fair and equitable society.

Anything short of that is what I’d call a bit rich, coming from the Tories.

Maggie Thatcher Much?

Meanwhile PM Julia Gillard’s been brandishing her bit of Tory logic at this conference.

JULIA GILLARD will hit back at business groups and others demanding interest rate cuts while criticising her government’s pledge to return the budget to surplus, saying they cannot have one without the other.

In a speech to be delivered in Perth today, the Prime Minister will say a surplus is a ”fundamental economic imperative” that will free the Reserve Bank to start dropping interest rates, delivering relief to both households and business.

In remarks that border on pressuring the central bank, she will say that at 4.25 per cent, Australia’s cash rate is well above levels in the United States and Europe and there ”is plenty of room for the RBA to move if need be”.

”To all of those calling for rate cuts, you should also be calling for a surplus, not opposing one,” her speech notes say.

Ms Gillard will say a surplus would facilitate rate reductions and it is also important to start building a ”buffer” in case the global economy worsens and further stimulus is needed.

I don’t know if that really amounts to putting pressure on the RBA. The logic goes that if the Fed gets back to surplus then the RBA has leeway to lower interest rates and that’s all she’s saying. Be that as it may what she is essentially preaching is the same kind of austerity line for Australia that is being imposed on many a government around the world – even if Australia is the best placed not to follow such policies – and in many ways Julia Gillard’s government is aiming to please the fiscal hawks in order to win brownie points from people who would never vote for anyway.

In saying that, I’m not advocating the Australian government be devil-may-care about its deficit, but it seems rather odd that we have this Labor PM putting on a show like a conservative. I can’t imagine this kind of position is going to allow her to woo back the old social democratic vote she needs to win the middle.

There are indications that the proposed budget cuts aren’t even the best policy given our deleveraging circumstance.

Here are some scenarios if rates fall 1 per cent as a result of budget cuts:

  • will households save the extra cash as they are doing now? If so, the government is bringing on a recession which is clearly bad
  • will households spend their extra income, providing some relief to the beleaguered retail sector? If so, growth will accelerate which is potentially good and you can expect a rally in retail stocks on this possibility. However, it would be much better to see the newly created economic space filled by expanding exporters
  • will households spend the extra income and resume borrowing for housing, causing house prices to rise again? If so, the rate of deposit accumulation at the banks will fall and they will accumulate further wholesale debts in foreign markets. This would also fire up a short term cyclical stocks rally which would include the home builders. But it is very bad in the medium term and would very quickly result in either ratings agencies or the RBA stomping on the brakes
  • what degree of downwards pressure will a 1% fall in interest rates place upon the dollar? This is not an easy question to answer. Interest rate differentials are only one of the five drivers of dollar value.  My guess is that such a level of cuts would push the dollar into a new trading range somewhere below parity assuming global growth remained decent, but not much lower. Thus, we’d see a boost in currency exposed stocks and some boost to the export sector more generally.

That’s not a nice range of scenarios. And all this is on the offering because Julia Gillard’s ALP Government is aiming for a surplus by 2013, as revenues from capital gains shrink and income taxes plateau. As the article puts it, the options are disleveraging hard or taking on more offshore debt. I guess the worst part of it is that other side wants to go even harder whilst also handing out freebies to their target electorate. We’re a nation that’s given the driving wheel to ethical idiots, moral cowards and sycophants to the vested interests.

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Babylon A.D.

Pretensions Of Seriousness

Tonight was time to hit the el cheapo DVD stash. The film that made it on to the screen for a bit of a laugh was this number made a few years ago.

I like Science Fiction movies that have a bit of bone to them. I don’t mean just structure, but a philosophical backbone. I know some people like their action movies with a science fiction tinge but I’m more inclined to have it the other way around. Talk about issues and things and phenomena worth talking about, and have the action set pieces carry you through the narrative. Of course unless it’s a film based on a Philip K. Dick book, chances are you wont get that – and even when it is based on a Philip K. Dick book, you might get ‘Adjustment Bureau’.

Sometimes I think Vin Diesel has the bad fortune of being wired like me when it comes to choosing his projects, but no matter which way you look at the guy, he’s an action movie dude and the science fiction thinking part is going to be about fourth fiddle to the punchups and the explosions and the car chase. ‘Babylon A.D.’ is one of those movies. It yields odd results like ‘Chronicles of Riddick’ and this movie, ‘Babylon A.D.’.

‘Babylon A.D.’ proceeds like a strange road movie through the near future central Asia and Siberia through Canada into a dystopian New York. Half the time you’re wondering where the next action cue is going to hurl the story and the other half, you’re wondering what the hell is really going on, hanging out for the exposition to explain some of the odd things you’re being asked to suspend disbelief. You could do worse for a Sunday night movie.

What’s Good About It

It’s a film with some memorable set pieces. The helicopter ride, the cage fight, the submarine that picks up refugees, the snow-mobile chase, and the climactic gun battle. One could do a lot worse than these kinds of set pieces. There are films out there with action so gratuitous you don’t ever remember where it was meant to be set and how it hung together with the rest of the plot.

It’s also a film that doesn’t end with the formation of a family or an orgasmic, big explosion. This is a different kind of Vin Diesel movie.  Thoughtful even. I know, it’s hard to believe. But there’s an intelligent movie trying to break out of the trappings of a stupid movie that even a studio exec can understand.

What’s Bad About it

Same old stoic tough guy impervious to pain mows down bad guys with machine gun fire as he protects a young woman who might be some kind of technological Virgin Mary. I guess if God wrote the bible this way, there might be more people to read it. All the same, it’s a film that struggles to shed the trappings of less intelligent movies – but then, it’s hard to imagine them casting Vin Diesel as the scientist who is trying to transfuse artificial intelligence in to human babies.

The shaky camera work in the action sequences don’t really add as much excitement as it’s supposed to. The lighting’s a bit boring, and there’s really not much mood going on in some of the more talky scenes.

What’s Interesting About It

Somewhere in the background of this film is a book which I have not read, which wants to talk about creation myths and the moment in history to come when an Artificial Intelligence is brought into this world, and then gets given a human body to walk around in. last I saw this idea, it was in ‘Tron Legacy’, an they made  a hash job of that idea too. It seems Hollywood wants to talk about A.I. in terms of pretty girls in distress which might be the sign of the times. Not so long ago it was Haley Joel Osment in a Pinocchio re-run story, and before that it’s always been monotone machine voices or HAL. Pretty soon they’ll be coming up with Artificial Intelligences that are cranky and middle aged from birth.

There are a few patterns to Artificial Intelligence stories and one of the main ones is the Frankenstein story where mankind creates a monster in the form of an A.I. The other seems to be this kind of eroticised machina where the artificial being is a kind of living sex doll. That being said, we don’t get shown a sex scene with the Artificial Intelligence girl, so there is some restraint going on in this movie.

Religion As Framework

It’s one of the ironies of science fiction literature that it ends up tousling with issues of faith. I suspect this comes from the long reach of religious doctrine into the realm of metaphysical thinking, but also abstract thinking as well. The fact that the English language is flooded with echoes of religious thought means at some point the stories headed towards the metaphysical and abstract have to wrestle with the religious ideas invested in our language. Usually, this ends up with apocalyptic visions and prophecies of dooms and saviours.

Maybe it is simply the memory of Gallileo and Darwin and how they were attacked by the zealots that makes any intelligent investigation into nature or being in science fiction, a potential flashpoint for these discussions. Bogus theology hangs over the plot of this film like a bad smell, and you wonder if the world is full of people who would much rather choose faith over reason. It probably is.

I just don’t fin these theosophically tinged stories compelling. If people want to get really freaked out by the potential of technology, they need to look at Ray Kurzweil’s notion of a technological singularity. That one is a lot more compelling if you understand the reasoning – and we’re only accelerating towards it faster.

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Yes – State Theatre 13/Apr/2012

“Yes, Yes, The Moment I See You, It’s So Good To Be With You

Prog Rock Mastodons Yes hit town for one night and played at the State Theatre. The lineup included old perennials Steve Howe, Alan White and Chris Squire, but also Geoff Downes on keyboards and new guy Jon Davison on vocals. Yes, the big surprise was that Benoit David who replaced Jon Anderson, wasn’t there. Somehow Yes had managed to find another castrati in a hurry and plugged him into the rigours of singing and fronting for this immensely acrobatic music.

It’s been a good decade since Yes toured Australia and last time they toured with the ‘golden era’ lineup that included Rick Wakeman and Jon Anderson. On that occasion, they worked their way through the massive pieces like ‘Ritual’ and ‘Awaken’ as well as extended solos from Rick and Steve. I remember feeling it was great to see them but they didn’t quite have the oomph as I had hoped. Part of that feeling was the impersonal space of the Empty Container Centre last time.

This recent show was a totally different kettle of fish. In every way, the State Theatre with its overwrought decor, is a far more appropriate space for this incredibly rococo kind of Rock. You can insert all the Spinal Tap jokes you like but the smaller space added a great deal of immediacy and intimacy to the music.

What Was Good About It

With Yes, it’s always about the performance, so it goes without saying it was impeccable. They seemed to be having a much better time of it this time around. Steve Howe was doing more dancing around and Chris Squire being the front man seemed more relaxed.

Jon Davison is a great substitute for Anderson, Horn and now David. At moments he sounded uncannily like Jon Anderson circa 1972 on record. His voice helped wind the clock back a long way without it going to nostalgia but to a renewed, vigorous rendition of the classics.

Because of the lineup, they were free to play a slightly upbeat catalogue of songs. They played ‘Tempus Fugit’ off ‘Drama’. I thought I’d never hear that live, but live long enough and miracles happen. It was truly a spectacle, and that was just the second song of the night. It never would have happened with Jon Anderson singing.

The other notable thing was the strength of the material off ‘Fly From Here’ and how much they played form the new album. It was very good to get a feel for how forward looking they were at this point in their career. They trotted out the golden oldies too, but there was a solid 30minutes of ‘Fly From Here’ in the show, and I think that bodes well for the band.

What Was Bad About It

‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’. A horror.

I know it was their *big* hit in the 1980s, but without Trevor Rabin on guitar, it’s really hard to get the full vibe of the original; but all the same Steve Howe put in such a bizzarro effort. We know he doesn’t like the song, nor does he like Trevor Rabin, but the contempt was too obvious. When it got to the solo, he busted out country licks. It was a parody performance more than a proper interpretation. If Geoff Downes has to suck it up and play Rick Wakeman bits and Alan White has to play Bill Bruford bits, I don’t quite get why Steve Howe can’t knuckle down and learn that solo. Even I can do an approximation – It’s not that hard. Surely a master guitar player like Steve Howe can do his approximation better.

Or maybe the vernacular of 80’s shred is totally alien to Steve Howe.  I don’t know. But I’ve seen it on DVD too – it is one song that Yes trot out because it was their big hit, but never seem to nail properly. That country inflected pitch-shifter leadbreak sounds ridiculous.

Also, there’s always a guy who’s waiting for that song at a Yes concert because that’s all he knows about them. He probably got suckered into the concert on the strength of that song alone. He has to jump up when it starts. It’s tragic.

What Was Interesting About It

The whole night was a kind of masterclass. There was so much to take in and to try and grok.

Chris Squire and his Rickenbacker bass were prominent as you’d expect. He seemed to be on the Rickenbacker more than he was last time in Sydney. Steve Howe also seemed to have cut a guitar or two from his constant changes. The Steinberger headless didn’t make an appearance.

Because of their varied catalogue, it’s always interesting what they don’t play.

  • They didn’t play anything from the 60s before Steve Howe joined.
  • They didn’t play anything from ‘Relayer’. Not surprising
  • They didn’t play anything from ‘Tormato’. A little surprised they didn’t do ‘On The Silent Wings of Freedom’.
  • They played ‘Wondrous Stories’, but not ‘Awaken’ from ‘Going For The One’.
  • They did not play anything from ‘Tales From Topographic Oceans’. You can sort of see why.
  • They didn’t play ‘Close To The Edge’ either.
  • They didn’t play anything from the 90s: ‘Magnification’. “The Ladder’ ‘Open Your Eyes’ ‘Keys to Ascension’, ‘Talk’, ‘Union’ all got short shrift.

Then again, this could be because Jon Davison was doing only his fifth gig with Yes and his strengths were in doing the old standards. Still, the overall feeling was that Yes were still a band moving forwards playing new stuff as well as their ancient classics. Afterwards, I walked out of the theatre feeling like there was still another album in these guys.

Steve Howe And His Guitars

Steve Howe’s Gibson ES 175 has a 3rd pickup in it. I don’t know how long he’s had it, but I was surprised to see it. On a related note, Steve Howe is a much more supple and fluid player on the ES 175 than he is on the Gibson Les Paul. He just seems to coax more out of the ES 175 than he does on the Les Paul. All the 1970s stuff sounds just like the albums coming off the ES 175.

As the material gets more modern, he seems to shift from the ES 175 to the Les Paul and then to the red Stratocaster. Much of the ‘Fly From Here’ material was done with the Stratocaster. I think it’s interesting how the Stratocaster thing has eventually caught up with him. It’s a little bit like with Pete Townshend who spent the 1970s playing on Gibsons, only to end up on a Stratocaster (a red one too) at the turn of the millennium. Howe too seems to have gravitated to the Stratocaster for both tone and playability.

The old faithful Fender pedal steel was still there, obviously to play ‘And You And I’ but also sections on ‘Fly From Here’. The Mandolin made a couple of appearances too. The guitar tech who kept swapping instruments on cue was remarkable. At one point Steve Howe reached out mid song to get a cup of water for him – and Howe didn’t miss a beat when he came back in to play.

Geoff Downes Has Serious Chops

You know he does at the back of your brain, but when you hear him do all those Wakeman parts without breaking a sweat, you realise how scary good he is. He’s not showy like Wakeman, but through the nonchalance you get glimpses of a pretty stunning player. He’s not playing in Yes by mistake; he’s as good as any of the other keyboard players that have worked in Yes. His track record of being with The Buggles and Asia often nets him a reputation that ranks him lower than Rick Wakeman or Patrick Moraz but it’s an incorrect appraisal.

Yes need to do another album with Geoff Downes.

The Best Rhythm Section In Rock

I still think it’s these guys. I know there are now younger and flashier players, but Alan White and Chris Squire play such complicated stuff in lock-sync with tremendous feel. It’s unlike anything else in rock. Yes, I know once upon a time there were John Paul Jones and John Bonham who always get their props and there was Moon and Entwistle, but Alan White and Chris Squire are spectacular as a duo, have been for a very long time, and are still alive to keep on doing it as well as any other time in their long careers.

My own theory why the ‘Anderson Wakeman Bruford Howe’ project didn’t really work was because it was missing these two doing the engine room stuff. Together with Steve Howe, they are Yes.

That Rickenbacker Bass

The most notable thing about Chris Squire’s Rickenbacker bass might be how small it looks on the man. It looks like about the size of a Strat on an ordinary person. And he totally monsters the thing as he plucks, picks, squeezes, throttles and bashes all kinds of tones out of it.

A lot of Yes music is possible because a big burly bear of a man can manhandle a Rickenbacker bass like it was some deep-toned ukulele. In turn, that Rickenbacker 4001 bass of his is really old school. It has the old style ‘toaster’ in the neck and the ‘horseshoe’ by the bridge. They’re not the ‘hi-gain’ pickups of later models – It’s amazing what he coaxes out of them.

Progressive Rock?
Once upon a time it might have been progressive, but there’s been so much music and history under the bridge since then, it seems embarrassing to call this stuff progressive any more. It’s a funny world; somebody was trying to tell me that there was such a thing as Progressive House. I kind of blinked as I tried to wrap my head around it. If Symphonic Rock was as nonsensical as saying Strawberry Bricks, then surely Progressive House is like saying deluxe turd burger.

I don’t really know where music is meant to progress to, or why it necessarily has to progress anywhere. Indeed, the career of Yes might be a case in point for how not to progress. Still, issues of genre are not as interesting or valuable  as issues of qualia and quality. If anything about Yes matters, it’s always going to be composition, recording and performance above all. Did rock progress as a result of Yes? Maybe in some parts. But in most parts, it degenerated with the subsequent styles.

It’s hard to argue for Yes music having a shred of relevance to today’s world, given that what is on radio and popular is now totally unlike even rock music itself. It’s always going to be music for musicians and the discerning. There’s a place for it in the world, but it’s always disappointing how marginal it ends up being. The world would be better with more of this players’ music, but there’s not enough of a market who get it and can support it robustly.

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‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’

Do We? Do We Really, Really?

A  sigh of muted disappointment. All the recent jokes about the title of this film led me to watch it.  It was vexing.

What’s Good About It

The premise is good. Instead of glorifying some nutbar psychopath spree killer, we try and come at the experience through the mother of the spree killer. It’s kind of reverse Freudian cinema of sorts.

The performances are also very good. The casting might not be as good.

What’s Bad About It

Casting of John C Reilly. He’s a great comic actor and can do working class slob to a tee, but I just couldn’t see how his character and Tilda Swinton’s character get it on so well that they’d have kids. It’s just stretching credulity. It’s a bit like casting Jim Carey as Sigourney Weaver’s long lost husband in a movie about loss, or casting Will Ferrell as something other than an unsubtle buffoon. It’s not whether they do a good job or not; it’s about whether it sustains the willful suspension of disbelief or not.

Also, I really hate how there were so many artsy shots that were going in and out of focus. I know the director’s trying to do something artistic, but I found it mostly laughable. It was the sort of film a film school student makes as they search for something other than Hollywood. Those projects often fail.

What’s Interesting About It

Is this film really positing a moral question about culpability in raising a mass-murdering psychopath? Or is it sort of an elaborate ruse to say raising boys is hell? To be sure, the boy in this movie is eminently despicable; but you’re not sure whether he’s personality disordered because the mother played by Tilda Swinton is herself, pretty disorderly. If that was your mother, you might be driven to a spree killing too.

The film might have been more interesting if it was about Joseph Stalin’s mother or Adolf Hitler’s mother, or even the mother of that Norwegian nutcase Breivik – but it’s not. It wants to talk about a psychopathic spree killer in the context of a middle class family rolling in money. In fact it misses out on the resolute anger of these types of killers. They’re not dispassionate psychos, they’re probably the most impassioned psychos.

The Insanity Clause

I’ve been thinking lately that most of what makes good drama is actually personality disorders and insanity. This film is no exception as it milks the drama from how crazy the son appears to the mother. In that sense it reminds me of ‘Omen’ without the supernatural element. The kid isn’t supernaturally assisted in his evil, he’s just born that way. And away he goes being the totally irritating detestable prat. Eventually he kills a whole bunch of people including his father – which, hooray, Freud might approve of – but not to fuck his mother but to fuck her up.

The kid clearly is evil, and it’s not her fault – but the film doesn’t really explore too many angles on what this means or where it comes from. Just as Omen isn’t really interested in Damien, it’s interested in the evil that befalls good people, this film isn’t interested in the evil kid. It’s far more interested in the mother wallowing in her sorrow.

The symbolism of red liquids, from crushed tomatoes to red paint to blood is… cheesey.

Is It So Hard To Raise Boys?

I mean, really. The film is like a hate mail to all boys for liking what boys like. The scene where the mother walks in to find her son masturbating, and the son leers back at mom, with increasingly vigorous motion was beyond stupid. If the gender had been swapped and a father walked in on a daughter masturbating, and she increased her handiwork, there would be cries of misogyny and sexism from every quarter of the critical circles.

I’m not saying they shouldn’t have done the scene. I’m merely pointing to the fact that the scene betrays a great hatred of boys. not that it matters, but I just thought I’d mention it while I thought of it.

The Weirdness Of The Casting

The casting in this is a little bit like ‘The Graduate’ but a little more wrong. In ‘the Graduate’, Dustin Hoffman’s Jewishness looks incredibly out of place in the Pasadena WASP surrounds. It’s not entirely explained and in many ways that film just glosses over it. In the extras on the DVD of ‘The Graduate’, there’s the discussion of casting Dustin Hoffman as “this kind of runt”. I just thought I’d mention that because in this film, you have Tilda Swinton who looks hyper Anglo and John C Reilly who looks bog Irish giving birth to and raising Ezra Miller, a Jewish boy, as their son. They just don’t look like a family; and even I can tell. It’s as if a nice gentile family supernaturally gives birth to an evil Jewish kid as punishment from God.

My own explanation of why their son is a psycho was that the kid was probably swapped at the hospital. Clearly, he can’t be theirs. Who casts these films? Fail.

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