Monthly Archives: June 2012

Gina, Please Go Away And Leave Our SMH Alone

More On That Gina Rinehart Fairfax Fiasco

This business of Gina Rinehart trying to get seats on the board of Fairfax Media is getting very strained.

Mrs Rinehart said Fairfax’s performance over the past five years had been ”distressing” for shareholders. To Mr Corbett she wrote that the milestone share price would represent ”only a 50 per cent loss” since he became chairman in October 2009.

”And if the five-year decline in paid circulation and in revenue of the Fairfax mastheads do not reverse prior to the 2012 AGM, we ask that you tender your resignation at that meeting.”

This is a really interesting construction by Ms. Rinehart, not only of the company, but her own company Hancock Prospecting. First of all, no company operates in a vacuum. The general business climate in the last 5 years has been anything but smooth sailing. The technological changes as well as demographic and consumption habit changes have put all media companies on the back foot. This applies equally to Hollywood Studios to free to air TV services to newspapers and magazines to (most notably) record companies. I’m no expert on media company share prices, but the vast majority of them have been taking a bollocking.

On the other hand, Ms Rinehart’s stupendous wealth from mining has also been a function of the times as resource demand has  exploded in Asia, and her firm is essentially feeding that demand at ever increasing rates. She is not alone in this sudden rise to super-wealth. There are others in the same category, notably Andrew Twiggy Forrest and Clive Palmer, who also share Ms Rinehart’s desire to privatise our democracy – to own and fuck over like some toy poodle or a sex slave. However, the most salient point to make is that the fall in share price of Fairfax and the rise in wealth of Ms Rinehart are both more to do with sign of the times than anybody’s individual talent or skills.

So, if Mr. Corbett were to be held to account for falling performances on the terms Ms. Rinehart is framing it, it would in no way actually reflect Mr. Corbett’s talents at the helm of the company. And I say this with the utmost of agnosticism about the efficacy of talent in top managerial positions in such firms. Equally, if Ms. Rinehart thinks these kinds of benchmarks are what should be used to measure the performance of the Chairman of the Board at Fairfax, then it suggests she has no idea of what it is, in which she has bought a 19% stake.

There was an experiment done in psychology where they got a bunch of students to play ‘Monopoly’. A portion of the students were given a substantial cash stake advantage, which they used to win. Afterwards they interviewed these winners, and not one of them put it down to the financial advantage with which they entered the game. They all claimed they won on the back of their nous and skill. And this is essentially what we have with Gina Rinehart – somebody who was given a dirty big endowment at the beginning, who thinks that somehow she’s risen to her position through talent and hard work, and that these are the things that matter. Worse still, she is using this misguided view of herself and the world to bludgeon her way in to the boardroom of Fairfax Media.

And all of this is even before she tries to mount her idiotic agenda of having an Andrew Bolt be her mouthpiece, and try to persuade us that findings in Climate Science are somehow inaccurate and wrong and cannot be relied upon.

I am led to think of Bill Gates who equally amassed a fortune on the tide of his times, and in that process garnered much vitriol and opprobrium. Some of them were funny and cruel, like the one in the South Park movie ‘Bigger Longer and Uncut’ where he is brutally executed by an US Army general because Microsoft Windows does not work as advertised. He even had a reputation as a petulant, vindictive, childish nerd of a CEO who worked hard to stake out a near-monopoly (there’s that word again) position in a particular market. And even he didn’t resort to try and buy the New York Times to change the perception of him or the world. So when you have such a basis of comparison, it seems pretty obvious just how odious an attempt Ms. Gina Rinehart is making, to poison the press in this country.

If she really wants credibility as an owner that leads to any seats on the board, the very least she can do is sign the Charter of Editorial Independence. It all starts with that commitment. While she cannot bring herself to do it, then we cannot but help conclude what she wants to do is manipulate the press to suit her own little agenda.

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News That’s Fit To Punt – 28/Jun/2012

Don’t Cry If You’re Not Going To Fix It, Lady

If yesterday was a day we learned why the Coalition was full of shit, then today was a day to understand why we can’t trust the Greens in the least bit. After all that good will was marshaled by the independents to put through the Oakeshott bill through the Lower House yesterday, giving some hope that something could be done. Yet today we find that political cynicism triumphs such good intentions and we are left with a defeated bill, with more boats on the way and presumably more drownings to come. Well done Greens, you have managed to support the Coalition with your balance of power. What’s really curious is this bit:

Senator Hanson-Young called on the government to have urgent talks with Indonesia and to give funds directly to the UNHCR, Indonesia and Malaysia to make people safer ”in their ports”.

The senator choked up when she recalled the plight of refugee “Hussein” and his long and dangerous journey to reach Australia.

“These are the lives of the people we are playing with,” she said.
“This bill does nothing to protect Hussein”.

Excuse me Ms. Hanson-Young but it does protect Mr. Hussein if it deters him from getting on that boat. That choice and the attendant risks of getting on to a leaky boat rests entirely with Mr. Hussein. The government’s argument is that if getting on the boat is futile because you end up back in Malaysia, then it serves to protect Mr. Hussein from himself and from making a particularly stupid and desperate mistake – and after all is said and done, this is what is being discussed. So if you can’t understand that, then I can’t seriously support a party that places you in a position where you grandstand and then scuttle this deal.

As Senator Xenophon so eloquently put it, the stench of compromise is not going to be as bad as the stench of death. The Greens chose death on their High Road. I don’t know how they can live with themselves, but surely hypocrisy is now a national game that everybody’s going to play.

But please, spare us your undignified crocodile tears. If you won’t take a hit to save lives, then you’re not in a position to lecture us from your stupid High Road you imagine you are on; You may as well fuck off into the night of history, you stupid, stupid cow.

One Win For Kim Dotcom

Here’s an interesting moment happening over the ditch.

A New Zealand High Court judge has ruled that police search warrants used to seize property from Megaupload’s founder Kim Dotcom were illegal.

Justice Helen Winkelmann found that the warrants used did not properly describe the offences to which they were related.

Kim Dotcom was arrested in January when the FBI shut down his fire-sharing website aming claims it had cost copyright holders more than $US500 million in lost revenue from pirated films and other content.
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The FBI agents had been accused of underhanded behaviour by Dotcom’s lawyers in the High Court after they secretly copied data from his computers and took it overseas.

Justice Winkelmann has also ruled it was unlawful for copies of Dotcom’s computer data to be taken offshore.

She ordered that no more items taken in the raids could be removed from New Zealand, and instructed the attorney-general to return clones of the hard drives held by New Zealand police.

Wow. Take that, FBI! So it seems one cannot simply say, ‘copyright infringement’ and then confiscate computers, at least in New Zealand. Very interesting development.

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News That’s Fit To Punt – 27/Jun/2012

That Sinking Feeling

The business of asylum seekers has blown up again, and this has led to a bill passing in the lower house allowing Off-Shore processing.

Earlier, MPs voted against proposed Coalition amendments to the bill.
Its amendments were defeated 74 votes to 72, after independents Rob Oakeshott, Tony Windsor and Craig Thomson and Bob Katter and Greens MP Adam Bandt voted with the government.

Mr Oakeshott’s bill is aimed at bridging the government’s proposed changes to the Migration Act to allow offshore processing in Malaysia against opposition demands for humanitarian safeguards.

It has to be said that the Independents came through on this when it became a moral issue. I don’t know what possible good can be said of the 72 members of the Coalition who voted against it on the grounds that it wasn’t what they wanted. Especially when you consider what they wanted was for ALP policy to fail, which in all its scope includes more people dying for the benefit of the Coalition. Let’s get this straight. Michael Dreyfus and Greg Hunt got into some nasty argument about this division, but,

‘You’re left thinking that he sees political advantage in people dying. That’s the real disgrace of this,” he (Dreyfus) said.

Mr Dreyfus and Mr Hunt were sniping at each other across the dispatch table in Parliament and a witness said Mr Dreyfus suggested Mr Hunt may have been drinking.

Mr Hunt, a teetotaller, flared back at Mr Dreyfus. He was calmed down by the Western Australia Liberal MP Don Randall.

‘Greg was absolutely incensed,” said a witness.

”It looked like he wanted to smack him.”

Mr Dreyfus left the chamber on the advice of the Acting Speaker, Anna Burke.

Mr Hunt then gave a speech condemning Mr Dreyfus, calling it one of the most offensive statements made in the Parliament in 100 years.

What’s amazing about this exchange is that Greg Hunt, MP of Australia is incensed and furious because Michael Dreyfus suggested he had been drunk; not because his motive was impugned (as deservingly as it should be, given the circumstance). No, Greg Hunt Federal MP got angry because he was called a drunk when he was a teetotaller. Let me just remind everybody that the most famous teetotaller was Adolf Hitler. I say this because the moral outrage expressed by Greg Hunt is pathetic next to the actual human tragedy unfolding on the high seas.

Mr. Hunt, we the people of Australia don’t care whether you drink or not; your abstinence from alcohol does not add to our confidence in your judgment, any more than it adds to our confidence in Adolf Hitler’s judgment. On the contrary Mr. Hunt, your fury at Mr. Dreyfus reveals that you are a man with no sense of perspective, no grand vision, no understanding of how dire the situation is, and that you probably should not be in your position at all. There are real lives bobbing up and down in the sea and you’re worried that Michael Dreyfus called you a drunk under parliamentary privilege? I’m sorry if I don’t think you’re a responsible human being.

In any case, Tony Abbott is not going to shift because indeed, there is political advantage in these people dying. It’s a good thing to see that the Independents can see that something needed to be done. Clearly, they’re responsible people getting things done. The conservatives, are the “obstructionist capuchins” getting in the way. This should have been bipartisan from the start and it brings absolutely no honour to the men and women of the Liberal and National Parties. Today is that day we can see they have no shame. They will stoop to anything for power. I say, a pox and AIDS and whatever all else diseases can be named, upon both their houses.

Rinehart Gets Nuthin’

It seems unfair, I know. You own 19% of a company, surely you should get a seat on the board. Of course, not when you are outspoken and have stupid views and want to influence the public in such a manner as to distort facts and make them feel man-made climate change is not happening.

Fairfax rejected Gina Rinehart’s bid to get seats on the board.

The company has just released a statement saying that an agreement had not been reached “on terms acceptable to the company. I regret that agreement has not been reached for Mrs Rinehart to join the Fairfax Media board of directors,” Mr Corbett said.

“I hope that this might be possible in the future. However, key elements yet to be agreed include acceptance of the charter of editorial independence as it stands and the Fairfax board governance principles as agreed by all existing directors.”

And that is probably as it should be. I’m sure Gina Rinehart will cry foul, but really, she’s already the richest woman within 12 parsecs. She can go cry in her crystal glasses filled to the brim with Grange Hermitage. The Fairfax Board has done well.

Aging Population

This was brought up late last week and I had meant to link to it.

The first census data also reveals that Australians are getting older, with the median Australian now aged 37.3 years, a sharp rise from 32.4 years in 1991. The proportion over 65 has grown from 11.3 per cent in 1991 to 13.8 per cent in 2011.

That jump in average age is interesting. It’s hardly the time to be worrying about boat people. Our demographics are saying we should be welcoming everybody and anybody who wants to come here; unless of course we want to turn out like Japan.

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Spoiler Alert. I’m going to talk about a few plot points. If you’re the sort that hates spoilers, I recommend you skip this one. 🙂

Ridley Scott is one of those directors whose reputation is solely dependent on a clutch of films. He’s got a great eye for detail, lighting and design and his films often look fantastic but his duds all betray a bit of bombast and in many ways a boring sensibility with plot. Of course, his best creation is ‘Blade Runner’ followed by the original ‘Alien’ so he keeps on getting slack from the fans of those two films but really, has he done anything as satisfying since? His films since have either been period pieces of one description or another, crappy cop show movies and a movie about outlaw women in an open top Thunderbird.

So when was the last time Ridley Scott gave us a really full-tilt, open throttle Science Fiction movie? ‘Blade Runner’. That’s 30 freakin’ long years, to have not given what his biggest supporters who like his oeuvre what they wanted. Over the years, I’ve found it harder and harder to reconcile the director of ‘Alien’ and ‘Blade Runner’ with the director of ‘Robin Hood’ and ‘American Gangster’.

Finally, he’s come out with something I can sink my teeth into and it’s a prequel to ‘Alien’.

What’s Good About It

It’s a Ridley Scott film, so the visuals are great. He really is a master of tone and detail as well as some very subtle camera moves. His technique as a director of camera and framing are all on show in this one. He even touches off visual cues from Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ as well as linking it into his original ‘Alien’ film from 1978. The craft is simply extraordinary.

Then there’s Noomi Rapace and Charlize Theron. It’s usually Theron that puts in fearless-crazy performances, but this time she’s just there to play the stock standard Ice Queen. It’s Rapace who puts in a performance that holds together an altogether implausible sequence of action that only a jaded horror writer might dream up.

Michael Fassbender’s android David is a revelation too. It’s a performance for the ages in its coldness as well as dispassionate, yet ironic, sadism.  As per convention, the android ends up just a head, but even then there’s something extraordinary about this one.

The horror bits are truly gross-out and horrific, so he should get a tick of approval for that. Some of it is leg-crossing-squirm-in-your-seat stuff. The foulness of the vision needs to be seen to be believed, but that is all good.

What’s Bad About It

At the end of the day, this is a bad-science kind of science fiction movie. I know Scott just wants to tell a rollicking story with this one, but it just doesn’t really make any bloody sense.

Consider for the moment that humans from 35,000 years ago are pointing at a bunch of stars. The crew go there, only to find ancient aliens who turn out to be humans of some kind. The logical reasoning the characters follow is that these must be the progenitors of life on Earth, but magically the DNA lines up with modern humans. And it’s magic because there’s no scientific way that would happen.

The other thesis that seems to be running is the panspermia hypothesis, that the building blocks of life are ubiquitous, and somehow what arises out of these fundamental building blocks of life is humanity – but they are somehow engineered.

When you think about it – not much, only a little – it can’t be both scenarios. They’re mutually exclusive, but the film just sort of muddles on to the next horror cue, and so it never explains itself properly on scientific terms. Worse still, the characters want to go talking about faith all the time,  when in fact what they’re seeing should be telling them that God (and the notion of a Maker) really can’t be shoe-horned into the discussion. It’s as bad as the same discourse in ‘Contact’ starring Jodie Foster.

It’s a bit like seeing, let’s hypothetically say, artefacts on Mars, and then trying to ask questions as to whether one should place faith in Jesus given that there are artefacts on Mars. In the ordinary course of scientific thought, you’d think discussions of faith should be dispensed as irrelevant by Occam’s Razor. But maybe that’s just me being a science snob, looking down on the metaphysical concerns of characters.

What’s Interesting About It

Picking nits.

Okay, it’s much better than that. The mirrored plot is to that of ‘2001’ so we might start with that. In ‘2001’, Apes encounter the monolith, humans encounter the monolith and so they fly out to deep space to have a transformative, lethal adventure of their lives.

For a film that is given to more prosaic story-telling than the Kubrick film, the actual structure of what is actually being discussed seems to be far more opaque – in fact as opaque as ‘2001’ itself. If ‘2001’ was about consciousness and transformation of the conscious, then ‘Prometheus’ might be about fear and the transformation of fear.

In neither film does knowledge become explicit. They both present an understanding that is intuitive obvious to the characters but bears no relationship to logic. Elisabeth Shaw played by Noomi Rapace, leaps at the conclusion that the black ooze is meant for Earth to exterminate life there. We don’t really know; and in some ways, all the other Alien movies are pointed in that direction so we’re sort of forced to take that story on as a given at that point. But that insight isn’t really explicated. This is strange.

Guy Pearce’s Rupert Diction

Now, this was funny. Guy Pearce playing an aged mogul trying to defy death and extend his life. So he delivers lines like Rupert Murdoch at the recent hearings. He had the voice down very well, but you wonder how that’s going to fly with 20th Century Fox who are distributing this movie – also owned by News Corp for many years.

More seriously, Ridley Scott is revisiting some of his tropes. The aging mogul is facing off with death and wants to meet his maker for more life. Isn’t that Roy Batty’s problem in ‘Blade Runner’?

The motif of the two spiritual children who grow up to be opposites of a coin – Deckard and Roy, Maximus and Commodus, is repeated with David and Meredith. Although it is hard to see if Meredith really is the bad one and David is the good one. David seems to come in a long line of naughty robots who do things that are actually harmful to the crew of the Alien series with the exception of Bishop.

A Quick Meditation On Naughty Robots

Asimov had his 3 laws of robotics, pretty much to stop robots in his stories from going ‘Frankenstein’. Frankenstein of course has a story arc where an inanimate object is brought to life but the unintended consequence is that it’s a monster and must so be destroyed.

Asimov’s three laws of robotics were a great innovation and contribution for Science Fiction because it led to a whole bunch of shot stories about robots that weren’t about the Frankenstein syndrome. Mind you, there seem to be no end of robots that come with faulty circuitry when it comes to those three laws. R2D2 has a mind of its own and wanders through the 6 Star Wars movies just doing his thing, his way.

The androids in Alien movies are similarly oblivious to the rule about not letting any harm come to any human being. It’s particularly vexing when David spikes Charlie’s drink with the black goo and we never get an explanation as to why David would or could do this knowing full well that it is going to be dangerous.

What’s Wrong About It

Here’s a bit of a story logic problem. The black ooze comes out of the jars. This stuff is capable of making your head explode. We see this twice – once with the 2000 year old preserved head, and then with the character Charlie.

Charlie has sex with Elizabeth which gives rise to the squid-monster pregnancy. Presumably, the black ooze has somehow gone and genetically wrapped itself into human DNA, so, the squid monster is some kind of hybrid of human and black ooze.

Later in the film, the Squid Monster grows into something huge and wrestles with the ‘Engineer’ proto-human race, and inserts its tentacle into the Engineer’s mouth. This gives rise to the first Geiger Alien as we recognise it, ripping out of the corpse of the Engineer.

If the ‘Engineers’ as they are called, are genetically human, then none of this makes any bloody sense because the thing should become a closer hybrid with humanity. Unless the Geiger Alien is somehow a hybrid between the squid monster and human genome; but it just doesn’t look that way.

Also… Elizabeth saw what happened when the android David spoke to the Engineer. What possible good question could there be for the Engineers?

The Geiger Alien at 34

A lot’s happened to the H.R. Geiger Alien since it was brought to the screen in 1978. In the sequel, it got a hive and a Queen; in the next sequel we found out it could have its DNA meld with even a dog; and then in the fourth film we found out that it could even have a womb and call Ripley “mama”.

The Geiger Alien must be one of the most important creations in fiction in the late 20th Century next to Indiana Jones, a bunch of Marvel Comics characters and Buffy the Vampire slayer.

Needless to say, this film fits the recent mold of having to do an ‘origin story’ for the Geiger Alien, but as origin stories go, it’s really under-explained. Then again, the Geiger alien’s not exactly known for dialogue.

There’s a lot less goo and slime in this film. This might be conscious on the part of Ridley Scott. Sigourney Weaver once made the observation that as the sequels went on, there was ever more increasing goo and slime in each subsequent sequel. It stands to reason there’s less than even the first Alien movie.

The Lean Homage

For some pithy reason, the blonde android David is obsessed with Peter O’Toole playing Lawrence of Arabia. They share something in common, which is big panoramas and sweeping, epic narratives but a certain inertness of emotions. It’s a little bit of conceit on the part of Ridley Scott, I think.

Although, I have to say that ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ is a kind of ‘Heart of Darkness’ text where an allegedly civilised man goes into the wilderness – and the ship Prometheus is sort of going up the river into heart of darkness – space itself – in this film as well.

Aha! But Is It Enjoyable?

Having waited for Ridley Scott to do another Science Fiction film for so long, I kind of think that maybe he’s left it a little too late. The weirdest observation I have to make is that this film would make an excellent movie double with ‘Avatar’.

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Update 23/Jun/2012

AFTRS Is 40 Years Old

I got a call a couple of Fridays ago on my mobile phone. It was somebody from AFTRS. The first thing they said was that I was a hard person to find.

I told them it was because I was avoiding them.

They said they were having a 40th Anniversary. I asked if that was anything to celebrate. I mean, I didn’t exactly throw a party when I turned 40.

The guy laughed and said a few people were of that position but that they were calling us anyway to let us know that they’re having a bash and all the graduates were invited. So I said, yeah sure, send me the invite.

The invite came. It looked cheesy and it conjured up all the awkward reunion movie moments from ‘Grosse Pointe Blank’ and ‘Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion’. So I said yes.

Last night was the do, and I’m here to report it was an awesome bash and I got back in touch with some amazing people. It’s always about the people and it was nice to make peace with the lousy place – it’s not even the old place – once and for all. Just seeing these people just filled my heart, and reminded me of a moment of inspiration long ago.

I’ll probably still bitch about AFTRS now and then because kicking a guy when he’s down has a certain sadistic pleasure, but all in all, I’m okay with it. I had a great time when I was there. Nostalgia masks great swathes of injustices and frustrations. I’d never go to my High School reunion or something for the University of Sydney Faculty of Medicine, but I’ll always be up for going back to catch up with my old comrades-in-arms from when film making was a brave and noble calling.

Chris McK, SMurph, Josef, Boschy, Mariella, Gina, Greg, Simon, Tomas, Daniel, Hereward, Stavros, Melina, Kylie, and everybody else I saw and spoke to last night, I luv yuz all from the bottom of my heart!

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Movie Doubles – The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo [2009 & 2011]

Like A Bjorn Borg Backhand

I watched the 2 versions of the ‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’, if for no other reason than to watch how the same text gets played out twice. The business of English language re-makes of films made in other languages is quite fraught with cultural anxiety and dodgy understanding of the context whence the originals emerge. ‘The Departed’ for instance, was a cringe-worthy effort from a production point of view, if only because it didn’t capture the sense of commitment in the Asian gangs in ‘Infernal Affairs’. ‘Shall We Dance’ was an interesting exercise, but even that film never captures the deep existential angst of ‘salarymen’ in Japan – it recasts the main character as a well-to-do lawyer. You could say it missed the whole point of the original. At the same time, by missing these things, Hollywood opens itself up to revealing just what makes America tick.

Cyberpunk Is Now

Cyberpunk in cinema died a horrible death with ‘The Matrix’ movies. It’s true. Keannu Reaves can do that to a cool genre. What’s truly great to see is that the girl referred to in the title Lisbeth is every bit the cyberpunk as once envisioned by William Gibson et al. She’s hooked into the world of data and recognises no boundaries as she travels freely in search of data. Both films work in the furious montage of screens dumping data and lines, but what one is left with is the distinct feeling that Cyberpunk was always a metaphor about the present.

The story is at its essence, an information war waged against an errant serial killer, operating from privilege and power. In both versions, it is clear that the outsiders are trying to prise open the vault of  information locked away in time and in archives. Lisbeth hacks into these clusters of information in order to make sense of the world. Similarly, Mikael is assembling clues in order to decode a structure. It is possible to say the story only gets untangled because of the electronic transferability of information.

It’s good to see the cyberpunk ethos alive and kicking in both versions.

The Limits Of Information

About a decade ago, I came across something interesting in the New Scientist that claimed that given a system, there is a mathematical procedure that allows us to determine how much information ca be gained from that system, through something called Frieden Analysis which applies Fisher information in statistical analysis.

What’s very interesting about the work Lisbeth and Mikael carry out is that in both films they are up against the granularity of the records, and thus what amount and quality of information can be gleaned from these records and photographs becomes the central playing ground. In the past, this sort of thing used to be the provenance of CIA movies, FBI movies and certain kinds of detective movies, the degree to which these characters parse for information bring the notion of a limit of how much information can be gleaned from any system. The story is fanciful in parts, but it breaks new ground in offering up the extreme.

Deliver Us From Swedish Furniture

For all his vaunted filmography and track record, for all his perfectionism, for all his reputation and admirers (myself included in that throng), David Fincher turns in a rather stilted and tedious rendition. It’s a disappointing film. It has nowhere near the tension of ‘Se7en’ or the emotional commitment of ‘Fight Club’ or wide ranging a vision as ‘Zodiac’. This film reminds me of Jonathan Demme’s work on ‘Silence of the Lambs’ which in some circles would be high praise but alas, I peg Fincher higher as a director.

Maybe it is the effect of being a Hollywood movie with recognisable stars, but the American version seems strangely lacking in emotional nuance. It’s difficult when the male lead is the current James Bond as well. You’re too well aware of the baggage of other movies he’s bringing to this film. The Sweden in the American version is an odd place we don’t recognise from anywhere.  Much like the Japan in ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, this is certainly a kind of Sweden, but not from this planet.

Let’s face it, it’s a difficult, daunting task, but in order to get through the story, Fincher’s version strips away the little things that remind us the story has a cultural context. And there’s a heck of a lot of Swedish furniture that Jack and Tyler Durden would like to set fire to.


So what is this cultural context that drops off the radar? In the Swedish version, we’re treated to many scenes where toasts are made, glasses raised and everybody says “Skoll!” Each of these scenes knit together a sense of community and society and tradition.

Another aspect of the story not present in the American version is how Mikael has a past that connects to the Vanger family, and thus gives him some insight into the missing woman. This connection is what takes him into the heart of the story, but also, what allows him to keep motivated in pursuit of the truth. The filial and near-filial obligations propel parts of the story as Mikael and Lisbeth search for fragments of meaning.

There is a certain aspect of the American version when Christopher Plummer’s Henrik explains in an exposition the place of the Vanger family in Swedish society, but there is no equivalent scene in the Swedish version. The exposition that is important in the Swedish version is how people are connected to the missing girl, and how the task lands o Mikael by dint of his association with the family.

Staging Anal Rape

One of the most harrowing and awful parts of the story is the anal rape of Lisbeth by Bjurmann. Both films go through the process in some amount of prosaic interest. The American version is peculiar in that Bjurman stops to put on a condom, which at once is sensible in an otherwise outrageously wrong process. The Swedish version is more ‘artistic’ in as much as the camera gets right in to the faces of the characters, showing their expression.

Afterwards, Lisbeth hobbles home in pain and in the Swedish version the shot is 100% objective, shot from the side, but in the American version it is 100% subjective, shot from behind Lisbeth as she hobbles. What’s disturbing about the American version is that it puts us in the perspective of Bjurmann seeing her off, and posits the audience as the voyeur and perpetrator of the anal rape. This is in stark contrast to the Swedish version which posits a gallows humour laugh at Lisbeth’s plight, which is probably inadvertently sexist.

When you think about it, there really isn’t a shot you can set up that doesn’t place the audience as some kind of emotional participant in the rape, with Lisbeth as the victim.

Don’t Trust Those Institutions

It’s spelled out pretty clearly that Lisbeth is a little anomalous in the context of her society. She expresses her alienation by dressing in the most foreboding cross of goth and punk stylings while maintaining an air of somebody with little emotional expression. The text in both films is deeply sceptical about the institutions of Sweden, ranging from the police, social welfare agencies, psychiatrists, security police, industrialists, the mass media and ultimately the ordinary person on the street.

Both films struggle with the utter imbalance of trying to talk about these things while positing this character as the foil in order to carve up the system. As creations in fiction go, Lisbeth Salander is interesting in as much as she is a cipher for what is antithetical to the establishment in Sweden. What’s interesting is that the text 0- in both film versions – tells us that she is in fact a creation of these institutions. It’s a weird dynamic. It is almost as if the text wants to hide that everybody comes from somewhere, and yet the whole thing hinges on the fact that people exist in space and time and leave a mark that is detectible through documentation and photographs; we all come from somewhere, including Lisbeth.

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The Aging Society

Understanding The Aging Population

Seeing that this blog is nominally “the Gen X view of the Universe”, I thought I should post something I’ve been forced to reckon with in the last few years.

I did a quick count of my friends with kids and they were actually fewer than my friends without. This was a bit alarming. Then I went through the friends with kids and how they were doing and many were doing it tough. I did a similar count with my cousins and found that most of the females did not get married and did not have children.

I didn’t have kids either. The people in my generation, when tallied up did not replace themselves in numbers.

The further I looked in to it, unless they were financially boosted by their parents in some way, Gen X didn’t get close to reproducing itself in numbers. There is a massive drop off, even from people born in the first half of the  1960s, to those born in the second half.

Historically speaking, and by history I mean, DNA and the history of the species, it has been shown that 80% of our genes come from females in the human genome tree; 4/5ths of men in history did not reproduce and pass on their genes – and this is the historic norm according to genetics. However, when it is the women who are not giving birth, you know there is a seismic shift in the constitution of the human population going on.

People who study demographics would cite a few things such as readily available contraception and abortion as factors, but to that list I would like to add AIDS, the property bubbles, and the constant condition of wars that have adverse effects on the economy. The book ‘Freakonomics’ makes a big case that the crime wave predicted for the late 1990s never arrived because of abortion. yet, when I cast my mind to it, the babies that didn’t arrive are not isolated to the lower socioeconomic group of the USA; it’s a phenomenon that took place here as well as across Asia. Not only did Gen-X in Japan and Taiwan and South Korea not really get a look in, in those in Japan got hit by the Bubble collapsing and the aftermath where there was far less stability offered in people’s jobs.

They did not have kids because they simply could not afford to have kids – and amazingly, nobody commented, nobody proposed a policy to combat this and in the case of Japan only recently did they start handing out a ‘baby grant’ of about AUD$200 for people who have babies. Like, AUD$200 is going to convince you to have a kid in this day and age.

Now, Japan is facing a demographic crunch as their Babyboomers head off into retirement at an estimated 6million per year for the next 10years. In the mean time, there is deflation as asset prices decay and demand drops. There is a realistic likelihood that the economy won’t be able to generate enough money to support all these old Babyboomers in retirement.

I look at Australia’s property bubble deflating slowly, and give it 15 years before Australia hits a demographic crunch. It might welcome immigrants by the boatload to boost the sagging population figures, but ultimately there’s going to come a moment when there aren’t enough people to look after the elderly.

Right now, people in Australia are talking about the property prices only in terms of how it impacts immediate value. The true impact of this is going to be felt when governments will find that tax receipts collapse as there aren’t enough people capable of working and supporting the aged populace. And just as it was in Japan, there isn’t a single politician with enough of a long view who can stop this turning into a real mess, down the track.

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