Category Archives: Science

Today’s WTF Moment

The Clive Palmer & Al Gore Double Act (Is-This-Even-Allowed?-Edition)

Man, this is really weird. Al Gore, he of the uncomfortable truth, is in Canberra, standing should to shoulder with none other than windbag millionaire Clive Palmer selling an ETS. Clive Palmer’s pitch is pretty whacked out and boils down to 2 things: PUP will voe to repeal the carbon tax if the energy producers are mandated to return that money to households. PUP will then want an ETS in place to replace the carbon price, and this ETS should be contingent upon other nations namely America and China undertaking a version of their own.

It’s creepy because  Clive Palmer is essentially using Al Gore’s post-VP star to cast his repealing in a climate-friendly direction. It’s very odd because I can’t imagine the flipside scenario where say, Paul Keating would stand shoulder to shoulder with Nancy Pelosi in the US Congress, talking about things in the US polity. Doesn’t this sort of break a bunch of diplomatic protocols? How do we know the CIA isn’t trying to influence Clive (or that they already haven’t) who we know is given to conspiracy theories that feature the CIA? You also sort of wonder where Al Gore’s head is at, making this appearance. Since when is he a friend of the crackpot wing of Australian politics?

Pardon me while I try to wrap my head around this bizarre spectacle.

The PUP leader said the government’s Direct Action policy was “a waste of money, at a time when families, pensioners, young Australians, stay at home mums and single parents and indigenous communities are facing unfair measures in the budget, to increase excise and indexation is not the answer”.

Climate change was a global problem, he said, and Australia had to play its part.

He said the Palmer United senators would move, while supporting the repeal of the carbon tax, to establish an emissions trading scheme.

The scheme would only come into effect when Australia’s major trading partners established similar schemes.

“This measure cannot be defined as a financial measure, it will have a carbon price [of] zero,” he said.

A price on carbon would then be introduced down the track.

Mr Gore said Mr Palmer’s announcement was an “extraordinary moment in which Australia, the US and the rest of the world is finally beginning to confront the climate crisis in a meaningful way”.

He cited President Barack Obama’s recent moves to reduce emissions in the US and pilot programs of cap and trade schemes in China as evidence the world was moving to tackle climate change.

“All of these developments add up to the world moving to solve the climate crisis and that is why it is so significant that Clive Palmer has announced that his party will support the continuation of the renewable energy target, and the continuation of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation,” he said.

“While I will be disappointed if the immediate price on carbon is removed because it is a policy which I believe to be ultimately critical to solving the climate crisis, I am extremely hopeful that Australia will continue to play a global leadership role on this most pressing issue.”

The event comes ahead of Mr Palmer’s meeting with the Prime Minister on Thursday morning.

Well, that’s pretty nutty, but a good kind of nutty. Like a Marvel comic book movie moment when two unlikely characters turn to one another and work for the common good. The villain in all this is now Tony Abbott, he of the abysmal popular support. He can’t possibly be enjoying this turn of events. 1st of July is going to bring in a bunch of people who are going to toe this Palmer United Party line, endorsed by Al Gore. If Tony Abbott’s going to get to keep his promise of ‘repealing the Carbon Tax’ (just typing that makes my eyes hurt), it’s going to cost him a pound of flesh from inside his skull. He can no longer count on the conspiracy-nut Palmer to play along with the climate change sceptic script. It turns out Palmer is a conservative nutbar, but clearly not the same brand of conservative nutbar as those in the Coalition government.

What worries me is how the SMH editor (yes, that fool) is busily talking up the Palmer United position. It can’t be that good if it impresses that little mind.

These Guys Can’t Do Diplomacy Either

That sucking, gurgler sound you’re hearing from Canberra, that would be the Abbott government just sucking up the joint.

A few weeks ago, The Abbott government started disputing the terminology ‘occupied’ in reference to East Jerusalem. It’s hard to fathom why the Australian Government would want to break ranks with the rest of the world and come down hard in favour of Israel and against the Palestinians, but that’s what they did. And the world heard about it – especially the Arab speaking world – and took notice.

Pleiades gave me a heads up and it seems Bob Ellis seems to think that the jailing of the Australian Journalist Peter Greste was a reprisal for this moving of the terms by Australia. No wonder our pleas to have Greste released ave fallen on deaf ears- and our government is too stupid to understand just what has happened.

What’s amazing is that just as with the budget, this government has kicked an own goal in the diplomacy stakes; and the joke is on us because they weren’t even asked to offer up an opinion. They just blurted out something that has ended up boomeranging right back.

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The Schadenfreude Budget

Nothing To Delight In But Pain Of Others

This is going to be a mean budget. I was talking about it today with some people and they were saying yes, it’s going to hurt but that they hope it hurts other people too. Like Liberal voters who thought voting for Tony Abbott was such a good idea. If you’re a left-leaning voter, this budget promises to be a pile of misery heaped upon with fear-and-loathing sauce. The only sweetness will be the bitter-sweet Schadenfreude of seeing others suffer.

In my case, I’m hoping for a big scythe like the one carried by death to hack a swathe through Screen Australia, which may or may not according to leaked information, get rolled into one entity with the Australia Council. That would be cool to seethe perennial same people who always get the funding, go without for once. Screen Australia’s a bit of a bug bear because they keep funding the same people and they keep rewriting the rules so nobody else gets a look in for funding. In other words, it’s more a rort and a slush fund than a proper funding body these days so… heck Joe Hockey, cut away with impunity. I’d rather see it get the full-arse chop than a half-arsed trim. I really would enjoy those people “having to look for a job in the real world”. Screw them.

On a more general scale, you ave to think that Abbott and company are going to make the kinds of cuts that the ALP could not. This would be true, particularly in health and welfare. And while the rhetoric is that this targets the weakest in our society, I think we’ve all seen a few cases that have made us do a double-take. If you think about it, 6million people are on some kind of Centrelink payment. Then, Julia Gillard’s government added Family Tax Benefit B as a bribe to lather through the Carbon Price. It was classic ‘Keep it Greasy So It Goes Down Easy’. As a single person who got nada out of that deal because I have a job – even though I’m in the “low income bracket” according to the tax office – it sure wasn’t a break that was headed my way.  So, I wouldn’t miss Family Tax Benefit B disappearing. heck, cut away, I say.

Be that as it may, there are plenty of things that piss me off  that are mooted in this budget. The wholesale destruction of environmental agencies and science and technology funding seems beyond the pail. I’m just hoping if the cuts hurt everybody enough they’ll be motivated at the next election to vote these bums out.

Retiring At Seventy

I didn’t know this until the good folks on Insiders pointed it out but 70years old is going to be oldest retirement age in the OECD nations. Most nations are topping out at 67 or 68. The average life expectancy in Australia is currently 81.85 so assuming that goes up a little bit until 2035, one would think the government is hoping to keep the lid on the retirement years at about 15.

The budget is talking about offering $10,000 incentives to hire people over 50. Right now, people over 50 are Baby Boomers. I can’t imagine the government could fund such a policy forever into the future, given the logic of how little tax they could get back from such a worker, so once again we see the government trying to feather the nests of the Baby Boomers, just to get this idea over the line.

I keep trying to imagine myself at say, 65 going for a job interview to find work that will take me up to 70. I keep wondering what that job might be and whether there would be a 10k incentive to hire me then (or if that 10k would be worth anything in that future). Having spoken to a number of my fellow Gen-Xers the feeling is “fuck off, we’re going for a revolution!” You get the feeling that the inter-generational conflict is going to heat up from here on in. The Treasurer sure lit a fire there.

We’re Dumb Ignorant And Uncultured, But We Can Build Roads

The carrot dangled in front of Australia for all this budget pain is that the Federal Government will spend 40 billion on roads for the next 4 years. This is going to be matched by 42 billion from State governments and the private sector. 82billion over 4years is a lot of road building. And the look of smug satisfaction as they’ve been leaking this bit has been a bit much.

Most countries that try to stimulate their economy by general construction end up building white elephants. This is true of Asian countries and European countries. Bridges to nowhere and ghost cities of apartments with nobody living in them happen exactly because a government thinks a general construction spending spree will stimulate the economy. It would have in the 1950s but clearly in an age when GM, Ford and Toyota are closing up factories, we’re entering a post-industrial phase of the economy, like it or not. If you are going to build 82 billion dollars’ worth of infrastructure, are roads really where you want to put your money?

Keep in mind that this is the same luddite government that wants to dumb down and dismantle the NBN, another infrastructure project that might be more appropriate for our stage of development.

It’s also 82 billion that’s not going into education and training because this government wants to get out of tertiary education altogether and make it completely user-pay. It’s 82billion that’s not going towards building a metro in our major cities, and it’s definitely not going towards an inter-city bullet train. What it is, is a decidedly backward looking commitment to build more of the same on the assumption that Australia’s economic needs are going to be roughly the same as they were in the 1950s and1960s under Menzies. It’s willfully stupid because clearly “more roads” is not what Australian needs more of over the other options that do not even get a look in.

And this is before we even look at the problems of petroleum as fuel for cars, and the economics of crude oil going into the future where we’re spending increasingly greater amounts of money to extract the same amount of crude oil. When we cease to be able to afford the oil, we’ll cease driving our petroleum-engined cars. When that happens you wonder what good these 82billion dollars’ worth of roads are going to be for an economy moving away from moving things around on the back of the petrochemical industry. Nobody in government has even looked at the ramification of higher energy costs on this economy and whether it is a smart move to put all our baskets into roads in anticipation of even greater road transportation. Even with a multiplier effect, this 82billion is going to be money badly spent.

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Movie Doubles – ‘Gravity’ & ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’

It’s Oscar Season

I watched ‘Blue Jasmine’ recently. The brouhaha that erupted from Dylan Farrow’s open letter put me off doing an entry on it but I have to say it was typical fare from Woody Allen. Cate Blanchett is in top form playing a hysteric and deluded person but these kinds of characters aren’t that rare in the Woody Allen oeuvre so…

Anyway, the Oscars have come and gone and that’s meant a bit of binge viewing the nominees. I may as well try and see if there’s something to be said in mashing up these two films. ‘Gravity’ of course has been the highly praised hard sci-fi movie of the year that even the toughest there’s-no-sound-in-space crowd can embrace happily. ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ is the adaptation of Jordan Belfort’s book about brokers who sold penny stocks to the rich. They’re both very interesting films – much more so than ‘Blue Jasmine’ – so here they are.

Spoiler warning!

Victory of Verisimilitude Part 101

Much of the praise and criticism of ‘Gravity’ has centered around whether the experience of space and space walking and surviving in high orbit is anything like what is presented. The praise comes from people who are sick of Star Wars and Star Trek characters exploring space without ever going EVA in heavy spacesuits to brave the non-elements of no atmosphere, no perceivable gravity. The critic s of the film have pointed out how unlikely it is to venture to the ISS from the shuttle orbit, that it would take considerably more energy to get there than what is left in the propulsion of the  suit. Still, you have to marvel at how naturalistic the portrayal of ‘null-grav’ and the constraints of working with spacesuits. Is it really like this? Some have suggested it is not as dexrously possible in real suits with real gloves.  Even so I think this is the first space movie where I’ve felt the fear of heights staring down to the planet surface from on high.

‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ similarly goes in hard for brute realism. The language, the deals, the anxiety and the adrenaline of selling the market to itself comes over like a tidal wave. The film takes particular delight in explaining the ins and out of the various drugs consumed and the sexual adventures attempted. The film actually give flesh to the Talking Heads song ‘Wild Wild Life’. Interestingly enough, Matthew McConnaughy’s performance in his cameo appearance as the elder stockbroker invokes ‘American Psycho’ so perhaps this film can be seen as the continuing narrative of the 1980s Wall Street onto the 1990s. Just as it is hard to gauge just how close to the reality it gets with ‘Gravity’, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ has a good deal of sense of reality.

Maybe this kind of obsession over verisimilitude comes from Oliver Stone and his movie where he brings in consultants for every little detail he needs knowledge – and of course Oliver Stone directed ‘Wall Street’. Both films are like triumphs of production design and props departments. The eye to details that come and go in both films are astonishing. In ‘Gravity’, the international Space Station looks exactly like the modules are supposed to with even the Kibou  science module done exactly as it looks. ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ is like a time capsule for a catalogue of luxury goods. Even the lingerie frills look period-accurate. It’s simply astonishing how far both films go. The sheer weight of detail forms the compelling picture of verisimilitude.

Space Age Gender, Wall Street Sex

‘Gravity’ has something in common with ‘Alien’. Of course ‘Alien’ hardly had ‘artificial gravity’ in the Nostromo so the amount of floaty ‘null-grav’ shots in ‘Gravity’ tell us how far filming techniques have come. The way ‘Alien’ would have been written with artificial gravity would have been to save what would have been astronomical costs and simply get on with the drama. The elegant camera-choreographed movements of Sandra Bullock’s Dr. Stone, floating through the chambers of the ISS and then the Chinese satellite are a tour de force of contemporary shooting technique. the fact that she does it in tight, minimal underwear is evocative of Ripley’s underwear moment in ‘Alien’.

All the same, ‘Gravity’ can be summed up as an update of ‘man versus nature’ narrative, except that it’s more like ‘woman versus environment’. Amy Pohler made the gag at the Golden Globes that the film shows George Clooney would rather drift off in to deep space than form a meaningful working relationship with a mature woman, and it’s sad to say there’s some truth to it. Not so much as applying to George Clooney, but to the fact that it’s the film about the moment a woman has to get up and do the work and survival routine in space all on her ownsome.

Is this a big deal? Who knows. There may well be an astronaut of the future who says she was inspired by Sandra Bullock in this movie. That story is yet to be written – but it does seem like this film gets rid of  the guy to put the woman on the spot, and the guy gets sent flying off into deep space because it’s the greatest complication for the female character. It hardly seems like a big moment except when you look at the unreconstructed, unedited abject sexism of the Wall Street culture in ‘the Wolf of wall Street’ where not only are women objectified, they compete hard to be the most desirable object because there are no other stakes. The breakdown of prices of prostitutes and what you get for your money is so brutal you come to realise we live in some kind of two-zoned society.

There’s one zone of society that works towards equality and emancipation and egalitarianism, and there’s a whole other zone where everything is so reified by money that social structures and ethics and morals and culture just don’t mean a thing. ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ loudly proclaims everybody can be bought, and in that narrative universe it is mostly true. The people who cannot be bought – like FBI agents and the government officials seem to be highly anomalous aliens who are deeply dishonest to their own needs. In fact, it’s is very strange to try and reconcile these two zones while desires can be met through money. It’s even arguable that the government and its agents are a kind of hypocrites that functions through being incredibly dishonest (or simply repressed) about their transaction to do with desire, pleasure and money.  Stripped of moral meaning, we’re led to view the human circus in ‘the Wolf of Wall Street’ as a tableau of indecency.

When you watch the two films together, you really wonder if society has come a long way; or perhaps not. Perhaps there are two zones to this world and only the deft can inhabit both with a straight face. Maybe that’s why there’s so much drugs in ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’.

Gangs Of Wall Street

I’ve been thinking if there was a director better suited to handling this material than Martin Scorsese. The reason it surfaced as question for me was because I kept seeing echoes of ‘Goodfellas’ and ‘Gangs of New York’ in this film. (If Robert DeNiro were still in his prime in his 30s, he would have been magnificent in ‘the Wolf of Wall Street’). The film even follows on from the concerns of ‘Casino’ which closed with the lament that Las Vegas was now owned by the bankers.

This film occupies a spot in Scorsese’s filmography that documents life in New York City often as a crime-infested mirror to Woody Allen’s ouevre  of comedies. The pertinent question to be asked is perhaps is that what is to say the gangsters and psychopaths often portrayed in Scorsese’s films aren’t more prevalent than we think, and that perhaps a good deal of the world’s problems could be sheeted home to these psychopaths with gangster culture running so much of American capitalism.

The other observation to be made is that it is good to see Scorsese has a lot of energy for making very energetic movies. He’s certainly not slowing down to make things more comfortable.

Space Shuttle, Wherefore Art Thou

In the olden days, best and brightest minds would go to MIT and then find jobs with NASA. This changed around the time of the Reagan administration and more and more of the smartest graduates would go work in banks writing algorithms for making money. This of course led to the creation of things like mortgage bonds and futures derivatives, and these things in turn led to the GFC. Had they gone to NASA instead of Wall Street we might have lost a few more shuttles but we might not have created such disparity in wealth in the world.

NASA  of course has ceased to fly the Space Shuttles because of safety concerns. It’s quite strange to watch ‘Gravity’ where the film opens with the demise of a shuttle due to orbital debris. NASA is charged with doing something, but its current mission is really unclear, so the film seems to be a metaphor for the way NASA stands at the moment – that is to say, the Shuttle is dead, the ISS is something just to hang on and the Chinese space program is the only one doing anything. I’m personally not encouraged by the Chinese space program. Especially after the Jade Rabbit probe packed it in on the moon on the third day, living down to the reputation of  ‘Made in China’.

In some ways ‘Gravity’ seems to point at a time in history – now – where NASA has been reduced to a distant patter on the radio, and when the situation is really critical, somehow recedes into the darkness.

American Progress

Because NASA have indeed receded so far from the front line of mounting manned missions, ‘Gravity’ makes you wonder about technological progress. It appears American technology is far more adept at creating the illusion of space exploration than actually doing. it. It would be because so much money has been spent on the technology of special effects, it is probably easier to make a person look like they’re doing space exploration realistically than actually sending somebody into space to do indeterminate ‘research work’.

The irony of this is tremendous. ‘The Wolf of Wall Street takes great pains to explain that stock prices and money are virtual things compared to cash. The ephemeral nature of a deal being expanded to having its own transactional value independent of the deal has essentially created today’s world.

Similarly, American capitalism is at such a point that there is so much money to be made trading derivatives than equities or bonds. Indeed, high-speed trading and dark pools combined can be seen as American capitalism racing off into a dark world with very little transparency. The US governments of the last 30+years have a lot to answer for in how things have worked out.

The Allure of Pennystocks

It’s only mentioned ever so briefly but the main instrument through which the characters of ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ enrich themselves is pennystocks and their volatility. Much like Milliken and the junk bond trade, there is some serious money to be made in the volatility of cheaper stocks. The problem with all of them is that you never know if the volatility represents an actual market or a couple of other speculator spinning the wheel. It’s an inspired move to shove pennystocks towards the wealthy because the potential returns on junkbonds and small caps  have been shown to be more than a portfolio of bluechip stocks. But the trick is always going to be which pennystock is going to represent the future and figuring out which ones are going to stay dogs and playthings of the speculators. That takes a lot of time and research – and these things are not available to the average Joe Schmoe and Mrs Schmoe.

Naturally, there is an information war going on between the broker and investor. The more and better the information one has, the better one has a chance of making sound decisions. Jordan Belfort and hi company essentially wade into their clients head with a bunch of bamboozling sales pitch and ambush them into buying stocks they might have never opted to buy on their own cognisance.  If stockbroking is a dodgy business to begin with, you sort of wonder how the SEC let this practice flourish for as long as it did.

Watching the film, it occurred to me that if Jordan Belfort and company had stayed with selling their pennystocks to ordinary mom and dad investors instead of the rich, they might have never brought down the SEC and FBI on their backs. It is suggested very strongly in the film that it is complaints from the rich and powerful who inadvertently lost money to ‘Stratton and Oakmont’. it might have gone for much much longer if the victims were just ordinary moms and dads, and therein lies the very scary thing about American capitalism and its lax regulation. It really is a everything goes until you step on the powerful toes.

 

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Quick Shots 01/Jan/2014

Hey, First Post Of the Year From Me

I’ve been busy watching a few silly movies on FetchTV in between the seasonal obligations. It’s pretty cool watching on FetchTV because it saves the on the trip to the video store if nothing else and it sure beats buying more media. I’ve been stuck in the bad habit of buying stuff because I still have the carry-over from the ear when DVDs were actually worth something. It was ever so brief, but they were important for a good half a decade there until Blu-Ray came along and scotched that little bubble.

My New Years resolution last year was that I shouldn’t just buy more media, but a) sometimes it is easier to just buy the box set and b) sometimes it’s better to own than rent and c) it’s impossible to stick to arbitrary rules meant that I bought my fair share of stuff. It’s a bit of a worry if you can’t remember if you’ve bought something or simply watched it on a rented bit of media, but if I think I’m going to go, “you have to watch this scene!?” or “you just have to hear this guitar solo!” then it’s better to own this stuff.

Still, it’s weird having a pile of this media that grew to be irrelevant so quickly. At least with LPs and CDs, there’s an argument to be made that mp3s are a their best worse than either LPs or CDs, and that moving on to just data on hard disks isn’t really an improvement in your listening pleasure. Besides which, you can squeeze a hello of a lot more out of LPs and CDs by having better speakers and amplifiers. Video is different.

With 4k TV looming in the not too distant future, even the marvelous Blu-Ray 1080p format is going to look pretty outdated in the next few years. I’m sure there’s 8k and 16k TVs beyond that, and without an NBN pumping at last 50mbps it’s going to be difficult to run the IPTV services on 4k and up download services, so maybe buying media won’t become totally extinct. Let me just say, 4k is gorgeous. You’re going to want this much more than the time you went from SD PAL or NTSC to HDTV. (That being said, I do seriously  wonder if there’s any joy in seeing 4k TV footage of Kanye West or Miley Cyrus twerking.)

Getting Bad Advice

The news this week that’s been most grating has been this business of Maurice Newman proclaiming that climate science on global warming is delusional.

In an opinion piece in The Australian newspaper, Maurice Newman, the Prime Minister’s pick as head of his Business Advisory Council, claimed high energy costs caused by the carbon tax and the renewable energy target, introduced by the Howard government, had eroded Australia’s competitiveness. Under Labor and the Greens, Australia had been taken ”hostage” by ”climate change madness”, Mr Newman wrote.

“Newman!!”

It’s really no big deal except for the fact that it’s wrong and willfully wrong, and that he is slated to offer up advice to the Prime Minister based on this kind of idiotic denialism. If nothing else, it shows Tony Abbott still thinks the science on this is ‘complete crap’. What’s even weirder is that because the first 100days of Tony Abbott’s time in office was ‘complete crap’, we’re not surprised in the least bit find that his business advisor is a highly motivated climate change denialist.

Can We Please Stop With The Government Debt Hysteria?

This one came in from Skarp last week but I’ve been a bit preoccupied. Paul Sheehan – he of the rather squeaky voice and reflexively right-leaning views – wrote this rather tawdry column.

At 12.30 on Tuesday, Hockey, who has also been the stand-out thespian of the new federal parliament, will unveil the real horror, dysfunction and narcissism of Kevin Rudd’s contribution to Australian political history, disably assisted by Julia Gillard. Hockey will release the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook, known in the trade as MYEFO, which will show a budget deficit much worse than Labor led us to believe, probably close to $50 billion, debt obligations much higher than Labor led us to believe, and unfunded liabilities that are so irresponsibly crushing the government will have to walk away from many of them. The most monumental folly is the National Broadband Network, whose economic rationale was worked out on a piece of paper by Rudd. The scheme subsequently created by former communications minister Stephen Conroy would cost more than $70 billion and never recover its cost of capital. The Abbott government will have to start again.

The way that paragraph is written, you’d think that the sky was going to cave in. Fortunately, professor Steve Keen had this article as a retort:

I’m not going to debate (or defend) Kevin Rudd’s personality, but getting this hysterical over a $50 billion deficit in a $1.5 trillion economy? Oh come on: that is slightly less than 3 per cent of GDP (the precise GDP figure is $1.525 trillion, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics). Comparable figures for some of our trading partners are 5.5 per cent for the USA, 6 per cent for the UK, and 10 per cent for Japan. Australia’s deficit for 2013 is almost 50 per cent below the expected average for the OECD of 4.8 per cent of GDP.

Of course, finding that out doesn’t require a trip overseas: all you have to do is search the web. But what a trip overseas might alert Sheehan to is the economic performance of the rest of the planet – and especially of those parts of it that, as he does, make the size of the government deficit the only stick by which economic performance is measured.

The rest of the article is Keen dismantling Sheehan’s stated position that all this debt is somehow crippling and wrong.Austerity i a terrible thing; not to mention the fact that it doesn’t work.

You sort of wonder how people like Paul Sheehan keep jobs as columnists. It’s like he gets paid not for his thinking and critical faculties – which on the whole seem faulty anyway – but for how hard his blowhard entries blow. And they really blow. Sheehan’s symptomatic of what’s making the media market worse in this era. You just can’t trust what any of these sloppy commentators write.  but somehow they’re up there with a public soapbox on the SMH masthead spreading his kind of nonsense. I mean really! Why do they have to give ‘equal time’ to stupidity and misinformation?

But back to Keen’s take home message about Government debt:

I would far rather see governments acknowledging the problem of private debt, and doing something concrete to reduce it – since the financial sector should never have been allowed to create much of that debt in the first place. But as a second best policy, government spending should buffer the impact of the decline in private sector deleveraging. To do otherwise is to turn a serious recession into a genuine Depression – as Europe has done.

Behind the veneer of apparent fiscal prudence, that is what hysterical articles like Sheehan’s are encouraging – in utter denial both of the actual cause of the crisis and, more importantly for a journalist, in ignorance of what even casual empiricism shows has been the actual impact of austerity.

That, just about sums it all up.

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News That’s Fit ToPunt – 06/Nov/2013

Laurie Oakes’ Body Slam… Okay, Just Slam.

The doyen of Australian political journalism, Laurie Oakes thinks Tony Abbott’s government sucks so far when it comes to transparency.

“They’re busily trying to avoid the media as much as possible and to control the media and so far they’re getting away with it but I don’t think they will get away with it for too long,” he said ahead of the release of his new book Remarkable Times: Australian Politics 2010-13.

“You can see the way the story of the expenses rorts is gathering speed, and that horse bolted because Tony Abbott and his Special Minister of State Michael Ronaldson didn’t move to nip it in the bud.”They could have killed it off but they’ve got this attitude of not feeding the news cycle so it got away from them.”

Other journos have voiced their concerns on the same point.

Since winning office, Abbott has fronted the nation’s media just eight times. Calls to his office, and to his ministers, frequently go unanswered or unreturned.

During the week, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop was a star speaker at the Australian Council for International Development conference in Canberra. The two-day event was open to the public, including the media – except for Bishop’s speech. It’s understood the media was barred at the request of the minister, who is tasked with enforcing the government’s $4.5 billion cut to foreign aid over the next four years.

Announcing the government would respond to Australia’s ballooning credit card bill by almost doubling the borrowing limit to half a trillion dollars, Treasurer Joe Hockey held a 10-minute press conference and took few questions.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has radically overhauled the approach of his department and others to information about asylum seekers. No longer does Customs issue advice about boats in distress en route to Australia. No longer is information on boats arriving in Australian territorial waters released to the public as soon as it comes to hand. Nor is the rebadged Department of Immigration and Border Protection authorised to provide previously innocuous information about asylum seekers.

So there’s a pattern emerging already and it seems that not only are they not willing to defend their decisions or thinking, they’d rather not talk about it; which of course underlines the inherently undemocratic instincts shown by the Coalition in the years since they won in 1996. Thee simple fact is that they don’t want to talk about the areas that made much noise about while in opposition because it would show that it was all rhetoric and the Coalition have no better solution for the said problems.  Nobody’s really surprised by this any more than we are impressed – we’re not!

It’s just a little funny watching journalists of the various newspapers complaining about it having supported Tony Abbott’s cause on election eve with their stupid editorials. Yes, I’m looking at you Sydney Morning Herald.

It’s enough to make you cry if it weren’t so ironic.

Whatever It Is He Is Doing, He’s Making A Hash Of It!
Then there’s this thing here.

The making of effective foreign policy always looks easier than it is. As a result, new governments tend to underestimate the task. The Howard and Rudd/Gillard governments each made tentative starts on the international stage. The current government’s diplomatic initiation has been worse. Even allowing for inexperience, the Abbott government appears to be setting a new standard for diplomatic ineptitude. The Prime Minister in particular has lurched from one mistake to another, with each episode more ham-fisted than the last.

Indonesia’s sure as heck not happy with the Coalition duo of Abbott and Bishop. Julie Bishop’s been doing the denying which strongly suggests that she’s been doing the supplying, so to speak. On some level, you expect all embassies to be a hotbed of spying activity. So this emerging all of a sudden as an issue between Australia and Indonesia seems a little contrived.

Bruce Haigh at Crikey recently observed thus:

According to sources close to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) is less than impressed with Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. It is said this view was formed before the election, when Abbott, Bishop and now Immigration Minister Scott Morrison talked loud and long about turning around refugee boats and sending them back to Indonesia.
The rumour was confirmed when Abbott turned up late for two important gatherings at APEC where SBY was in the chair, and in case there are some who would to contest this, when the egos of heads of state are on the line the attendance at all meetings of conferences such as APEC are important.

Politicians and other public figures do not live in a vacuum; whatever is said domestically about another government will be reported, with comment, to that government by its embassy, and additionally its foreign ministry will pick up the remarks from wire service reports.

It is a measure of the lack of sophistication and parochial outlook of Abbott and the government he leads that there is an apparent failure to understand the way the world works. Infamously, South African minister of police Jimmy Kruger told a laughing crowd at a 1977 a ruling National Party conference that the death in detention of black activist Steve Biko “left him cold”. That remark haunted his government for years to come.
Some years ago Abbott told an ABC journalist that he sometimes said things he did not mean in order to meet the political imperatives of the moment. This was a rare confession from a politician. It is a pattern of behaviour by Abbott that has been confirmed over the past year, the most recent being the about-turn on his boats policy in Jakarta this month.

“A number of Indonesian specialists were adamant that Indonesia does not believe Abbott’s statements about respecting Indonesian sovereignty.”
According to a long-term Canberra insider, the Indonesians are well aware of Abbott’s propensity for saying whatever he thinks will solve an immediate political problem. They are aware of his bombast, his superficiality and his lack of understanding around the complexities of Indonesian culture and politics. A number of Indonesian specialists were adamant that Indonesia does not believe Abbott’s statements about respecting Indonesian sovereignty. They are also aware of his boasts, in the past, that it was the Howard government that liberated the people of East Timor. They remain concerned that an Abbott-led Coalition government would seek to do the same in West Papua.

The Indonesian elite are not blind to the policies employed in West Papua to keep the province within the republic. They may not like it, but as with Abbott’s approach to refugee policy they see it as necessary, with the use of force the only means to put down the separatist movement. DFAT sources say Abbott’s assertion to the Indonesian President that he admired and respected Indonesia’s policies in West Papua would have been received with scepticism and regarded as patronising.

In sending that stuff to me, Pleiades made the observation that this business of Indonesia could open the floodgates for stuff Indonesia’s been holding on to for a rainy day; like say a paedophilia ring run out of DFAT personnel say. This might be just the beginning of where Indonesia unleashes the shit file on us just to humiliate the Abbott Government. I mean, at this point, why wouldn’t you? It’s not like there’s any prospect for proper respect coming from Tony Abbott and his morally-flexible rhetoric.

Denial Is A River That Runs Through Conservativism

We haven’t heard much from little Johnny lately, which has been great. when he pops up, he tends to make our days worse. Here, it seems he’s been out spruiking the cause of climate change denialism.

London: Former prime minister John Howard has poured scorn on the “alarmist” scientific consensus on global warming in a speech to a gathering of British climate sceptics, comparing those calling for action on climate change to religious zealots.

Mr Howard said he was an “agnostic” on climate science and he preferred to rely on his instinct, which told him that predictions of doom were exaggerated.

He also relied on a book written by a prominent climate sceptic, which scientists have attacked as ignorant and misleading.

And he called on politicians not to be browbeaten into surrendering their role in determining economic policy.Nuclear power – a “very clean source of energy” – shale oil and fracking were solutions to the world’s energy needs, Mr Howard said.

Mr Howard’s speech in London on Tuesday night was to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a think tank established by Nigel Lawson, one of Britain’s most prominent climate change sceptics, former chancellor in the Thatcher government and father of TV chef Nigella.

Mr Howard revealed before the speech that the only book he had read on climate change was Lawson’s An Appeal to Reason: a Cool Look at Global Warming, published in 2008.

Mr Howard said he read it twice, once when he was writing his autobiography, when he used it to counter advice for stronger action on climate change given to him by government departments when he had been prime minister.

But the book has been attacked by climate experts.

So, the former Prime Minster of Australia – in his time in office – decided to look into the topic of Global Warming and chose to read one book, and one book alone, written by a climate change denialist. He read it twice to crib notes and mount his own denialist rhetoric, probably because he saw the political problem of climate change as something that needed to be couched in the traditional Left-Right framework regardless of actual facts and figures and projected ramifications. It’s a miracle his government got to the point of proposing an ETS! This would be the one Tony Abbott is trying to tear down in the name of repealing the Carbon Tax.

Today, we can understand that both John Howard and Tony Abbott are ferocious, committed climate change deniers with the latter set to wreak havoc on whatever paltry steps we’ve taken to control the problem. It’s hard to fathom how deep this river runs between these two men, but it brims with anti-scientific bullshit. One of the worst things to have happened to the debate is that the deniers keep getting a more than generous equal airtime hearing of their stupid position.

At this moment in time, it is completely accurate to quote Tenacious D: “The Government Totally Sucks”.

Oh great.

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Sleep Driving

Really? The Politicising Only Started Now?

What is a sane person to do when confronted with this?

Environment Minister Greg Hunt has condemned attempts to link the bushfires to the need for greater climate action as politicising a ”human tragedy”.

Amid concern among scientists and environment groups that the ferocious fires before the start of summer were part of a pattern of increasing extreme weather events, Mr Hunt’s office dismissed questions about the need for a more ambitious climate policy.

After Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt provoked controversy by linking the risk of bushfires to Mr Abbott’s plan to scrap the carbon tax, Mr Hunt said that nobody should politicise a tragedy. ”There has been a terrible tragedy in NSW and no one anywhere should seek to politicise any human tragedy, let alone a bushfire of this scale,” he said.

Wasn’t this the Environment Minster for the Party that just spent the last 3 years politicising Global Warming in the face of mounting evidence? I know that we have freedom of speech but sure that doesn’t mean unlimited access to hypocrisy and stupidity, does it? Or are we so tolerant now of head-in-the-sand-Climate-Change-Denialism, that we just accept this kind of rhetorical positioning? It’s clearly at odds with the narrative of the coalition that Global Warming and Climate Change are somehow in the category of maybe but when the evidence is glaring in your face, and not for the first time but on a daily basis for about a 5weeks since the election – and election day that happened on the warmest September day on record to boot – isn’t it disingenuous to try and hose down the obvious debate to be had by saying we shouldn’t politicise it? Weren’t they the party that politicised it first in this term of government by shutting down the Climate Change Commission?

And that’s being delicate about it. The fact is, they politicised it when they decided they didn’t agree with the science, as if there were any rational ground for an argument about the nature of global warming.

There’s a view going around that the Coaltion have no intention whatsoever of making any kind of serious dent in emission because they don’t believe in the science; that the whole point of the Direct Action plan is that it’s really not going to do much, and that should be the way business like things. It kinds of ignores that fact that agribusiness operates in the context of the environment and the last time we had a drought, it brought the Nationals to their senses briefly in endorsing an ETS under John Howard. What’s worse, Greg Hunt devised it. Which is the same ETS the ALP set up because it was a market-based solution as opposed to a big tax on the emitting businesses like the Direct Action plan being proposed by Greg Hunt. You really have to wonder about a man who wrote  a perfectly fine bit f policy, then didn’t get to implement it; who then had to write a worse policy just to get elected and now must sell it against his better idea. As in, how does he sleep at nights?

You sort of wonder what you’d get if you interrogated him with truth serum and polygraph. What the hell can this man be thinking? Forget Howard who was by temperament a disbeliever, or Tony Abbott who is by ideological bent, a disbeliever. What sorry ass ground has Greg Hunto got to be standing on to be even saying we shouldn’t be politicising this now. If not now, then when did we stop politicising the science of Global Warming, Mr Hunt? Did we conveniently decide upon this on the day your party won office?

Let’s put things into to perspective. After the hottest September on record, we’re having the kind of October that wouldn’t be out of place as being a January when we normally have these big bushfires. We may have record breaking sequence of November through to February this year with a drought thrown in. All of it presumably from Global Warming caused by human activity, but at what point do we get to talk about it as apolitical issue without offending the fine, delicate, vulnerable sensibilities of Greg Hunt?

The truth is, Global Warming is the elephant in the room you are furiously trying to ignore, except the more you ignore it, the more it grows and the more it throws the weight around in the room. So, as environment minister it must be asked of Mr. Hunt: what the hell are you going to do about all this? Are you really going to dismantle the system you designed to incentivise the cutting of emissions? Are you really going to replace that system with a system that has far less scope of working? Is your choice really, doggedly to choose sleeping at the wheel?

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Breaking Bad

What’s Good About It

It’s one big compelling bit of television with the slow burn of tension and anxiety. It’s very well conceived and executed,right down to the nuance of angled shots and off-kilter compositions, oddball camera moves and exquisite attention to detail. most and best of all, it’s incredibly thought-provoking and is a quietly discursive meditation on all manners of things philosophical, sociological moral and ethical, and perhaps even to do with generational demographics.

It has great characters that keep you watching if nothing else but to see what they do next; and really you couldn’t ask for more than that from a TV series. The actors keep things very consistent through the series and never have an overstated moment. The dialogue is taut, the vision the series has of New Mexico is austere and yet meticulous, and possibly even loving. It’s an excellent production.

What’s Bad About It

Sometimes, because it’s a TV series it loses focus and chooses to meander into side-stories.  The fly episode in Season 3 was tedious and the episodes about Marie and her kleptomania are a little dull except it offers us an insight that DEA agent and brother-in-law Hank might look the other way for family.

Human relationships come and go with the ease of television plotting when in fact you suspect some of these entries and exits, like Ted Beneke and Jane might have the potential to be even stickier than they end up being. There’s a bit of repetition of the same emotional space that plagues some of the characters, for instance Jesse and the various traumas he is subjected to and witnesses, and Skyler’s insistent demands that are actually destructive to her own relationship, both get a little monotonous at times.

What’s Interesting About It

The main character Walter White essentially starts cooking meth to pay for his medical bills and then provide for his family after his death. This central action comes about because he discovers he has an inoperable lung cancer. So everything Walter does follows on from his prior acknowledgment of his own death. Right off the bat, Walter White is an existential hero, if a little uncertain as to where that leads him.

Yet it’s great viewing because everything he does in the first 3 seasons until his cancer situation stabilises, flows out from this prior acknowledgment of his own mortality. There’s something of ‘Fight Club’ in this prior acknowledgement that propels Walt into his journey. It’s also interesting from an Australian point of view because if Walt got diagnosed with cancer in Australia in the manner that he does, he could count on medicare to pay for treatment and that would be the end of that.  The fact that the drama spins out as far as it does is so fascinating from this side of the Pacific Ocean.

The Anatomy Of Meth

America is the land of the Western. The bifurcated myth of the law man and the outlaw, both heroic and unrelenting, standing tall in a reified landscape defines so much of America’s own cultural concerns. The Western myth has transmogrified into other genres and with it has gone the eternal chase. Some narratives lean on the law while others lean on the outlaw. And just as one law man catches up to one outlaw in on narrative, another area of crime opens up and a outlaw rises.

‘Breaking Bad’ of course moves right into the territory of methamphetamines with its manufacture, distribution, law enforcement and other assorted details. As it does so, it goes a very long way towards discrediting prohibition, even for a drug like methamphetamines. Together with ‘The Wire’ and ‘Boardwalk Empire’, ‘Breaking Bad’ presents a compelling narrative of how prohibition and the law enforcement that goes with it creates black markets which feed on the vulnerable.

Many people have stood up to have marijuana and THC made legal. But by presenting the meth ‘trade’ with such detail, ‘Breaking Bad’ offers us insight into why Prohibition in general is going to be a failed strategy for dealing with drug abuse. Other narcotics such as marijuana and heroin and cocaine are derived from plant materials. The fact that they can be grown makes them like commodities and with great market demand. In one sense, the third world only have to grow these to make the greatest returns on their investment, all thanks to the prohibition regime that seeks to limit the flow of he commodity. If that is the case with something that can be grown, then what about something that can be manufactured in a lab?

Should The Government Be Sitting On Your Pleasure Centre?

The series does a tremendous job of editing and thus juxtaposing the nexus of all manner of recreational drugs in our society. The show rightfully connects the act of lab manufacturing crystal meth with home brewing, and in doing so implicitly points to the meth lab cooks as moonshiners. The only difference being the drug of choice is methamphetamine and not alcohol. The show also draws an interesting line into our acceptance of over the counter pharmaceuticals which can be abused, as well as nicotine which is legal, marihuana which is beginning to cross over out of the shadow of illegality, and gambling which has its own addictive problems.

Steadily and surely, the show demonstrates that there is some fundamental problem with prohibitionist reasoning. If possible harm to our health is the issue, it begs the question why tobacco remains legal and other substances do not. If addiction, and the associated  addictive behaviour is the issue, then we could point to nicotine and tobacco as well as alcohol and caffeine. And caffeine drinks are perfectly legal while there are age restrictions on alcohol and smoking. Heroin is another substance that is heavily controlled by the state when in fact it could help greatly in the medical field as an anaesthetic. We as a society seem to have made this decision to nobble Anaesthetists in favour of removing the spectre of heroin addicts from our society.

The best guess I can say is that the government would not like us to have fun. The government would not like us to have fun because it might impact on our ability to work and be productive; and the state wants us all to be at maximal productivity because it funds taxes and government and the violence mechanisms. A military and police which, – in a very dark irony – we then use to prosecute and persecute the drug abusers and traffickers.

And all of this has created massive black markets for the banned substances worth somewhere in the order of 800billion dollars globally. Think about that figure. It’s enough to wipe out global third world debt several times over. Instead, its swimming through the coffers of drug cartels and tin pot dictators in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. The drug trade isn’t just killing the end user or the dealers who shoot one another in turf wars. It’s robbing the world of the possibility of enough money to keep ever more people in abject poverty.

It raises the fundamental question, why the hell is government sitting on people’s pleasure centres? Why is the government so keen to stop people enjoying themselves? The insanity that stems from the prohibitionist position is clearly untenable. There has to be a better solution than what’s going on. Unsurprisingly, in the five years that the show has been running, some states in America have now legalised Marijuana. Uruguay has decided to regulate marihuana as other governments regulate tobacco products.

From Desire To Will

Nietzsche famously observed that our ‘desire’ dessicates into ‘will’. It’s a seemingly casual throwaway observation except it points out something very peculiar about our endeavours. We start off doing something because we like it, and we want to do it, but at some point we find ourselves doing the same thing under a different kind of emotional engine, one which connects to our will power, more than our desire.

It’s fascinating how Walter and Jesse go from a carefree improvised meth lab on a recreational vehicle eventually moving to Gus’ industrially designed meth lab, slaving away to produce quantity. For Jesse, the act of cooking meth goes from a fund sideline into a seriously dolorous and tedious *job* robs the glamour of being the outlaw from him. Similarly, once there is an established factory, Walt finds that he has been reduced to being a factory drone churning out product.

The world of ‘Breaking Bad’ is seemingly full of this kind of joy-sapping transformation, especially for the men. The only character not touched by this ennui is Hank, who remains a DEA detective out of a genuine desire to keep playing cops and robbers into his adult life. For hank, desire does no dessicate, although he is mightily challenged  by a couple of incidents which send him back into a near-infantile state.

The Odyssey And Walter White

Walter and Jesse find themselves in all kinds of interesting trouble, but it occurred to me somewhere late in season 5 that in fact Walter was a man simply trying to get home, and that all these obstacles and threats were things that kept him from home. You can see that across 5 seasons, and going into the final season garbled re-tellings of the Odyssey are scattered in the series.

For instance, his wife Skyler’s affair with Ted Beneke echoes the suitors at the door for Penelope. The bombing by Tio that slays Gus leaves Gus temporarily one-eyed before he collapses and dies; thus Gus is shown to be the Cyclops. Jane and her drugs entraps Walter’s traveling companion Jesse, so this is the lotus eater episode. The need to slay nine of Mark’s trusted men is a metaphorical Scylla and Charybdis moment. The horrible poison massacre at the Cartel boss’s house has echoes of the Circe episode.

To date, Walt himself is yet to encounter Calypso so far, but his ever dutiful son is on a search to find the true nature of his father, much as Telemachus goes looking for Odysseus. It’s interesting that the echoes of the Odyssey can be found in this series.

Gangsters And Massacres

By the end of Season 5, Walt has made a full journey into the world of hoodlums and crooks. He is no longer in denial that what he is doing is flat out illegal and has very little excuse. Indeed, we’re led to an interesting point where we understand that although what prompted Walt into being the meth cook was the cancer, there was a greater, deeper resentment about the world that drives him hard towards this goal.

Just as Michael Corleone spends the better part of the first ‘Godfather’ movie in denial of his destiny, we come to realise Walt has been holding off this part of himself for a very long time. The great lie that he tells himself through the first 3 seasons is that he no other choice. He actually has a lot of choice – for instance, taking the money from his old colleagues who have now become rich. Instead, he tells them to go fuck themselves, and opts to cook meth. On the balance of things, one cannot help but come to the conclusion that Walt wants the murders and mayhem and the attendant thrills that come with being a criminal, the same way Hank wants to keep being a cop.

The prison massacre of the 9 guys who worked for Mike, then is a distant echo of the ‘Saint Valentine Day Massacre‘ as well as the big massacre at the end of ‘the Godfather’.

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