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Sydney Morning Jokers

Comic Sans, Furious Backlash

It’s only a font. But it is a seriously loaded-with-meaning font. After it made an appearance on the front pages of the Sydney Morning Herald, it has turned into internet fodder to mock the Sydney Morning Herald. Let’s face it, the SMH has been going down hill for some time, and really did itself no favours by backing Tony Abbott at the last federal Election (yes, that again, but it’s hard to forgive).

Since then Darren Goodser, the editor has come forth defending his choice of font saying he was trying to illustrate how comical the idiotic answers were by the corrupt politicians. That may be true, and it is not for us pretend to understand the motivations of an editor who opts to go with comic sans on the front page. One thing that is abundantly clear is that Darren Goodser clearly does not take the Sydney Morning Herald with all its history, prestige and standing all that seriously. For years the SMH tried to affect a dignified tone until it ran out of editors of a certain generation who could administer a high style. Through the 90s it gave way to a more vernacular, breezy style – so much so that when you read articles syndicated from the New York Times in the SMH, you’re struck by how far down the style hill the Herald staff has allowed themselves to roll.

It’s a shame, because the Sydney Morning Herald has already lost its important prestige paper size of being a broadsheet thanks to the decline of newspapers worldwide. In this context Darren Goodser’s choice is understandable but goes to show there really isn’t much left at the Sydney Morning Herald that is high-minded or that which takes itself seriously. And if this is the big paper that stands apart from the already-dreadful-and lowbrow Murdoch papers, then the outlook on print media reportage in this country is pretty damn bleak. It’s easy to see that Darren Goodser and his choice to put comic sans on the front page is symptomatic of a wider decline in journalistic standards. It’s not just his fault per se. It simply illustrates just how far things have fallen.

It’s really quite sad because they used to be the establishment. Now they’re pandering.

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Reserve Bank of Australia Says…

Renting Is better Than Home Ownership

This is strange. The RBA has done some sums and it thinks one would be better off renting than owning if house prices go up anything less than 2% p.a. (inflation adjusted).

“If this rate of appreciation is expected to continue then our estimates suggest that houses are fairly valued,” the paper said.

 

“Many observers have suggested that future house-price growth is likely to be somewhat less than this historic average. In that case, at current prices, rents, interest rates and so on, the average household is probably financially better off renting than buying.”

 

Assuming real house prices increased at the historical expected real rate of 2.4 per cent, buying beat renting if the owner held for more than eight years. However if the expected real rate of 1.7 per cent experienced over the past 10 years was used, owning only beat renting over longer than 30 years.

What’s interesting about this is that the RBA wants to tell this to us now, a fortnight after telling us that house prices don’t always go up. It is as if the RBA is trying to jawbone the price of homes lower without admitting to there being a bubble.

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News That’s Fit To Punt – 13/Jul/2014

Garbage In, Garbage Out Process

Leading economists are rejecting the basis on which the Abbott Government is proceeding with cuts. They don’t think there is a budget crisis. At all.

We knew this going into the election last year, we’ve known it since; people ave been saying it across different media for most of the time since; and the only people who think there is a crisis is the Coalition Government. I know we’ve been through this topic on several occasions, but basically our Federal government debt is miniscule compared to the debt carried by other OECD nations; most of the government debt we do carry is in the local councils; and the big debt problem is in the private sector, where low interest rates have ruled supreme since the Global Financial Crisis has allowed for bubbling asset speculation on borrowed money.

In short, the government could possibly wipe out the debt in a small number of years if it were bloody-minded enough to not to care what happened to he economy. But nobody asked for this, and it would rewrite the social consensus about what government does. While that is an enormous problem all of its own, I want to focus on something for a moment. This government came up with the worst-received budget of all time on the assumption that there is a budget crisis when there manifestly is no crisis at all whatsoever. it stands to reason that none of the solutions they’ve reached for have gained any traction in the electorate.

Never has a bigger load of garbage been shoved into the process of government in this country, and never has it given rise to so many garbage policies you wouldn’t wish upon anybody (okay, except maybe Iran).

Cue Jerry Harrison

The myth that grew up around Senator Ricky Muir arriving in Canberra was that he was a ‘Bogan’ – meaning exactly what, it’s hard to say because Bogan-ism isn’t a political credo, it’s a class-conscious insult – but here’s an article that reveals he might not fit the prejudices of the media. The way the media have portrayed him, he’s been anything from the second coming of Pauline Hanson to some rural Victorian village yokel idiot who got lucky in the exchanging of preferences (as if such things happen regularly).

The so-called ”rev-head senator” outlined personal passions that include organic food, which he grows and eats from his garden in rural Victoria, preventive healthcare, which he is interested in championing at a political level, and renewable energy, following his surprise intervention last week to protect the Australian Renewable Energy Agency from the government’s budget knife.

——

Senator Muir revealed a broad belief in the environment, renewable energy and organic food. ”Just because someone is a motoring enthusiast doesn’t mean they are an environmental vandal,” he said. ”I don’t think many people would argue that renewable energy is the way of the future.”

Asked whether he would use his balance of power influence to push for preventive health programs, he said: ”I will certainly look at it with a very open mind, that’s for sure.”

For the Coalition, that’s a Trojan Horse. The guy called himself a “motoring enthusiast” sounding like he’s pro-roads and pro-construction and he’s turned out to have a far more nuanced and sophisticated take on the environment and civilisation than anybody on the side of the Coalition. You could do a lot worse than that, and in looking at the sorry lot in the Coalition ranks, Australia has done a lot worse than Ricky Muir for a very long time, but Australia might have just got lucky right there with this Senator.

She said let’s ride, rev it up, rev it up little boy and ride!

Not A Bubble (Nudge Nudge Wink Wink)

As we’ve learnt over our lifetime, nobody ever sees the big financial disaster coming. It’s always “This time it’s different”. So in that spirit, I just want to say it’s very different this time with housing in Australia because there’s a ton of money being laundered out of China looking for landing spots and Australian Housing has turned out to be one of those asset classes.

Thus you have to take it with a grain of salt when economists say “yes it’s overpriced but no, it’s not a bubble”. If you believed that then maybe I can interest you in this nice little coat hanger-shaped bridge in Sydney Harbour that you might want to buy. The conventional wisdom now is that it’s never a bubble until it pops.

As with these things I’ve had a little while to reflect on it and it seems if there’s one thing that limits future growth in an economy it is rent-seeking and there are a lot of rent-seekers. This is understandable because housing construction forms such a large part of the economy in Australia, somebody has to be the lobby that twists the economy in some way. In that sense negative gearing appears to be just one of the economically irrational policies we have going. Naturally if you look through old articles in the SMH for negative gearing, it is is littered with articles defending the policy – which in turn reminds us of this blanket denial that there is no bubble going on. Sure. No bubble, and negative gearing is working a treat.

So as with most things to do with what pundits say, you can be assured of two things. They’re wrong, and we’ll be the ones to pay for it.

The World’s Worst Kept Secret Is ‘Out’

Ian Thorpe says he’s gay. I don’t know what to say except we knew about this from way back in the heady days of the 2000 Sydney Olympics and all those gay people saying they gave him a pearl necklace. The denials over the years were comical and the topic of much derision. In this day and age, it shouldn’t be such big ‘news’ but I guess wowserism is always going to make this news.

People, come on, he didn’t win because he was or wasn’t straight or gay.

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What The MP Writes To Us

Craig Laundy, Federal Member Of Reid

The Federal budget has been such bad politics, the MPs have been asked to go stump for it in their electorates, trying to explain the extraordinary political stink bomb let off by Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey.

Laundy LetterIn the cover letter, Laundy insists that there is a budget emergency. He cites in his letter that Australia’s debt – Federal government debt – is 200billion for which we are putting ourselves further into debt at the rate of 1billion more to pay the interest rate on the 200billion. Just looking at the numbers, it seems he is saying we’re paying 12billion a year on 200billion which is about 6%.p.a. This can’t possibly be right because the RBA has its rate at 2.5% – the lowest in the history of the RBA – so even the numbers don’t stack up in first glance. Australian Treasury Two-year note yield rose significantly today and was 3.74% today. So either Laundy can’t do the maths or the people who ghost wrote the letter for him can’t do maths.

It’s almost as if these people want to cut the budget because not only do they know they’re no good at maths, but also that they want to do away with complicated compound interest rate calculations from budgets forever, and that’s the only reason a surplus looks so-o-o-o attractive to these munchkins. It’s not for their mendacity (which they are mendacious, but we’ll let that slide for a moment) but their willful stupidity and fearlessness in admitting it, that they even mount their position in this way.

Debt – bad. Surplus – good. D’uh. Complicated compound interest calculations – bad. Surplus – good. D’uh and double D’uh. The worrying thing is that just because they insist it’s 6% doesn’t make it 6%.

And you worry about people who want to shortchange you 2.26% even in a hypothetical discussion. That’s a 60.43% inflation in the interest rate right  there. Leaving the total dodginess of the sums aside, economists have determined that running a budget surplus is going to be a 1% drag on the GDP growth, so the assumption that surpluses are good for economic growth is completely stupid.

Laundy then argues that the people who argue that there is no emergency are “engaging in political spin”. It’s a firm assertion, but most sensible people would see it the other way around – that it is Mr. Laundy and the Coalition who are busily “engaging in political spin” to somehow force-feed us the unpalatable budget they have concocted. After all, if it weren’t such a shitty budget, why would they have to come up with a super glossy A3 brochure as well as this cruddy letter?

The sentence which follows is even more strained:

What use is having the lowest mortgage in your street if you not only can’t afford the repayments, but have to ask the bank to borrow more money to pay the interest on your loan?

In a way, perhaps yes, it’s interesting they picked that as a metaphor. First of all, likening government debt to being underwater with a mortgage is deeply suspect. We’re not all working to pay off Parliament House – we’re paying taxes so the government can do things. That’s not a small difference. That’s a big difference. You worry about people who conflate their arguments – especially straight after they’ve tried to con you out of 60.43% of the interest rate return. After which he insists for the third time “be in no doubt this is a budget emergency and it is clearly unsustainable.”

I understand that the Abbott government is doing its best to overstate the dramatic need for cutbacks but coming up with stupid metaphors isn’t exactly persuasive. The letter says “something has to be done”. Well, even if that were true, the case certainly hasn’t been made that something should be what the Coalition is proposing in its budget.

Glossy But Crappy

Glossy Brochure Of Slogans

The chinless wonder with the gerbil charm in the bottom left is our local honorable Federal Member for Reid. Enough to make your knees weak with the fear that a rodent may be gaffer taped and inserted into one of your orifices by this man.

The Coalition never really sent out what their exact policies were, prior to the September election. They were going to stop the boats and repeal “the Mining Tax” and “the Carbon Tax”. They repeatedly told us there would be no cuts to health or education. So what does the glossy brochure tell us?

1 We’ve secured Australia’s borders

2. We’re fixing Labor’s debt and deficit mess

3. We’re laying down a strong foundation to grow the economy and create more jobs

Well. I. Never. Would’ve – in my wildest dreams – thought they would do such things. Not only did they not have policies worth writing about – they had handy slogans instead – they’ve lied about what they would do. They’ve raised taxes, cut health and education and they’ve gone bananas in trying to shut down science and technology development in this country, not to mention done their best to shut down agencies dealing with climate change. That bit was predictable.

What was not predictable was that they would then send out a glossy brochure that hurls even more slogans off the page.

The problem with democracy is that we are always held hostage by the lowest common denominator of intellect. The dumb-and-ignorant, amassed in numbers will always beat the individual thinkers with their puny one vote each. And thus sloganeering has replaced proper discussions of policy. It’s as it is with Gresham’s law where bad currency rids us of good currency, bad ideas have rid us of good ideas and bad thinkers have rid us of good thinkers. What’s remaining is the media spectacle that is the Abbott government and their flunky right wing nutjob media commentators. You never would have thought Australia would sink this low, but … it has. Let the gerbil-baiting begin!

 

 

 

 

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17 May, 2014 · 12:44 pm

Russell Brand’s Revolution

His Take On The Infeasibility Of our Civilisation

This is worth a read.

While I don’t agree with all of it, it’s still good to know somebody is writing something fundamentally questioning the value of our current social systems in a big publication.

 

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RIP – Toshi Shioya

1956 -2013

On the 5th of June, Toshi Shioya passed away of an Aortic Dissociation. He was 56. Toshi Shioya was the actor who played Lt. Tanaka in ‘Blood Oath’.

I’d been put in touch with him through Brian A. Williams who produced and wrote ‘Blood Oath’. It must have been around 1998 because I was directing educational videos up in Queensland on a regular basis and I recall being on the phone to him around that time. I finally met him in Tokyo around 2000. He was  a vibrant, driven, headstrong sort of man.  I remember he spoke very quickly in a kind of hail fellow well met sort of vernacular in Japanese as he explained where he was up to with convincing Daiei studios and the Tokuma Group into putting money in to ‘Giants At Dawn’ a film with which I was involved.

At that point in time I wasn’t a co-writer or anything – I was more a kind of interpreting intermediary trying to make sense of Toshi’s missives out of Tokyo. His missives in Japanese were quite truncated fragments of things he’d said and done with names that had no context outside of Japan. The Film business in Japan back then was insular and atrophied. The great explosion of production that happened in the 2000s was still not quite on the drawing board. Yet, Toshi was definitely part of that wave and wanted to be a producer, a director, a studio executive, a drama school convenor and probably a few other things I hadn’t even thought of as being viable.

His enthusiasm had a weird edge to it – like a gauntlet being thrown at your feet – he talked as if he was daring you to join in with his scattergun quest to be this kind of multifaceted movie mogul.  It was clear he hadn’t watched my show reel or read my CV or understood that I was in Tokyo to try and figure out just what he was doing. He was, to put it gently – more than a little self-obsessed; and in a way that I find a little awkward with actors.  I don’t know if he took kindly to my verbal prodding to figure out just where he thought the project was going to go. He had the “hey kid, let me set you straight” tone, and gave me the kind of self-narrative that had my eyes spinning.

All the same, the good news was that Toshi was infused with a kind of man-on-a-mission sort of energy about ‘Giants at Dawn’. He felt it was some kind of providence and destiny that his birthday – 5th of August – was the same day as the Cowra Breakout. He was meant to be part of the production, and he kept saying he was very close to getting it up. You hear that a lot in the business. “we’re close”. What we get taught is that nothing is on until the money’s in the bank, ready to go. Still, there’s close and then there’s close.

As it turned out, Toshi was really close. He was so very close he could smell the success  he thought was his due, waiting for him in the next room. He was talking to Mr. Tokuma, who controlled the Tokuma publishing empire in tandem with Daiei Studios, and had him just about to commit to ‘Giants at Dawn’.  And then Mr. Tokuma died. And just like that the whole thing folded. Daiei Studios got absorbed into another entity. The project files got lost in the transition and never made it to their new offices.

About a year later, I wrote a draft for ‘Giants at Dawn’, on spec. I think we went around once more, this time trying to get an answer out of the Yomiuri group who own the Tokyo Yomirui Giants. And of course Tsuneo Watanabe turned it down and that was that for Toshi. After that Toshi drifted away from the project. He went on to produce ‘Ichigensan’ directed by Isao Morimoto and after that he started directing films.

I only got to see one of his directorial efforts. I wasn’t impressed, but then, I probably wasn’t in a forgiving kind of mood. The last time I conversed with him must have been around 2005 or so when that film came out. In 2006, the ‘Giants at Dawn’ project made one more tilt at getting investment from Japan. On that occasion Toshi was not involved.

You meet all kinds of people in the film business; you work with them intensely for a while, and then part ways. It’s a tremendously sad thing that the final reminders are when you hear that they have passed away. When I think back on the man, I can still picture his over-aged boy-ish looks and the staccato, machine-gun Japanese, while he talked about his plans with a wild look in his eyes. All it does is remind me how fragile and ephemeral, is each living moment – and time just keeps flowing along.

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