31 October, 2010

A Political Draft

I’ll say this from the outset: I know nothing about sport. I only know as much as I accidentally pick up when I’m not paying attention, so I will allow for the fact that some of my analogies may be invalid, but I still stand by the idea. It’s an idea that I first had close to 20 years ago and I was reminded of it by Joe Hockey this week.

Joe Hockey is a nice, decent bloke who is probably out of his depth speaking on treasury matters. His suggestion this week that government should consider regulating interest rates charged by banks is something that ought to be a bit of slam-dunk populism. However, Hockey has been mocked from all sides for it, mainly because such an idea goes against his entire party platform. And that brings me to my, admittedly ill-informed, sport analogy.

There is no assumption that a footballer will play for the same side every season. There are players that will stay with one side for their whole career and others who will play with several. Fans tend to stick with teams rather than players. If their favourite player moves to another team, they might be disappointed, but only the most one-eyed of fans would scream “traitor!” Likewise, most of the player’s former teammates will understand that these things happen.

My question is, why can’t we do the same thing with politics?
Oh sure, there has been the occasional ‘defection,’ and a few turned independent, but most people – politicians and voters alike – assume that once someone is an MP for a certain party, they will always be aligned with that particular party. I think parties should be more like football teams. At the end of the season, everyone is a free agent again and they go to the team (or party) that they think will perform the best, or makes them the best offer.

Pick any parliament in recent memory and imagine they all forgot what party they belonged to. If this were to happen, then by far the biggest voting block would be made up of the right wing of the ALP and the left wing of the Liberal party. The remainder would be split into two smaller blocks, the left wing of the ALP plus the Greens, and the right wing of the Liberal party plus the Nationals. Okay, I know that’s an oversimplification but I think it comes pretty close.

Why can’t we all be mature enough to let members choose the party that best reflects their values today rather than having to stick with who they chose in their 20s, or when they first decided to run? Why should a large section of the party, whether in government or opposition, have to hold their noses when voting? I’m not talking about some kind of Rob Oakeshott, bi-tri-poly-partisan love-in. I’m suggesting it should be more like the AFL draft – players pick their sides and side pick their players according to what suits them best at the time.

Such an arrangement may be useful in the US system as well. I've always liked the fact that members are independent and that there’s no assumption that a member will vote a certain way just because of their party. However, this can go too far in the other direction and make party platforms rather pointless. If the Republicans win control of congress and the senate as expect, I don’t think it will really make any difference. Democrats watered down legislation in order to appease the minority, which many Republicans then voted against anyway. However, that didn't stop some of them going back to their districts and bragging about the funding they had won in bills they voted against. I say if they're going to give Republicans control of congress, they might as well make them responsible for it too.

In Joe Hockey’s case, it might mean he skips over the ALP and goes straight to the Greens with his banking policy. I really have no idea what his thinking is, or if he has just spoken without thinking things through. It's certainly amusing that he’s offered a suggestion that would be pretty out-there even for the ALP, and now Tony Abbott and the banks have to deal with it, but none of that is any reason why Hockey shouldn't say what he feels either as shadow treasurer or as a representative. Perhaps the Libs are allowing this to continue as evidence that they really are a broad church, knowing they will never have to make good on it. It is heartening to know there are still some in the Liberal party who think that, at least under some circumstances, the role of government is to govern.

29 October, 2010

Godwin’s Law of Climate Change

Anyone who has been around internet discussion and debate for more than a few months (and if you haven’t, how the hell did you find this ’blog?) will be aware of Godwin’s Law, which states, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.”

Neither Godwin’s Law, nor any of the published corollaries, say anything about the validity of such comparisons, they merely observe the likelihood. Be that as it may, there is the view that anyone who “goes Godwin” in a debate, does so out of desperation in a losing argument.
Disclosure: I have, in the past, fallen into this trap. In some instances I stand by what
I said and in others, it was a cheap debating tactic. I never said I was perfect. I never even said I was good.

I propose a Godwin’s Law of Climate Change, which would state that the longer a discussion of climate change goes on, the more likely it becomes that those who dispute human-caused climate change will attempt to turn the topic towards the behaviour of Al Gore.

It is somewhat amusing to see people who would usually defend the right of people like Rupert Murdoch to make as much money as they can by whatever means they can – and who would likely decry any criticism of such tycoons as ‘the politics of envy,’ – turn around and cite the money Al Gore has made from his carbon trading business and film, as evidence that climate change is all a money-spinning beat up. There are a few things that don’t stack up about this theory. One is that carbon credits would have to be the slowest get-rich-quick scheme ever. The other is that the success of An Inconvenient Truth was pretty damn unlikely. A film about the former vice president and his PowerPoint presentation? Oh yeah, that’s got ‘Box-office smash,’ written all over it! Steven Spielberg must have been kicking himself.

Is Al Gore a hypocrite for his use of air travel and big house? Maybe he is and maybe he isn’t. I don’t care. I’m not here to defend Al Gore. I’m saying he’s irrelevant. Climate change is an issue that exists independently of the existence, behaviour, or even girth of Al Gore. If you hadn’t heard of climate change before An Inconvenient Truth came out, then you really haven’t been paying attention.

If you want to debate the science of climate change, then let’s have that discussion. If you think carbon trading is bullshit, that’s a debate worth having. But if all you have to talk about is Al Gore, then you lose.

25 October, 2010

A Beginners Guide to Spinning Election Results

If your side wins,
“The people have spoken!  Hail their wisdom!”
The result can only be a ringing endorsement of your policies and not a default vote to keep the other, even worse mob out.

If your side loses,
“The people were conned!  Pity them their stupidity.”
The only introspection you are allowed is into how you failed to get your message across.  Of course they would have supported your policies if only they’d understood them, poor lambs.

20 October, 2010

The Rules: Intelligence

Don’t tell me that you’re intelligent and rational.
Intelligence and rationality are self-evident.
If you have to loudly proclaim how intelligent and rational you are, you’re probably a wanker.

14 October, 2010

The Best of the Best-Ofs: John Lennon

If you count the posthumously-released Milk and Honey, John Lennon made eight regular albums in his post-Beatles career. Since his death, there have been six best-of compilations, three box-set compilations, three odds & sods compilations and several other regional versions. So which should you go for?

Shaved Fish – 1975
This was the only compilation released in John’s lifetime, so it has the benefit of being the one that clearly had his approval. It collects all the singles to date, half of which were not available on any other album, which would have made them hard to get in 1975. It opens with Give Peace a Chance, but this is faded after 60 seconds. The song is reprised at the end of the album with an excerpt of the live version from the One to One concert. (The full version is available on Live in New York City).

There’s one advantage that Shaved Fish has over all the ones that came after it. With its surreal artwork and bonkers title, it’s the only Lennon compilation to show John’s sense of humour. John was always a master piss-taker but you’d never know it from the po-faced seriousness of all the collections that followed. I’ve nothing against Yoko, but I don’t think she ever really understood John’s humour.

Original, authentic.
Against: Short, incomplete.

The John Lennon Collection – 1982/1989
Contains most of the tracks included on Shaved Fish and adds Stand By Me from Rock and Roll and all but one of John’s tracks from Double Fantasy. The tracklist was expanded for the CD reissue in 1989 to include Move Over Miss L and Cold Turkey, but tacking them on at the end disturbs the flow of the album significantly.

It’s the one that everyone bought after John’s death.
Against: Leans heavily on Double Fantasy.

Imagine: John Lennon – 1988
Not to be confused with Imagine by John Lennon, this collection accompanied the documentary film of the same name, itself not to be confused with The Making of Imagine.

Rather than being a best-of per se, the tracks are chosen and sequenced to reflect the narrative of John’s life. Controversially, nine Beatles recordings are included. An acoustic guitar version of Real Love and the initial demo of Imagine are included, presumably to attract those who already owned the rest of the music.

For: Gives an overview of John’s entire career.
Against: Beatles recordings on a John Lennon album? Let’s see Paul McCartney get away with that!

Lennon Legend - The Very Best of John Lennon – 1997
Apparently released with the intention of having a definitive collection, it’s also pretty likely that Lennon Legend was intended to take advantage of the renewed interest in John Lennon at the time thanks to the Beatles Anthology and Britpop. Two tracks from Milk and Honey are included as well as Working Class Hero, considered by many to be one of John’s most important songs. I guess by 1997, you were allowed to swear on a best-of album.

Has a balanced selection from all phases of John’s solo career.
Against: Made redundant by what came next.

Working Class Hero - The Definitive Lennon – 2005
“Definitive,” is a big call, but this 2-disc collection comes closer than any other. It aims at being a true best-of, rather than just collecting the greatest hits or most recognised songs. Lesser known album tracks are included, such as Bless You, Scared and I’m Stepping Out, as well as important tracks such as Isolation and God, which hadn’t been included on any previous collection. The version of I’m Losing You is a raunchier version, (previously available on Wonsaponatime and Lennon Anthology), there is the original piano version of Real Love (ditto) and Come Together from Live in New York City. There seems to be no logic to the sequencing of the tracks but other than that, this is the best overall collection so far.

For: Two discs, remastered.
Against: Odd sequencing, takes itself awfully seriously.

The US vs John Lennon – 2006
The soundtrack to the documentary film of the same name. Movie tie-ins, especially to do with musicians, are usually a no-brainer but let’s take a little reality check: If you’re at all interested in the film, you probably have more than a passing interest in John’s music. If you have more than a passing interest in John’s music, it’s pretty likely that you’ve got most of this music already. On the off chance that you have discovered John’s music by viewing the film out of an interest in early-to-mid ’70s US politics, then there are better places to start listening than this.

The track selections naturally follow the theme of the film, and so include John’s more political songs and others that reflect what was going on in his life at the time. Scared is used to great effect in the film. The carrot for those who own every other album is a previously unreleased live version of Attica State (not the one that’s on Anthology) and instrumental version of How Do You Sleep? Hearing the latter sans vocal track does bring home what a relentless, pulsating groove the song has, but it’s hardly worth buying the whole album for.

For: One previously unreleased track, one new mix.
Against: Otherwise pointless.

Power to the People – 2010
In 1978, John Lennon wrote a short memoir of his life with Yoko, which was eventually published in 1986 in the book Skywriting by Word of Mouth. In it, John described the song Power to the People as “rather embarrassing,” and implies that he was shamed into writing the song by some of the more radical characters he was hanging out with at the time. Of course, it’s not uncommon for artists to have love/hate relationships with their own songs. For all we know, John’s view of the song may have softened had he been allowed to live, so I won’t speculate on whether he might have approved of the title being used this way. However, given what he wrote just six years after releasing the song, one does wonder how he would have felt about it being so closely associated with him, and being included on every single one of these compilations.

The only thing that makes this latest collection worth considering is that it’s compiled from the 2010 remasters. However, this isn’t like the Beatles remasters where they haven’t been touched for over twenty years. The last round of Lennon remasters came out between 2000 and 2005. It’s hard to imagine that new kinds of digital pixie dust have been invented since then that will further improve recordings that sonically, were pretty good to begin with. Remasters in the 21st century can be cause for concern but fortunately, that have not put them all through the make-it-loud machine. Instead, the remasters are at a more civilised level than the previous versions but to my (admittedly untrained) ears, there’s nothing like enough audible difference to warrant replacing your current collection.
(Just Like) Starting Over, 2000 remaster. Note the clipping.
(Just Like) Starting Over, 2005 version from Working Class Hero
(Just Like) Starting Over, 2010 remaster

As for the album itself, it’s call the hits and that’s what it delivers. The track sequencing is tasteful and there’s the option of a bonus DVD, although it doesn’t contain anything that isn’t already available on Lennon Legend.

For: 2010 remasters
Against: Please, please, let this be the last one!

If you had to choose one, choose....
Working Class Hero. Between that and a couple of downloads, you could make up all the other ones from it.

See also,

Menlove Ave. – 1986
Inessential collection of outtakes mostly from the Rock and Roll and Walls and Bridges sessions.

Lennon – 1990
Four-disc box set which is essentially an extended best-of. Contains the whole of Plastic Ono Band, all but one track of Imagine and all John’s tracks from Double Fantasy and Milk and Honey. Now out of print and overpriced. Avoid. Buy the real albums instead.

John Lennon Anthology – 1998
Is to John’s solo career what the Beatles Anthology is to theirs; collected out-takes, demos, live versions and home tapes. Very interesting to the serious fan but, like the Beatles Anthology, should not be used as an introduction to the music. Four themed discs covering the Ascot, New York City, Lost Weekend and Dakota periods. Bit pricey.

Wonsaponatime – 1998
Single-disc collection of highlights from Anthology.

Acoustic – 2004
Worthwhile collection of acoustic versions – some demos, some live – most of them previously released. Includes chord sheets for budding guitarists.

Remember – 2006
Curious selection of hits and album tracks. Perfect for those who only buy their music from Starbucks.

Gimme Some Truth – 2010
You want the truth? The truth is that these four themed discs (Working Class Hero, Woman, Borrowed Time and Roots) are little more than glorified iTunes playlists, repackaged and resold. Again, it contains nearly all of the Plastic Ono Band and Imagine albums. Pointless. Buy the real albums and make your own.

Disclosure: I do not own all of these albums, but I do own nearly all of John’s music in one form or another which means I know what each album will be like without owning every one of them.

13 October, 2010

The Best of the Best-Ofs

Coming up, another occasional series.  There are certain artists who have released have released ridiculous numbers of compilations.  So which are the best of the Best-Ofs?

Stay tuned....

09 October, 2010


There will be millions of things written about John Lennon this week, and rightly so too.  But I don't think there's any better way of hearing John's story than letting him tell it himself in his own music.

03 October, 2010

Grog-Gate 2

or We aren’t the ones who don’t get it, YOU are!

The outing of Grog’s Gamut has been the gift that keeps on giving for The Australian. As ’bloggers rightly decry The Aus’s actions, those on the payroll (and a few of their industry colleagues), have published a steady stream of defences and rationalisations that has lasted the whole week. This is phase-3 of gutter journalism: Ask “Has the media gone too far?”, interview all your mates and conclude that yes, everyone else has, but not us by golly!

Then on Friday, The Aus posted an audio chat between Media Editor (whatever that means), Geoff Elliot, writer of the original article, James Massola and Fairfax radio reporter Latika Bourke. It’s no surprise that they all agreed that people who are upset about the affair don’t quite get it, and that the reaction to the story proves that it was in the public interest.

It reminded me of a comment posted by an anonymous journalist on the post of Grog’s that first got all the attention. The commenter agreed in principle with many of the things Grog was saying, but also passionately defended the profession and gave some insight into amount of pressure journos are under during an election campaign. It was a heartfelt comment that made a lot of sense. However, something has been forgotten in all of this, and this is the consumer.

Most bloggers and tweeters who are criticising The Australian are not simply doing so because one of their own has been dissed. Most of them are writing as consumers of the news media who are not satisfied with the service they are getting. How would you like it if you got bad service in a restaurant, and when you complained, you were told by the waiter that you just don’t understand the pressures of the kitchen and the way the hospitality industry works in general? What other industry would actually brag about the complaints it receives?

Sorry folks, but the customer is always right. We know working in a kitchen is a tough job, but that doesn’t mean we have to tolerate cold soup, warm salad and sullen service. Furthermore, we certainly don’t have to tolerate being told that our dissatisfaction is our own fault for not appreciating how the industry works. Likewise, no-one is suggesting that being a journalist is a cakewalk, but in an industry where there are more applicants than openings, anyone displeased with their lot is free to consider another career.

We all know that after closing time, the kitchen staff will probably bitch about all the horrible customers they had. Fair enough too if it helps them to unwind after a hard shift. That’s kind of what the little chinwag at the Aus sounded like to me – poor misunderstood journos.

Mind you, none of the above is what struck me most about the chat. What stood out for me was something far more trivial. Moderator Geoff Elliot pronounced the screen name of the blogger as “Grogs Gamoot.” Yes, it would appear that the media editor of The Australian does not know the word “gamut.”

And they wonder why they dont get no respect.

02 October, 2010

The Rules: Ambition

There is a fair analogy between the Rudd government and the Obama administration.  Both have rightly been accused of over-promising and under-delivering.  Rudd paid for it, firstly in the party room and then Labor at the election.  Obama will no doubt pay for it in the mid-term elections too, not that he ever had much support from the Democrat-controlled houses anyway.

There is much to be said for knowing what you want to do, knowing what you should do, and knowing what you can do.

Rudd and Obama’s oppositions, both those within and those without, have centred their campaigns on what they won’t do, rather than what they will do.
But you know something?

I still have more respect for those who reach for the stars and only make it as far as the clouds, than those who reach for the remote and make it all the way to the fridge.