26 April, 2013

Clive for Canberra? Why not?


Clive Palmer, the Queensland mining entrepreneur and until recently, major Liberal party donor announced yesterday that he is forming his own political party and wants to become the next prime minister.  The announcement has received derision from both major parties and their supporters but here’s my question:
Why not?

There are a lot of positive aspects to this.
For a start, comparisons are already being made with the Joh for PM campaign of 1987. In fact, it’s being referred to now as the “disastrous” Joh for PM campaign, which is nonsense. It was disastrous for John Howard.  It was great for Labor.  And for Bjelke-Petersen himself, it was neither here nor there.  For him it was just a massive ego trip which ultimately never became a real campaign anyway.  So if Palmer’s actual campaign manages to bugger up Tony Abbott’s then I’m all for it.

Lest people get the idea that this is going to be partisan, I’ve said before that I’m a swinging voter and I’ve also said I’d love to be able to vote against Labor this election, but I honestly believe an Abbott government would be dangerous.  Anything that mitigates that risk is something I see as a positive.

Palmer has said that the policies of his rebooted United Australia Party would be very similar to the Liberal Party’s.  That should be instantly attractive to people who naturally swing Liberal but can’t abide the race-to-the-bottom antics of Tony Abbott – and there are plenty of them around.  The major difference Palmer has laid out between his party and the two majors is treatment of indigenous people and asylum seekers.  That won’t be enough to counter the natural suspicion progressives have of the big business interests Palmer clearly represents, but it’s a start.

The most notable aspect of Palmer’s campaign is that it’s another massive rebuke of the Liberal party from someone who should be (and until very recently has been) a natural ally of the party and someone the Liberals would claim to represent.  If someone like Palmer, who was previously one of the Liberal party’s chief benefactors, has decided they’re not worth the money and that he could do a better job himself, then that should cause a rethink for anyone who was considering voting Liberal on the grounds of their economic management skills and business-friendliness.

What Palmer is really doing here is cutting out the middle-man.  Mum & Dad party donors may do so because they think it’s for the greater good, but when billionaires donate to parties, they want a return on their investment.  This means that they are buying influence over government or potential government.  If Palmer is prepared to bypass that system, put his policies to the people and be accountable to the people, then that is to be commended whether you agree with him or not.  More people who demand a say in the political process, from mining operators to talkback radio hosts to columnists to ’bloggers should do this.

I’m not here to cheer for Palmer – I’m sure I’ll be able to find lots to disagree with him on. I’m just trying to look beyond the knee-jerk, “he crazy,” reactions.  There’s little joy for Labor here.  The UAP will doubtlessly preference the Liberals and in the event that they end up holding the balance of power in the lower house, then they will surely support a Liberal/National government.  Of course, Tony Abbott is on record saying that minority governments don’t work.  He will jettison that comment like so much of the other drivel he comes out with if it means he can become PM.  The media will also completely fail to call Abbott a liar for making compromises in order to form a stable and functioning government.

This perhaps unlikely scenario offers some hope for progressives. Given Palmer’s stated positions on indigenous affairs and asylum seekers, the UAP may force any potential minority Abbott government to be less disgraceful on those issues in a similar way to how the Greens and independents managed to arrest Labor’s lurch to the right, for a time at least. In the really unlikely event that the UAP forms government and Palmer becomes prime minister, then if we have to have government by and for big business, then better to have the real thing than a bunch of opportunistic political hacks doing their masters’ bidding.

Yes, it’s all conjecture but either way, this election just got a little less depressing.
 



25 April, 2013

News from the future…


[some time between May and September, 2013]

Last night, Tony Abbott appeared on the ABC’s 7:30 programme for his second interview with Leigh Sales this year and his first live, in-studio interview of the year.

Mr Abbott was part way through answering a seemingly innocuous question about how the Coalition plans to pay for abolishing the carbon and mining taxes without reducing the tax-free threshold to pre-2012 levels, when Ms Sales leapt across the desk, drove her fist clean into Mr Abbott’s chest, tore out his heart and showed it still beating to his dying eyes.

Sales then calmly resumed her seat and turned to camera to introduce a report on the human cost of the drugs in football scandal.

The following morning, social media was abuzz with accusations from the left and hardcore Labor that Sales and the ABC had sold out and become puppets of Rupert Murdoch and the IPA for allowing Tony Abbott to prove that he had a heart.
 
 


This is the first page of Keith Murdoch's letter to prime minister Andrew Fisher informing him of the true conditions at Gallipoli.


Read the full text here: The Gallipoli Letter

Lest we forget
   

19 April, 2013

Why the NRA proposal is dumb


A couple of weeks ago, the National Rifle Association released their counter-proposal for increasing safety in US schools in the wake of another mass shooting last December. This is to be commended. It’s one thing to be against tighter gun control, but the NRA deserves credit for commissioning a study and coming up with their own ideas. If nothing else, it shows they agree that there’s a problem. The idea they have come up with though – putting trained, armed personnel in every school – is not a good one and I will explain why.

Before I get into that, let me first explain that for the purpose of this discussion, I don’t care where you stand on the issue of gun control.  I don’t care if you think all guns should be banned, or if you think every citizen should have one, or anything in between. I don’t care if you think safety comes from more guns or less guns. I don’t care what you think about the independence of the group that did this study. I don’t care if armed guards in schools would make you feel safer or if it would creep you out. I don’t care if you think the right to bear arms is absolute or if you think it should be tempered by modern considerations. I don’t care if you think the US constitution should be a living document which adapts to the times, or if you think it should be set in stone forever and a day.  I don’t care if you think the NRA are patriots defending the constitution or a relic of a bygone age.

The reason I don’t care about any of those things is because they are tangential to an issue that really comes down to a fairly straightforward case of risk management.

The principles of risk management vary slightly between regions and organisations but the process has four stages:

  • Identify the risk
  • Analyse and evaluate the risk
  • Treat the risk
  • Monitor the risk


Once the risk has been identified, analysing and evaluating the risk requires the use of a matrix* to plot the likelihood of the risk (from Rare to Almost certain) against the impact of the risk (Insignificant to Catastrophic).  This gives us an idea of the level of risk. For example, the likelihood of rain is almost certain, but the impact of rain in most situations is insignificant to minor so the level of risk is low. The likelihood of a large earthquake is much higher in San Francisco than it is in Miami, but in both cases, the impact would still be catastrophic. Conversely, the likelihood of a hurricane is far more likely in Miami than in San Francisco but the impact would still be major to catastrophic.


Having evaluated the risk, the next step is to decide how to treat the risk. The types of treatment can be broken down into four basic options:
Avoid the risk: This is clearly the most preferable – try to avoid or eliminate the risk completely.
Control the risk: Put strategies in place to reduce the likelihood or the impact (preferably both) of the risk.
Transfer the risk: The most obvious example of transferring a risk is insurance. Taking out fire insurance transfers the financial risk of a fire from the owner to the insurer.
Retain the risk: Decide that the risk is an acceptable one that doesn’t require avoiding, controlling or transferring.  We do this all the time. For all that we have done to avoid, reduce and transfer the risks of driving a car, it still remains an inherently risky activity and one that millions have decided to embrace.  The same applies to living in cities known to be at greater risk of seismic activity or hurricanes than others.

Finally, we continue to monitor the risk and evaluate the success of the risk management plan we have put in place.
Obviously, I didn’t invent any of this. My instruction on the subject came from a good governance initiative in 2004 but a quick internet search will return plenty of documents from all over the world that give very similar advice.

=       =       =

So let’s apply these principles to the issue at hand:

We have already identified the risk. The risk is that a crazy person takes a gun to a school and starts murdering people indiscriminately. Come to think of it, murdering people discriminately is hardly any better, so strike the last word from the previous sentence.

Next we must analyse the level of risk – what is the likelihood and what would the impact be? While we would all like to think that someone randomly killing school children is unlikely in the extreme, history is beginning to tell us a different story. So let’s put this risk in the ‘Possible’ column. The impact is a no-brainer. Obviously the impact would be catastrophic, however low the likelihood may be.

So how do we treat the risk? Well, rule number one is that where-ever possible, avoid or eliminate the risk. And that’s where the NRA’s suggestion falls down. They are opposing moves to avoid or eliminate the risk and jumping straight to transferring and reducing the impact of the risk. As I’ve already mentioned, there are numerous examples of risks that could be avoided but are instead retained and controlled because the benefit of adopting the risk outweighs the benefit of avoiding it. We make these judgements every day. So what possible benefit is there in not putting procedures in place to stop crazy people from obtaining the tools to murder school children? It doesn’t make sense. Of course, no-one is suggesting that weeding out the crazy people and not letting them get guns is going to stop every potential massacre. If armed guards were being suggested as an additional measure for controlling the impact of the risk after already reducing the likelihood of the risk, that would indeed be prudent. However, to accept that nothing can be done until the risk is imminent is just irresponsible.

This would be an open-and-shut case if not for the fact that the emotive issue of gun ownership is involved so again, let’s put that to one side. Imagine you were on a board of management developing a risk management plan. And imagine you were advocating for an expensive plan for mitigating a risk that could be greatly reduced if not eliminated for less cost, less work and with no detriment to the organisation or its interests. Such a position should give all other rational and ethical stakeholders cause to reflect on your soundness.
There is no rational reason why this risk should be treated differently to any other.

I know there are some who will say that this line of thinking fails to understand the United States or its constitution. As mentioned previously, I don’t care. Such an argument requires one to assume that a relatively small group of men in the 18th century could ever have imagined assault rifles, or mental illness, or what might happen if you mixed the two, and what they might have to say about it if they could. It’s an interesting intellectual exercise but if you ask me (and I know you didn’t), it’s about as useful as debating what Karl Benz would think about speed limits, Charles Babbage’s opinion of file sharing or whether Guglielmo Marconi would agree that you should have to turn your mobile ’phone off on an airliner.

The debate over the true intentions of America’s founders has been going for 237 years and won’t be settled by this generation. What we have at hand is a clearly identified risk and a few ideas about how to manage that risk. From a simple risk management point of view, the NRA’s proposal is dumb.



* I’ve always hated that word. If I’m in a meeting where the words ‘framework’ or ‘matrix’ are used, my first instinct is to run out of the room screaming, but unfortunately there is no better way to describe it.

13 April, 2013

SOUND CITY (2013)


Recording studios that are famous among non-musicians or anyone who isn’t a serious music aficionado can be counted on one hand. There’s Abbey Road in London, Sun Studio in Memphis, possibly Capitol Studios in Hollywood or The Hit Factory or Electric Lady in New York. Dave Grohl’s eulogy for Sound City will undoubtedly make it as famous as some of the others, albeit a bit too late to save it. The first half of Sound city tells the story of the studio and how it became the choice of artists as diverse as Barry Mannilow, Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty, Rage Against the Machine, REO Speedwagon and of course, Nirvana.  Along the way, we learn how the studio became instrumental in the merger of Fleetwood Mac and Buckingham Nicks, and how an almost accidental combination of the room and a custom made Neve console gave Sound City a unique drum sound. There is also unseen home video of the recording of Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes and Nirvana’s Nevermind. 

As much as being a history of the studio, Sound City is also a celebration of the old ways of recording music.  While there may be a certain irony in ageing punks like Grohl, Josh Homme and Corey Taylor saying the young kids of today don’t get it, they do have a point. Prior to computerised recording, the studio and its equipment were an integral part of a recording’s sound. The once unique characteristics of legendary studios and gear have all been digitally modelled now and are available on the device you’re looking at right now. It hasn’t made recordings better though. As digital defender Trent Reznor points out in the film, there are people who have never used the real versions of the equipment they have digitally emulated on their computers and therefore, don’t really know what they’re for or how to use them. 

The second half of the film shows the relocation of the classic console to Grohl’s studio and the making of the Real to Reel album with a range of old friends and Sound City alumni. Of all the participants, Paul McCartney comes across as a bit of a ring-in since he never recorded at Sound City like all the others.  However, as Grohl says, he’s recording on the console that gave him the life he has with one of the people who made him want to make music in the first place. You can’t ask for much more than that. 

In every way, Sound City is a beautiful, fond and humourous documentary which should educate and entertain both musical obsessives and more casual fans alike. 

There are three bonus programs, each focussing on the recording of a song for the album. They are all presented in multi-angle, fly-on-the-wall style and provide a fascinating insight into the recording process. 

Feature:  * * * * *
Extras:  * * * * *
Audio:  LPCM Stereo, Dolby 5.1


03 April, 2013

If I show you my dark side…


Last week was the fortieth anniversary of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon.  Yes, we are all that old.  If you need me to tell you how good the album is, then there probably isn’t much I can do for you.  Just go and listen to it.  It’s streaming on their website, search YouTube, hell, steal it off bittorrent if you have to – they don’t need the money.

One of the many brilliant aspects of the album is the talking throughout various parts of the album, relating to the album’s themes.  They set up a series of cards with questions on them and invited anyone who happened to be around the studio to answer them.   Abbey Road doorman Gerry O’Driscoll provided many of pieces used, including the final statement about the dark side of the moon.  As David Gilmour says in Classic Albums, it’s the people who aren’t used to being interviewed who come up with the goods.  Wings happened to be recording at Abbey Road at the same time and all participated.  Paul and Linda’s answers were too guarded but Henry McCullough made the final mix with the timeless comment, “I don’t know, I was really drunk at the time.”

One of the special trinkets that came with the Immersion edition was Roger Waters’ handwritten recreation of the questions asked.  The first few questions were along the lines of “What is your favourite colour?” just to get people relaxed before getting to the relevant questions.  I very much doubt any of my answers would have been used, but this is what they would have been.

Are you afraid of dying?
Yes, I am.  I know it’s not cool on any level to admit it, but I am – partly because I don’t know what’s on the other side and partly because I don’t want to go before I’ve done everything I want to do.  That’s in addition to natural self-preservation instincts.  Nobody wants to die.  Given the choice, I think we all want to avoid it.

When were you last violent?
Truly, I can’t remember the last time I was violent towards another person.  I’ve always been against violence but I have to admit the primary reason I’m against violence is because I’m so bad at it.  Being against violence would mean more if I were more able to utilise it should I choose to.

Embarrassingly enough, the last time I behaved violently was when someone had pissed me off on the phone and I took out my frustration by beating the arm of the couch with a cushion.  I told you I was bad at violence but we all have violence in us – it’s just a question of how we express it.

Were you in the right?
Of course I was in the right but I would say that, wouldn’t I?

Do you ever think you are going mad?
Regularly – and beyond the usual, “I’m bonkers, me!”  or “everyone’s mad,” thing that everyone does once in a while.  I’ve always felt apart from whatever ‘normal’ is.  Most of the time, I’m happy to embrace that but there are also moments when I don’t feel I have control of what my mind is doing and that is… uncomfortable.

Most of the time though, I see people who are allegedly sane and I don’t want a bar of it.

If no, why?
Well, perhaps thinking you’re mad might be the best indication of sanity.

What do you think of The Dark Side of the Moon?
Fookin’ great album man!