27 November, 2009

In Opposition, Everything New is Old Again

There are a few cycles in politics that apply regardless of party, ideology or sometimes even border. One, is that Australian voters at both a state and federal level, always tend to give governments one last chance. There are many examples of elections where the government seemingly should have been thrown out, but managed to scrape back in.

Another is that elections are generally lost, not won. Most election results are a rejection of the loser rather than an endorsement of the winner. One of the most obvious examples of this was when the Coalition, under the leadership of John Hewson, lost what was considered the unlosable election in 1993. The Melbourne Herald-Sun already had the front page printed: “Hewson In Cliffhanger.” The coalition’s “Fightback” package was one of the most detailed set of alternative policies ever put forward by an opposition. The incumbent Labor government was only too happy to make the Coalition’s policy the focus of the campaign rather than their own stewardship. Most people agree now that it all fell apart for Hewson’s campaign on A Current Affair when he couldn’t explain how much GST would be applied to a birthday cake. Three years later, with a reheated John Howard as leader, the Libs went to the election promising little more than that they weren’t Paul Keating and won comfortably. In fact, the most memorable thing John Howard promised in that campaign was that a GST would “never ever,” be a part of his policy. That turned out to be one of those “non-core” promises. Labor clearly knew that Keating was that year’s election issue when they ran ads saying, “You don't have to like him, but you've got to respect him.” They were probably hoping for a similar result to the 1990 election (the one-last-chance result for the Hawke government) when Bob Hawke went begging for second preferences from Green voters.

Of all the elections I’ve ever paid attention to, the only result I can think of that was actually an endorsement of the winner rather than a rejection of his opponent was Barack Obama’s win last year, and even then he had the advantage of widespread disgust with the incumbent and an opponent who seemed determined to abandon a lifetime in the sensible centre and appeal exclusively to bizarro-world.

Another of these political cycles is one I’ve only just begun to notice but the more I think about it, the more I think it’s true. All political parties spend their first term in opposition trying to be the same party they were during their last term in government and hoping that voter remorse will bring them back at the next election. It never works, but they all seem to do it. Whether it’s denial or a misguided loyalty for former leaders, I don’t know, but following each election, we hear members of the defeated party explaining that, “we didn’t get our message across well enough,” or, “people didn’t understand our plan.” It’s not until the second consecutive defeat that they realise that they did get their message across, the people did understand it and said No!

It happens everywhere. Following the US Congressional mid-term elections in 2006 where both the House and Senate went to the Democrats, some Republicans (well, Ann Coulter anyway) suggested that it was actually a good result for the Republicans because people would be reminded of how crap the Democrats were and the Republicans would stage a great comeback in 2008. We all know how that turned out.

However, something interesting is happening in the Liberal party this time around. An all-out war has broken out between those who seem to think the party was on the right track all along, and others who want the party to progress. Malcolm Turnbull is already the party’s second leader this term and despite having survived a spill motion on Wednesday, he may well not lead the party to the next election. At the heart of the matter is Turnbull’s broad support for the government’s emissions trading scheme, which has angered many of his coalition colleagues. They want him abandon that support but Turnbull has refused to adopt the ‘I am their leader, I must follow them,’ approach.

Despite being the most obvious choice of party leader, Turnbull was narrowly defeated in the 2007 leadership ballot by Brendan Nelson. That was probably fortunate for Turnbull. The first leader after the defeat was always going to be somewhat sacrificial. Turnbull was better off biding his time, but when Brendan Nelson called a leadership ballot in September 2008, Turnbull ran and won by a slim margin. It was perhaps typical of Malcolm Turnbull’s impatience that he ran as early as he did and upon winning, set about leading the party from the front and making the changes in the party that don’t usually come until the second term of opposition. As a result, his leadership is now being viciously attacked from within his own party.

Turnbull’s leadership has appeared shaky for a few months now, and during that time the heir apparent has been Joe Hockey. However, aside from time-filling media gossip, Hockey hasn’t been considered an immediate contender – more of a natural replacement for the current leader. But now it has been confirmed that there will be a leadership spill on Tuesday morning. That puts Hockey in a bind because although he is seen as a popular choice for the leadership, who would want it now? The answer is Tony Abbott who has announced he will be challenging. I really don’t see Abbott as a leader. He has always been the one diligently toeing the party line on Lateline or Q and A but not an actual policy maker. Then again, to those who want their leader to follow the party, I guess that makes him the natural choice.

I still think that Malcolm Turnbull is the most likely person to become the next Liberal prime minister but after this year, it might take a John Howard-like exile and resurrection before it happens. One thing is certain: the Libs have no hope of defeating Kevin Rudd while they put all their energies into defeating Malcolm Turnbull.

Chris Uhlmann has excellent analysis HERE.

25 November, 2009

A visitor

Meet my new friend. He was sitting on the rails outside my work this evening. Kookaburras aren't uncommon around here, but it's pretty rare for one to come as close as this. He's a pretty young one and was probably waiting for his mum.

Checking out the renovations.

A much more appropriate perch for the king of the bush.

18 November, 2009

The Bonus Discs - Paul McCartney

Many albums now come with bonus DVDs. But how special are the special editions? This sidebar looks at whether the bonus discs are worth paying extra for.

Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (2005)
The main program here is Between Chaos and Creation, a 30 minute doco about the making of the album which shows Macca and producer Nigel Godrich speaking frankly about some of the creative tensions that went into making the record and their determination to make a great album.
Extra bits are the video for Fine Line with 5.1 sound, a nice little clip for How Kind of You which will be fascinating to music nerds and perhaps a little boring to everyone else, and three rather pointless instrumental versions accompanied by animations of the line art from the album's booklet.

Audio: LPCM Stereo throughout, Dolby 5.1 and DTS on Fine Line
Worth paying extra for? Yes

Memory Almost Full (2007)
A perfunctory selection from the "secret" show at the Electric Ballroom last June focusing on the new songs plus the opening number, Drive My car.
The presentation is excellent with mercifully few cuts to the audience.
Also includes the videos for Dance Tonight and Ever Present Past but curiously not Nod Your Head.

Audio: LPCM Stereo
Worth paying extra for? Yes, but not worth buying the album twice.


This is the mother lode. We can quibble over the few clips left off but there probably wasn't physically enough room on the discs for them all. The 5.1 remixes are exquisite and are only in DTS. The inferior Dolby format is only used for the audio commentaries while the music is in DTS for surround and uncompressed PCM for stereo.

There is the occasional head-scratching moment, like why they added a new video for Band on the Run that makes it look like the song is by the Beatles and not Wings. But there are also moments of explanation. One might wonder why they only included a handful of numbers from Rockshow instead of the whole film. The answer is revealed when watching those few tracks. Although great in its day, Rockshow just doesn't stand up well against modern concert films and while a few more songs might have been good, two hours' worth might not have been as involving. Do please give us the whole of Unplugged one day though! And ironically, since this disc isn't labelled as a concert film, they give us a complete, uninterrupted concert in the form of Glastonbury.

The bonus features are many and varied. A big highlight is Paul's commentaries on the clips. He makes no apologies for things that were a good idea at the time, like Say Say Say, nor does he make any excuses for things that were never a good idea, like London Town. Lovely song, pants clip. One feature that isn't advertised is the fact that Goodnight Tonight, Baby's Request and Fine Line are multi-angle clips that allow you to switch between two different versions of the same clip.

Highlight: Glastonbury
Feature: * * * * *
Extras: * * * * *
Audio: LPCM Stereo, DTS 5.1

12 November, 2009

WINGSPAN – Paul McCartney (2001)

Post-Beatles Anthology and post- Britpop, the time was right for a reappraisal of Wings. For too long, Paul's 70s band had been associated with much of the rest of the bad taste of that decade. Paul was as responsible as anyone else for this, with his Beatles-dominated live shows featuring just a very small handful of his 70s output.

This extended version of the TV documentary that accompanied the release of the Wingspan CD is a family affair. Paul is interviewed by daughter Mary in increasingly bizarre locations. The TV studio and kitchen table are fair enough, but later we have Paul chatting while strolling along a beach, driving along a country road, walking through a warehouse filled with flashguns, doing a painting and finally riding off into the sunset. The program is as much a eulogy of Linda as it is a history of Wings, but the official telling of the story doesn't mean it glosses over the embarrassing stuff. Paul speaks candidly of Wings' Spinal-Tap-like carelessness with drummers and guitarists (although there is no introspection as to possible reasons), the misguidedness of Hi Hi Hi and the infamous drug bust in Japan. There is a sly sense of humour as well. In listing Wings' achievements, the opening montage refers to “almost” eleven tours.

Wings music is used to great effect in embellishing the story, particularly Kreen-Akrore which has finally found a purpose thirty years later.

There is one glaring omission in Wingspan and his name is Denny Laine. The doco makes no secret of the fact that it is the Paul and Linda story, but the only member of Wings not named McCartney to stick it out from start to finish gets just two mentions in the entire show. Three, if you could the use of Time To Hide as incidental music. Even Henry McCullough gets more airtime. Whatever bad blood there may have been between Paul and Denny since the end of Wings, he deserves better than this.

Extras are out-takes from the interview, which include impromptu performances of Picasso's Last Words, Mrs Vanderbilt and Let Me Roll it, two live songs from Rockshow (please release the whole thing), the video for Rockestra Theme, Discography and photo gallery.

Highlight: Rare live footage
Feature: * * * *
Extras: * * * * *
Audio: LPCM Stereo

Previously posted at Strawberry Fields and at Fishpond.

GIVE MY REGARDS TO BROAD STREET – Paul McCartney (1984/2004)

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0001FR552?ie=UTF8&tag=billablog-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B0001FR552Are we sitting comfortably boys and girls? Then I'll begin....

Paul is on his way to work one morning when he gets a call from his manager Bryan Brown. Paul had entrusted the master tapes of his new album to an ex-crim whom he was giving a second chance, and now they have both gone missing! And if they don't find the tapes by midnight, that leaves the way open for their company to be taken over by the nasty Wrath-Bone industries.
Paul tries to go about his normal day; recording Yesterday, making videos, rehearsing. But by the end of the day, the stress has got to him and he begins hallucinating. So he pops in on his old mate Ralph Richardson for tea and surrealism. But will he be able to save his tapes, his friend, his company and his faith in human nature before he wakes up and realises it was all a dream?
Oops, did I give away the ending? Never mind.

As a piece of cinema, Paul's grand folly of the 80s is abysmal, but if you regard it as a 100 minute video clip for an album that really isn't as bad as you've heard, then it's a perfectly entertaining piece of fluff. In fact, if he had handed it directly to MTV instead of attempting a cinema release, it would probably be remembered a lot more fondly. Occasionally veering into “so bad it's good” territory, you will marvel at some of the woeful performances by what, in any other movie, would have been a very good cast. Watch for some gloriously camp overacting by a sound engineer.

If there's one area where Broad Street doesn't disappoint, it's the camera work. The film is beautifully photographed and this double sided disc has both the wide-screen and the 4:3 full-screen versions. The sound is listed as Dolby 4.0. It's a curious mix. Basically it's stereo, with the lead vocal in the centre channel and very sparing use of the rear channel. Rather than doing two separate transfers of the movie, they might have been better off putting the extra effort into a proper 5.1 mix. Still, it does provide another level of misguided eightiesness to the whole thing.
Two trailers provide the extras.

Highlight: Wanderlust
Feature: * * ½
Extras: *
Audio: Dolby 4.0

Previously posted at Strawberry Fields.

11 November, 2009

Obama’s Own Twisted Logic

A comment in Barack Obama’s speech at the Fort Hood memorial shows that he can pander with the worst of them.
"It may be hard to comprehend the twisted logic that led to this tragedy."
Damn right it’s hard to comprehend. We don’t even know what the true motive was yet so how can we possibly comment on the comprehensibility of it?
Then things got worse with the follow-up:
"But this much we do know -- no faith justifies these murderous and craven acts; no just and loving God looks upon them with favor. For what he has done, we know that the killer will be met with justice -- in this world, and the next."
Surely this is the kind of talk that prejudices trials. Not only do we have vague talk about “facing justice,” a comment deliberately designed to be whatever you want it to be, just as we had from W after the September 11th attacks, but we also have pre-emption of the Almighty’s view of the situation.

Obama certainly knows how to work to an audience and this was certainly not the place to talk about understanding what causes a man to snap. Be that as it may, it’s not much of a leap to interpret this comment as pandering to anti-Muslim sentiment. That’s bad enough on its own, but it’s doubly disappointing coming from a man who himself has faced prejudice because of his “Muslim name.”

All we know about Major Hassan’s motives is that we don’t know what they were. All further comment at this point is completely irresponsible. There was a lot of twisted logic that led to this tragedy. There is the twisted logic of victimising a man who volunteered to serve his country just because of his religion. There is the twisted logic of sending the same man to the front line after he had helped dozens, perhaps hundreds, of his comrades deal with post traumatic stress and would have inevitably taken on some of that trauma himself. There’s the twisted logic of assuming that only those in active combat are really fighting the war. And there’s the twisted logic of assuming that because a man has a certain name or belongs to a certain religion, then that must have motivated his crimes.

I am not for a moment seeking to minimise what he did. Nothing excuses his crimes, but we can look at what might explain it. Obama the thinker surely knows this, but instead chose over-simplification. Twisted logic is everywhere.

09 November, 2009

The Honesty of Being Out of Office

Last May, Alexander Downer wrote a rather good op/ed piece, venting his frustrations over how, as Minister for Foreign Affairs, it became his job to take responsibility for every foolish Australian tourist who got themselves into trouble overseas. It was everything he could never have said in office and I don’t blame him one bit for letting it all out.

Now, his former boss, John Howard has got himself back in the news by way of an interview with the Daily Telegraph in which he criticises his successor as former PMs are wont to do a year out from the next election. Cutting through all the predictable self-justification, he does make one fair point:
"Mr Rudd will say he had the global financial crisis to handle. Well, courtesy of us he was well endowed with money in the bank.''
I’ll pay him that one. Although, according to the documentaries, The Howard Years and Liberal Rule, that surplus was probably due more to Treasurer Peter Costello, who was apparently quite annoyed that so much of the savings he had made went to fund Howard’s pork-barrelling. Costello’s skill in savings is the most likely reason Kevin Rudd invited him to be on the board of directors for the Future Fund, which probably also rankles with Howard considering there is really no love lost between him and Costello. It also should be recognised that Howard supported many of the free market assumptions that led to the financial crisis, but I certainly won’t deny that the surpluses of the Howard government left Australia better placed to handle the crisis than many other countries.

However, the thing Howard said that really leapt out at me was this:
"People knew where we stood. We didn't try and be all things to all men. ''
It echoes a talking point brought up by Joe Hockey on Q and A last week, and almost channels an utterly fatuous assertion made by John Bolton that President Bush’s first responsibility was to govern in the interests of those who voted for him rather than all citizens equally. Call me old fashioned, call me naive, but I thought it was a national leader’s job to lead the nation. The nation as a whole, not just the ones our elected officials have decided are right.

This is the paradox of representative democracy. It assumes that representatives will represent all their constituents. It raises the question of whether we truly have a democracy or just an elective, occasionally consultative dictatorship. Do we elect officials to represent us, or merely to enact their own policies on our behalf? Howard’s comment implies that he thinks it’s the latter and that he and Hockey believe that trying to please everyone as a government is something to be criticised.

What I don’t think Howard even realises, is that he has just contradicted what he said in every election victory speech except 2001.
The Australian people have given me the privilege of leading the Government of this country and I want to say it will be a government not only for the people who voted us but also for the people who voted against us. – 1996
The Government you have elected tonight will be a government for all Australians; the Government you have elected tonight will dedicate itself to the welfare of all Australian people. – 1998
We are happy, we are joyful that the verdict has been given by the Australian people but never forget the fact that governments are elected to govern not only for the people who voted for them, but also for the people who voted against them. – 2004
We all knew he wouldn’t, but he has now admitted that he didn’t even try, nor is he even kidding himself that he did try.

06 November, 2009

1001 Things

....to make you feel inadequate about your life.

I was browsing Amazon last night – I can’t even remember what for – and came across 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. I find such lists distasteful on several levels. For a start, there’s the horridly morbid tone of “before you die,” which kind of implies that your life has been wasted if you don’t experience everything on the list. Then there’s the insistent tone of “must,” which to me, conjures up images of someone with over-dyed hair and heavy-rimmed glasses saying, “Dah-ling, you simply must see Paris in the spring-time,” or something similar, which only serves to turn me off the idea, no matter how pleasant it ought to be.

There are masses of these books now, 1001 Movies, 1001 Albums, 1001 Books.... I thought things started to get a bit ridiculous with 1001 Gardens You Must See Before You Die. Now I like a good garden as much as the next person but it seems to me that expecting any individual to deliberately visit 1001 specific ones is probably asking a bit much.

It’s at this point that my mind veers towards reductio ad absurdum and starts to think what other lists of 1001 things people might try to publish. I wondered about 1001 Wines, but sure enough, that had already been done, along with 1001 Foods, 1001 Buildings, 1001 Historic Sites and 1001 Natural Wonders. So what’s left? 1001 Cars You Must Drive Before You Die? (Edited by Jeremy Clarkson of course) 1001 Cafés You Must Visit Before You Die? Of course, it would all have to finish with 1001 Lists of 1001-Things-You-Must-Do-Before-You-Die You Must Read Before You Die. With all these thousands of things to do, most people will have a hard time finishing the books, let alone the challenges they set.

There are others with slightly more life-affirming premises. Browsing these books also brought up a similar series from Time Out of 1000 Songs (or books or films) to Change Your Life. Having one’s life changed is such an upheaval (even when it’s a positive change) that I’m not sure if I could cope with it even a dozen times, much less a thousand. Not unless they are talking about the more philosophical change, meaning that once you have heard this song, you will no longer not have heard it and therefore your life is no longer as it was before.

I admit I do own one such book. It is 1001 songs by Toby Creswell. I think it stands out from some of the other wanker-at-a-party books in a couple of ways. Firstly, it is written by one person, not compiled from dozens of critics’ lists. Secondly, it’s subtitled The Great Songs of All Time. Not the greatest and no obligation to hear them all lest your life be unfulfilled.

Thirdly, hearing 1001 songs seems reasonably doable. If we assume an average length of four minutes per song, that’s about 66 hours and 44 minutes. If you listened for 12 hours a day, you could get through them all in about five and a half days, which could be an interesting thing to do on your holidays. Also, in terms of cost, at $1.69 per song from iTunes, it would cost you $1690 – probably less since if you’re any kind of music enthusiast, you probably have a hundred or so of them already.

If you were to take on 1001 albums, that would be harder. If we assume an average of 45 minutes per album, that would be 750¾ hours of music and if you were to listen for 12 hours a day, it would take over two months. And unless you had a fast internet connection and no scruples about stealing music, it would cost you somewhere around twenty grand.

If you want to see all the movies on the list, you can double that time if we assume an average length of 90 minutes, but then there’s the logistics of actually seeing them. Music can at least be enjoyed while doing other things, but movies and books demand one’s complete attention. Should all these films be seen at the cinema to see them as originally intended, or will DVD suffice? If so, how will you source them all? There’s sure to be a whole lot of stuff that isn’t available through either your local Blockbuster or Netflix.

When it comes to books, the variables go through the roof. There are so many different lengths and different costs and everybody reads at different speeds so while it’s perfectly possible for people to read well over a thousand books in their lifetime, many others are never going to get close.

So if the logistics of seeing 1001 movies or reading 1001 books is daunting enough, the idea of recommending that anyone see 1001 particular historical sites or buildings or gardens, or all of the above is silly at best and cruel at worst.

Some things are worth experiencing just for the experience. My ever-sprawling record collection does include Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. And I even listened to it once. I own it because it’s an interesting milestone in pop music, not because a music journo looking to graduate from the inkies told me it’s important. The Sex Pistols, while not insignificant, are grossly overrated. I choose to own it because I am a collector and if the price is right, I’ll acquire pieces that are notable if not actually good. However, my life is no fuller for it and nor will yours be if you take these lists seriously. The experience is so much better when you discover it for yourself.

04 November, 2009

The MUSIC and ANIMATION COLLECTION – Paul McCartney (2004)

One of the biggest rock-star perks is that you get to be taken seriously in a second career, usually in a field where no-one would have taken you seriously under any other circumstances. Madonna is an actress, Nick Cave is an author, David Bowie was an ISP for a while and everyone from P Diddy to Liam Gallagher has been a fashion designer.

As might befit his fame, Paul McCartney has a few secondary careers on the go. He is a music publisher, a talent school patron, a painter (apparently) and a producer of short animated films, three of which are collected on this disc. Tropic Island Hum, Tuesday and Rupert & the Frog Song are all directed by Geoff Dunbar with music and voices by Paul. Of the three, Tuesday works the best, probably because it was based on an existing story rather than being developed by Paul himself. Multitalented though he is, his stories can be thin on substance. What’s evident in all of them, and in the bonus material, is a great love for the form and the traditional way of animating with hand-painted cells.

The other thing this collection makes you notice, (if you hadn’t already) is what an incredibly versatile composer and musician Paul McCartney really is. Even someone deeply familiar with his style would probably have a hard time picking some of the music as McCartney if you didn’t already know. Of course, there will be those who complain that it’s all kids’ stuff. To them, I would say, DUH! The Frog Chorus is regarded by many – including big fans – as the defining moment in Macca plot-loss, but he wasn’t out to impress hipsters or rockers with it. It’s a kids’ song and as such, it works perfectly for what it is. If you’d rather hear him belt out Helter Skelter, you still have that option. He’s also pretty good at character voices, which is interesting considering the fact that every live action film he’s ever been in has shown that he can’t act his way out of a paper bag.

While it would ruin this disc’s G-rating, it’s a pity it doesn’t include another McCartney/Dunbar production, Daumier’s Law from the early 90s.

On the extras side, the making-of programs are interesting but the line tests and storyboards will probably only interest serious enthusiasts.

Highlight: Tuesday
Feature: * * * ½
Extras: * * *
Audio: Dolby 5.1