26 October, 2011

Welcome to the Nanny State

Much as we’d like to, it’s impossible to legislate common sense.  That’s the main reason we need other laws.  Since most of us understand that “rational self-interest” is a contradiction in terms, you’d think that requiring gamblers to nominate how much they are prepared to lose before feeding their money into a poker machine would be a fairly benign, uncontroversial requirement because it’s… well, common sense.

Tony Abbott though, sees it differently.  Echoing the sentiments of the pokie clubs, he has said, “I know the values and principles of my party and we are instinctively resistant to anything that smacks of the nanny state.”

Ah yes, the “nanny state,” the first refuge of anyone who thinks people ought to be able to do what they want, regardless of the harm it may cause.  Well, if Tony and his party would oppose poker machine reform on the grounds that it smacks of the nanny state, how do they feel about…

  • Speed Limits
  • Mandatory seatbelt laws
  • Mandatory motorcycle helmets
  • Mandatory bike helmets
  • Blood alcohol limits for driving
  • Banning marijuana
  • Banning cocaine
  • Banning amphetamines
  • Banning heroin
  • Compulsory education
  • Occupational health and safety regulations
  • Compulsory superannuation
  • Insider trading laws
  • Public decency laws
  • Firearm restrictions
  • Film, television and literature classifications
  • The age of consent
  • Minimum ages to work, vote, smoke, drive, and drink
  • Banning two-up 364 days of the year
  • Banning SP bookmaking
  • Building codes
  • Defamation law

All of these could be described as nanny-state policies.  If you want a libertarian dream world, go the whole hog.  Don’t just use an argument of convenience on a single issue.

Feel free to add your own.

23 October, 2011

A scene from an alternate reality

I haven’t said much about the Occupy [insert nearest city here] demonstrations in Australia, mainly because others like Geordie Guy, Kimbo Ramplin, Mike Stuchbery and Geoff Lemon have said it so much better.
One little addition occurs to me…

It’s pretty much agreed that the queen’s visit was at least partly behind Melbourne Mayor Robert Doyle’s decision to have to protest moved on.  Let’s just imagine what might have happened if the mayor hadn’t acted and ’er maj’s eyes were sullied by the sight of a few crusty drum circles in the city square.

Lord Mayor:  Your Majesty, I must apologise for this inexcusable disruption of the peace by that unruly mob over there.  I assure you, this doesn’t usually happen.

The Queen:  Look ’ere cobber, I don’t know if you get the news over here or if you just have the memory of a pot smoking goldfish, but two months ago, half of England was orn fire!  Windows were smashed, shops were looted, whole blocks were burned down and people died!  You think this is a disruption?  You call than an unruly mob?  That’s nowt!  HTFU, me ol’ china and pour me another G&T while you’re about it.”

“Pics or it didn’t happen”

I posted this on my Tumblr ’blog yesterday.  It’s the place I use for little tidbits and anything that isn’t good enough to post here (if you can imagine such a thing).  I was torn on whether I should post it here but decided to put it on the other site because it contains confronting images.

Then the post went slightly viral, getting over 100 hits in an evening.  Maybe that happens to anything with a NSFW warning, but it made me wonder if I should have posted it here all along.

I’ll leave the decision up to you.  If you’re up for it, the post is here:
Two photos

21 October, 2011

On the day's events

It's not as if the Occupy Melbourne (or Sydney, or especially Brisbane) protests are not predominantly a bunch of bandwagon-jumpers with victim envy, copying and ultimately trivialising important statements being made by others overseas.
But one has to note the irony that on the day the world rejoiced at the death of a tyrant, Melbourne City Council send police with horses, dogs and capsicum spray to disperse a peaceful demonstration that was not hurting anyone or stopping anyone from going about their business.

In doing so, they have proven the protesters' point, which up until now, had always been pretty contrived.

Let freedom ring!

Hooray! Now what?

Forgive me if I cannot get on board with the cheering over the rough justice that was meted out to Gaddafi* this morning.  The question is not whether he deserved his fate, but whether this bodes well for the next Libyan regime.  While it’s understandable under the circumstances, celebrating death as an instrument of political change is not very far removed from the Gaddafi regime.  Whether this is the beginning of a new era of freedom and democracy is a wide open question.

Progressives really need to get their story straight.  We support due process, except when the Hollywood ending feels better.  We are against the death penalty, but make an exception (if only by silence) for the likes of Amrosi.  We hate western interference in the internal affairs of sovereign nations, except when we agree with it.  We are against angry mobs, wildly overstating their case and peddling conspiracy theories, except when we like them.

Democracy does not come from removing and/or killing a tyrant.  It does not come from having free elections.  Only when a previously elected government is voted out and there is a peaceful transition to the new government, can a nation be called genuinely democratic.  This has not yet happened in Afghanistan, where every election has endorsed the president installed by the occupying forces**, and often under suspicious circumstances.  It has not happened in South Africa.  It has not happened in Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe won the first free election in 1980 and gradually became a dictator.  Iraq?  Don’t make me laugh.  Russia?  I’ll believe it when I see it.  Egypt?  Syria?  Place your bets.

As one Libyan on the radio today put it, killing Gaddafi (in crossfire between rebels and loyalists, according to reports at time of writing) is almost a mercy killing, meaning he will never have to face due justice.  I shed no more tears for Gaddafi than I would for any of the other murderous tyrants whose people are rising up against them.  But I must wonder if and when genuine democracy will ever come so long as we endorse, even under extraordinary circumstances, the take-him-out-and-shoot-him model of political change.

If the last sixty years have taught us anything (and I’m not sure they have), it’s that the enemy of your enemy may also be your enemy.

* There are numerous acceptable ways of spelling his name in English.  This is the spelling I have seen recently.  If you know of others, fine.

** Not a pejorative term, just the way it is.


17 October, 2011

Who lied? And when, and why and how?

The passage of the Carbon Tax bill last week reminded us all (as if we’ve ever been allowed to forget) that Julia Gillard lied during the election campaign when she said there would not be a carbon tax under a government she leads.   As usual, the reality is a little less simple.

Let’s make one thing clear from the outset: Julia Gillard was extremely foolish to make such an unequivocal statement.  It was always going to come back to bite her just as John Howard’s statement that a GST would “never ever” be a part of his policy would come back to bit him.  John Howard learnt from his mistake though.  He never again made absolute statements.  He always gave himself an out.  Gillard should have learnt from his mistake too. 

I’ve written previously about how government policy is what can pass the parliament because the parliament is the government.  As such, the policies of either major party are negated when the Australian electorate chooses not to give either of them a clear majority.

Gillard in fact has several ways to rationalise her pre-election statement.  She could tell the truth and say that she is not the supreme leader of this government and that the ultimate decider of policy is what can pass the parliament.  Or she could be honest and say that her comments were assuming an ALP majority.  Or if she wanted to be cheeky, she could invoke John Howard’s distinction of “core promises.”

The Liberal party has been prepared for comparison to John Howard’s “never ever” statement and remind us that John Howard took the GST to an election.  That, he did.  However, the Coalition polled just 48% of the primary vote in that election, which is less than the ALP polled in 2010.  No-one called that “the death of democracy.”

Then there was WorkChoices.  John Howard never said a thing about that in the 2004 election campaign.  In fairness to Howard, he probably didn’t know himself that he would do that – he just saw his chance when the coalition won control of the Senate, and grabbed it.  When confronted with the fact that he never took it to an election, Howard’s explanation was that everyone knew it had been on the Liberals’ wishlist for 20 years but they’d never had the number for it before.  In fairness to Howard, he never said he wouldn’t introduce WorkChoices.  He had learnt from his previous mistake.  Likewise, everyone knew it was ALP policy to introduce a market-based system for reducing carbon emissions.  And it was much fresher in the memory than the Liberal party’s historical desire for industrial relations reform. 

Based on the election figures, if Gillard has no mandate for the carbon tax, then John Howard clearly had no mandate for the GST.  If John Howard had a mandate for WorkChoices based on the dubious logic that he never said he wouldn’t, then the majority of the current parliament has a mandate to implement policy that they can come to an agreement on.  Any one of these is an intellectually defensible argument – but make your mind up and stick by your story.

No leader ever frames their policy statements according to how they would be affected by a hung parliament.  So was Howard’s lie of omission in 2004 better or worse than Gillard’s omission of premise in 2010?
The other question is who voted Labor on the strength of Gillard saying there would be no carbon tax?  Anyone?


10 October, 2011

Shorter QandA

If you’re worried about missing Q and A this week, here’s a quick summary of what will inevitably happen this week (or any other)

Kevin Rudd… derp… derp… assassinated… derp… derp… derp… leadership ambitions… derp… derp… Julia lied… derp… derp… derp… carbon tax… derp… tax bad… derp… derp… mandate… derp… democracy… derp… election… derp… derp… Tony Abbott crazy man… derp… derp… budgie smugglers… derp… grandstanding questioner… derp… derp… John Howard was right… derp… derp… lame joke from twitter… derp… faceless men… derp… derp… stop the boats… derp… derp… derp… attempt to juxtapose live exports and refugees… derp… Bob Brown… derp… derp… stupid conspiracy theory… derp… derp… derp… fawning tweet sucking up to panel member… derp… embarrassing video question… derp… derp… derp… artistic guest panellist starts an answer they can’t finish… derp… derp… poker machines… derp… derp… nanny state… derp… derp… gay marriage… derp… derp… tweet lamenting absence of Malcolm Turnbull… derp… derp… Murdoch justification… derp… derp… derp… sly suggestion of leftie bias on ABC… derp… derp…  I’ll take that as a comment… derp… derp…
Thank you and goodnight.

09 October, 2011

My first unboxing video

If you’ve ever researched a potential technology purchase online, you’ve probably come across a big trend on YouTube of ‘unboxing’ videos.  The people have just received their goods and open them up right there on cam for you.

Unboxing videos can be informative if you’re lucky enough to find one made by someone who knows what they’re talking about.  More often than not, they’re about as useful as this:

07 October, 2011

A Present-Day Himself

The untimely passing of Steve Jobs has brought a torrent of praise.  Most of that praise is well deserved.  His influence on modern life, whether one is immediately aware of it or not, is significant.  However, the enthusiasm by some to gush over his achievements ends up doing him a disservice.  Reports have compared Jobs to Thomas Edison, Pablo Picasso and Leonardo Da Vinci – sometimes in the same sentence.   This is not fair to any of them.

It’s fair to say Steve Jobs was a visionary.  His gift was not so much in either the creation of the hardware nor the coding of the software, or even in the specific design of either.  Jobs’ brilliance was in gathering people who are experts in those fields and motivating them to make it work like this and look like that.  The products which Jobs presided over the design of, are perfect marriages of complexity, simplicity and beauty. (yes, it’s a ménage a trois – what’s your point?)  This is not to say that Apple is never overrated.  I believe they have cheapened their brand somewhat over recent years by overstating the significance of features and the careful rationing of some of those product features.  Early iPhones didn’t even have 3G at a time when any other phone worth talking about did.  One of the big new features of the iPhone 4, released last year, was video calling – a feature I’d had on my Nokia since 2008, and it wasn’t state of the art even then.  And it challenges credulity to think that the new features of the iPad 2 couldn’t have been worked into the iPad 1, released less than a year earlier.  If nothing else, it would have saved the poor buggers at Foxconn a lot of retooling.

I don’t attribute any of this to Steve Jobs personally.  I am neither a fanboy, nor a hater, just trying to keep some perspective.  Steve Jobs did not invent the Graphical User Interface or the mouse.  That would be Xerox.  In fairness, Steve Jobs never claimed to have invented those things, nor did he ever encourage the notion that he did, but listening to some reports today, it would be easy to believe it was all Apple’s idea because the Macintosh was the first commercially available computer to have a GUI.  This was Steve Jobs’ real talent – to be an aggregator of ideas.  He didn’t invent the MP3 player.  Instead, he perfected the idea and expanded the notion to become a smartphone and a tablet computer.  This list of what Steve Jobs did and didn’t do sums it up very nicely.

That’s one reason why comparisons with inventors and designers of the past are inappropriate.  The other reason is that it’s just so unnecessary.

Seriously, how brilliant do you have to be, how broad your influence, before you get to stand alone?  How great must your achievements be before they don’t have to be described in terms of what others did?  Steve Jobs was not a modern day Da Vinci.  That’s the difference between being a couple of decades ahead of your time and a couple of centuries ahead of your time.  He was not Pablo Picasso, the main reason being that Steve Jobs’ designs are beautiful.  I’m not saying that Picasso wasn’t a great artist but I wouldn’t want to have to look at one of his works for several hours a day.  The Edison analogy probably comes closest to being fair.  They were both showmen as much as innovators, and that showmanship was invaluable to promoting the product.  Both created a simple music player that would evolve into something that changed the way we live.  But who was Thomas Edison the contemporary equivalent of?  The answer is: a long line of people who were equal parts genius and madman, looking everywhere for an idea that would make them rich and famous.  Edison managed to find a couple.

I stopped describing Paul Kelly as a modern-day Henry Lawson (although I still believe it’s a fair comparison) after reading how Lawson was offended at being called an Australian Rudyard Kipling.  Although it was meant as a compliment, Henry Lawson was not Rudyard Kipling – he was Henry Lawson.  Every teenage guitarist wants to be the next Jimi Hendrix.  There are those in their 50s still trying to be.  The point they all miss is that Hendrix wasn’t trying to be the next Robert Johnson, Chet Atkins or BB King – he wanted to be the first Jimi Hendrix.  He succeeded, and to this day, there has never been a better one.  That’s why my advice to young guitarists is that if you want to be like Hendrix, forget about Hendrix.  Throw everything out and start again.  That’s exactly what Steve Jobs did.  He wasn’t trying to be the next anyone.

This is not to say that some geniuses don’t start out trying to emulate others.  Bob Dylan wanted to be Woody Guthrie.  Today though, you would never describe Bob Dylan as ‘the Woody Guthrie of the 60s.’  If you had to explain to someone who Bob Dylan is, the most appropriate answer would probably be, “Are you nuts?  He’s Bob friggin’ Dylan!”

Steve Jobs was not a modern day Edison, Picasso or Da Vinci.  He was not Archimedes, Bach, Alexander Graham Bell, Guglielmo Marconi, Nikola Tesla, John Logie Baird or Frank Lloyd Wright.  He was Steve Jobs.  If that in itself isn’t good enough for you, then you’re probably in for a life of disappointments.

06 October, 2011

Definition of Irony

Mitt Romney's greatest chance of winning the US presidency is also his greatest chance of losing the Republican nomination - his success in creating a public health system.

03 October, 2011

Greetings from RARA

Being fairly visible online, I’m deliberately coy about location.  If I lived in Melbourne, I would just say ‘Melbourne,’ and leave it at that because it’s both specific enough and vague enough.  As it is, I don’t live in Melbourne.  I live in a place that’s big enough that you can keep to yourself if you want to, but small enough that someone named Bill who writes a lot about politics and music is enough to identify you.  I live in RARA.

“RARA” is my dear departed Godmother’s acronym for what politicians and the media refer to as “Rural and Regional Australia.”  It’s a catch-all term to describe any part of Australia that isn’t one of the capital cities.  In other words: most of it.  RARA encompasses everywhere from large cities to one-horse towns, farmland to industrial centres.  If you’re way out in the desert or deep in the bush, then you’re in the next level of RARA: Rural and Remote Australia.

I’ve no time for any silly city vs country stereotypes.  I don’t think either is better or worse than the other in principle.  Each needs the other.  But the next time you feel (rightly) offended if someone calls you an inner-city latte-sipper because you have a heartfelt view about what’s going on, spare a thought for those of us in RARA.

I’ll tell you a little about my corner of RARA and to make it easier, I’ll describe it in the form of fashionable clichés.

Is it full of bogans*?
Partly, yes.  Speaking of masses of bogans, did you see the grand final last week?
Is it full of hippy seachangers* and treechangers*?
Yep, them too.
Is it full of whingeing farmers?
Yes, but not as much as it used to be.
Is it impossible to get a decent coffee?
Only if you’re too lazy to walk half a block.
Is it full of right-wing, racist rednecks?
Of course it is!  In exactly the same way that the cities are full of gay socialists.  And nothing else.

There are lots of things that frustrate me about where I live and I won’t defend it from any reasonable criticism.  If I complain about it, it’s because I’ve earnt that right.  But if you want to bag non-metropolitan areas, as one, without ever travelling past the end of the tram lines, then frankly, screw you!

*Explanatory links added for international readers.

02 October, 2011

The Bonus Discs - McCartney & McCartney II

The paradox of the McCartney and McCartney II albums is that they are both very similar and very different albums.  Fundamentally, they are both the sound of Paul McCartney pottering about in his back shed seeing what sounds he could make.  He played all parts himself, making them solo albums in the truest sense of the word.  The main difference is that on the latter album, he’s working out how to use synthesizers and sequencers.  It’s perhaps for this reason that McCartney II is not remembered particularly fondly, as the sounds are now awfully dated while the more basic instrumentation of the first album do not.  However, at least every track on McCartney II has a beginning, middle and end.  If one wanted to be harsh, you could say there are really only four or five complete songs on McCartney and the rest is a collection of self-jams and half-songs butted together.

Be that as it may, enough has been written about these two albums over the last thirty (or forty, as the case may be) years, and this review is of the bonus discs that come with the deluxe editions of the albums.  Unlike Band on the Run, you have to buy the uber-deluxe versions in order to get all the previously unreleased material.  That’s a mark against it from the start because fans who want to have all the music don’t necessarily want an expensive coffee-table book as well, beautiful though the books are.  

The additional CD with McCartney scrapes to find enough interesting things to add.  Perhaps the most sought-after track is the full-length version of Suicide.  The story goes that the song was intended for Frank Sinatra but he rejected it.  Who would have thought Sinatra wouldn’t be keen on singing a song about domestic violence called ‘Suicide’?  Go figure!  Other out-takes are Women Kind and Don’t Cry Baby which is in fact, an instrumental version of Oo You – or Singalong Oo You if you like.  Other tracks on the bonus CD are Every Night, Hot as Sun and Maybe I’m Amazed recorded live in Glasgow (widely bootlegged as Wings’ Last Flight) and another version of Maybe I’m Amazed from the One Hand Clapping film, also available on the special edition of Band on the Run.

On the DVD side, we have a ten minute audio interview with Paul about the making of the album which is augmented by some pretty nice animation and this is followed some home movies that are soundtracked by the Loma Mar Quartet’s version of Junk (from the Working Classical album).  The original promotional film for Maybe I’m Amazed is included without remastered audio.  This is interesting because it adds an authenticity to the rather dated.  Hi-fi sound would have jarred with the visuals.  The version of Suicide from One Hand Clapping was not included in the cut of the film that was released with Band on the Run last year.  I guess they were saving that for this release.  The DVD is completed with four live versions, two from the Concert for the People of Kampuchea in 1979 and two from MTV Unplugged in 1991.

Maybe I'm Amazed - initial CD release

Maybe I'm Amazed - 2011 remaster

The deluxe edition of McCartney II comes with two bonus CDs and a DVD.  The first extra CD collects B-sides and previously unreleased tracks, some of which remind us of why they were unreleased.  Bogey Wobble sounds like an early 80s corporate video but it’s still better than All You Horse Riders.  In fairness, there’s no attempt to hide the fact that these are experimental recordings, never intended for release.  Also included is Wonderful Christmastime, recorded during the same sessions, and the live version of Coming Up, which was released as the A-side of the single in the US.  This is its first world-wide CD release.  The disc is bookended with two versions of Blue Sway.  It opens with the orchestrated version which was completed in 1986 (which explains why it sounds more like it’s taken from the Press to Play sessions than McCartney II) and concludes with the unadorned, original version.

The second bonus CD, only available on the deluxe edition is made up mostly of full-length versions of tracks that were edited down for album release.  While most of these edits simply took out unnecessary repetition and noodling, it’s still interesting to hear the tracks as they were initially recorded.

The DVD features a 25-minute special called Meet Paul McCartney, where Paul is interviewed about the new album by Tim Rice, no less.  McCartney interviews from this period are interesting because he wasn’t talking about the Beatles all the time.  This program also includes the original 4:3 version of the Waterfalls film clip, not the new, cropped ‘widescreen’ version.   There are all the video clips associated with the album, plus two live versions of Coming Up – one from the Concert for the People of Kampuchea and a home movie of Wings rehearsing.  Although Wings’ popularity was fading by 1979, it’s still interesting to see one of the biggest bands of the 70s crammed into a living room to practice.  Also included is the commentary on the making of Coming Up, previously included on The McCartney Years and the newly made video clip for Blue Sway.

Coming Up - 1993 remaster

Coming Up - 2011 remaster

Usually when reviewing bonus discs like this, I ask the question: Is it worth paying extra for?  I’m slightly torn on the answer for these releases because while there’s some very interesting stuff included, the question is whether you’re prepared to buy a hardcover book at a price anywhere between $US55 and $US120 to get them.  For sure, the books are sumptuous and contain lots of great photos and insight into how the albums were made, but ideally that should be a separate decision from the audio/visual content.  The McCartney album’s two bonus discs contain less than an hour of additional material between them.  McCartney II’s three extra discs, do give over two hours of rare & unreleased tracks. 

Both deluxe editions come with vouchers to download the high resolution, 24 bit, 96 kHz versions of the recordings.

Audio: LPCM Stereo
Worth paying extra for?  Not really.

McCartney II:
Audio: LPCM Stereo
Worth paying extra for?  Yes, but not this much.