Thursday, July 30, 2009

Flick of the Week: "That's the second bullet I stopped for you."

This week's Flick of the Week takes us with Orson Welles from the noir of Vienna, in The Third Man to the noir of the American-Mexico border with Touch of Evil.

In the years after World War Two, as the glory of his peaks of Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Andersons faded, Orson Welles became known in Hollywood as box office poison. The myth that Citizen Kane didn't make money came to be regarded as truth and backed up any reason not to hire Welles. As a result he spent most of his time in Europe acting in films of no worth or remembrance.

When Charlton Heston was hired to play the role of the Mexican detective, Vargos, he was told that Welles would be playing the role of dirty American cop, Quinlin. Heston just assumed that Welles would also be directing. When he found out he wasn't, Heston pretty much made it a condition of his acting in the movie. Thus Welles got the directing gig, and also the opportunity to re-write the script. Ironically Welles didn't actually want to act in the film, and only did so to fulfill a contract, but once he got the directing gig, he went to town - and did it his way.

The film involves the solving of the murder of a man and a woman blown up as they drove across the Mexico-US border by a bomb that had been placed in the boot of their car. As the crime occurred on the border, the police on either side work together. On the US side is Quinlan, a corrupt, racist cop who always gets his man (mostly because he plants evidence at the scene to frame him and ensure a conviction). On the Mexico side is Vargos, an honest detective from Tijuana, who (to Quinlan's disgust) is married to an American (Janet Leigh).

In the course of their investigation, Vargos comes to suspect the corrupt workings of Quinlan and moves to expose him, thereby setting off a game of cat and mouse by Quinlan and Vargos while they also try to solve the murder.

As with all noir films, the feel of the film is crucial. And this film is sleazy, rum soaked, jazz infused, and dark. Mostly it is shot at night - especially when over the Mexican side of the border. It also contains a bit of rock'n'roll when some hoodlums hired by Quinlan terrorise Janet Leigh.

I didn't get to see this film till only a few years ago. It was one of the those films that I kept knowing I needed to see. I knew I needed to see it when I first heard it referenced in 1992 when I saw Robert Altman's The Player. In that film what is mentioned (and parodied/honoured) is the famous long tracking shot which opens Touch of Evil. It is a brilliant bit of film-making that has justly been recognized as one of the greatest shots in the history of cinema.

I finally came across a DVD of it in Big W in a double pack with The Third Man. I rarely buy DVDs unseen, but with this one I knew the risk was worth it (and the price was right). In the end, it was no risk - the film is brilliant, and is a must have in any film lover's collection.

The movie is also seen as signalling the end of the noir genre of films. With the advent of the 1960s and the greater use of colour in films, the moody cigarette smoke infused black and white genre that had come about in the 1940s was showing its age. The films of French directors, Jean-Luc Godard and Fran├žois Truffaut (who ironically were both greatly influenced by this film and Welles in general), would spank cinema into the sixties, and would influence American directors to make crime films like Bonnie and Clyde, In the The Heat of the Night, and The French Connection. Noir was gone, until Roman Polanski rediscovered the genre with 1974's Chinatown.

Touch of Evil is truly a film that they don't make 'em like that anymore - for a start there's no way Charlton Heston and Marlene Dietrich (!) - she plays an aged Mexican prositute and Quinlan's old flame - would be cast as Mexicans now. And to be honest it was absurd even then, and yet it works. It works, just as the whole film does. A film made from a cheap, pulp novel that should have just been a quick, easy, forgettable movie, but instead was made into great cinematic art all due to the genius of Welles. And it starts with the amazing first 3 and half minutes.

Ironically after taking a risk with Welles, the film flopped, and Welles never directed another film of any note in America again.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Swimmers - they're all on the gear

Is any sport at the moment in a worse state than swimming?

The last time the Swimming World Championships were held in Rome it was 1994, and the controversy was over the drugged up Chinese swimmers (remember the shot of the muscle bound Le Jingyi?). This time round, there's no worries about swimmers being on the gear, it's all about wearing the gear.

Last night Brenden Rickard won the 100m Breaststroke. In doing so he took his PB from 59.65sec to a new World Record of 58.58secs. He broke the old world record set at last year's Olympics, by 33 hundredths of a second. The old world record would only have been good enough for third in Rome.

On Monday night Paul Biederman of Germany broke Ian Thorpe's 7 year old WR in the 400m Freestyle by one hundredth of a second. Biederman swam the race in 3.40.07. Last year in Beijing he swam the heats of the 400m Freestyle (his only race) in 3.48.03. That's some improvement for a 22 year old. (By comparison Thorpe did not improve on any of his world records after he turned 20).

Last night in the women's 200m Individual Medley, Stephanie Rice swam a time 1.42 seconds faster than the time she won at the Beijing Olympics - a time which was also a new world record. Last night she came second. The winner, Ariana Kukors, won in 2.06.15. Rice's time from Beijing of 2.08.45, would have only been good enough for 4th place last night.

I could go on (six world records fell on the first night)- and at the end the result would be the same - who gives a stuff. Because, as we all know, the records are meaningless. They owe little to performance of the swimmer, and everything to the performance of the swimsuit they are wearing.

The suits - like the Jaked 01 and the Arena X-Glide - were actually ruled illegal in May by the world swimming authority, FINA. Under pressure from the manufacturers, it reversed that decision and allowed the full-polyurethane suits to be worn. What it has decided instead is that the suits will be banned from next year, and not only that, even the suits worn last year at Beijing would be banned. In fact they propose going back to pre-2000 standards. Men will only be allowed to wear waist to knee suits, and women, shoulder to knee. Crucially the suits must be made of textile material - ie not polyurethane.

What this means is that the records set this year will survive for decades. Some - such as those set by Phelps (who is a freak already) - may never be broken. They will be the equivalent of the women's athletics world records that were set in the steroid fuelled 1980s.

Consider the men's 400m medley, Phelps WR set at Beijing is 4.03.84. The WR swam by Tom Dolan at the Sydney Olympics was 4.11.09 - and that time broke his own 6 year old world record by 0.46 secs, and that swim had broken a 3 year old record by 0.06 secs. So it took 9 years to take just over half a second off the WR - or about a 0.19% improvement. In the 9 years since 2000, Phelps has taken 7.25 seconds off the WR - or roughly a 2.8% improvement. Now Phelps is a rarity who is a world class freestyler, backstroker and butterfly swimmer, but do you really think he is that good? You know how long it took to knock 7 seconds off the WR prior to 2000? Try 16 years.

Now OK, I admit Phelps is a once in a hundred year's swimmer, but he is also swimming in patently advantageous swimsuits. Do you really think his WR will be beaten once that advantage is taken away? Phelps won't be able to beat his own times, so good luck anyone else....ever.

But what can you do? Does Thorpe's record deserve to reinstated? But then he wore a wrist to ankle bodysuit that would also be disallowed under the new rules. So that would hardly be fair.

What I would do is just start again.

This is not without precedent. In 1986, the Javelin was getting to the point where the world record at 100m+ was such that stadiums were struggling to contain the sport - if things kept going pretty soon people in the third row of the stands would be having to wear body armour. So the IAAF re-weighted the javelin, putting the centre of gravity forward, and thus making it harder to throw. They also reset all the world records, because of course the equipment was different, so no proper comparison could be made.

It's the same here, so let's do that here. On December 31 all the swimming world records should be put in the museum. Give everyone one year to set new times, and on December 31, 2010 set the new world records for each event.

Drastic yes, but at least then the times would mean something. The only other way is to blot out all times set post the time when the new suit came in - but that is too vague a time, and would create disputes over who was wearing a legit suit or not back in 1999 etc.

Better to say they were of a different time and start again.

UPDATE
Last night Michael Phelps lost the 200m freestyle to Paul Biederman. Last year at the Olympics Biederman came 10th in the 200m freestyle in a time of 1.47.09. Last night he won in a new WR of 1.42.00 (breaking Phelps' record of 1.42.96 - yep he took nearly a second off it). Phelps who was not swimming in the new suits, but in the "old" LZR Seepdo suit (the ones that were worn by all the winners at the Beijing Olympics), came second in 1.43.22. The last time the 200m freestyle WR was broken by such a large amount was back in 1975, when American Bruce Furniss broke his own WR.

Phelps has rather pettily come out and said he will likely boycott international swimming meets till the end of the year, when these new suits are banned. Interestingly he wasn't so concerned last year when the LZR suit that he wore gave swimmers an advantage over those who did not wear them. In fact the big reason this issue has come to a head is that the best suit is not one by world leader Speedo. Speedo weren't happy; though they are equally unhappy that FINA will ban the LZR (further evidence that FINA's decision is a smart one).

Whatever the case, this just reinforces the fact that all world records set in these new suits are jokes - just as were those set last year at Beijing in the LZR.

Scrub them all and start again!

Newspoll: ALP 57 - LNP 43 (or, Good Thing They Got Rid of Nelson)

Today's Newspoll came out with the ALP increasing its lead over the coalition from 55-45 to 57-43.

No surprise really.

Turnbull's Satisfaction rating improved a bit from 31% to 33%. His Dis-satisfaction also improved a bit from 55% to 50%. It must be quite pleasing to know that only half the nation thinks you are doing a useless job. Rudd on the other hand is heading back into the stratosphere. His Satisfaction rating went from 61% to 63% and his Dis-satisfaction rating fell from 28% to 26%.

In net terms, Rudd is +37; Turnbull is -17. That's a big difference. (What am I saying, calling that big is like saying the Grand Canyon is a big hole in the ground.)

Where it gets really interesting is on Preferred PM. Rudd now leads 66% to 16%. Turnbull is now at the Preferred-PM level that Nelson was when he was ditched. In fact this Newspoll, as Possum at Crikey points out, is pretty much exactly the same as the last one Nelson endured. The only difference is more people are dis-satisfied with Turnbull than they were with Nelson, and more people now prefer Rudd as PM than they did then.

That, as they say, is not good.

And yet there are no calls for him to go. No rumours of leadership takeovers. Tony Abbott has been doing the rounds as he launches his book; but no one really takes him seriously as a leadership contender. Rudd isn't that lucky. The reaction to this poll only serves to reinforce how lacking the Liberal Party is in the leadership stakes.

So where to from here for Turnbull and the Liberal Party? Well one could say things can only get better, and given that according to Antony Green's election calculator the ALP would win an election based on this poll by 105 seats to 42, we can surely say that things can't get much worse.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Turnbull's Policy Placebo

Today the Government released the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission report. It is a long (long!) report that contained 123 recommendations regarding the health system. Yep, 123!

It's actually a pretty policy-heavy document - and one that demands more detailed assessment than I am able to give (I'll leave that to people who get paid to write). But the politics is the important thing at the moment.

The report was conducted following the pledge by the ALP before the election to do something about the health system, because everyone knew it was a complete basket case. Prior to the election Rudd had said he would introduce a National Health Reform Plan and that if the states didn't get on board by mid 2009 he would consider holding a referendum for the federal Government to take over the running of the hospitals.

Prior to the release of the report the Government seemed to be sort of backing away from that - for example here's Health Minister Nicola Roxen on AM this morning:

SABRA LANE: So the Prime Minister, he promised when we was the opposition leader that he would consider a federal takeover if the states did not agree to fixing the system by mid-2009. We have reached that point. Are you hinting at now that there is going to be another 18 month discussion on this?

NICOLA ROXON: Look I think that the Prime Minister's commitments were very clear. We want the states to reform their system. We want to make sure and we are prepared to be partners in investing more to do that. But the report...

SABRA LANE: So you are signalling here that you are stepping away from that promise. That was an empty promise.

NICOLA ROXON: No look, the report makes absolutely clear - and it will be released in a short few hours and of course we will be delighted to talk with you again then - the report makes clear that we have to reform the system to deliver better outcomes for patients. It puts forward some clear options on how we can do that.It does involve the Commonwealth taking more responsibility for a number of areas of health…

The opposition - and Peter Dutton and Malcolm Turnbull in particular - thought they had the Government by the short ones. So before the report comes out, Turnbull (of course) barrels on in with this:

"Let's be quite clear about this. In 2007, Mr Rudd said to the Australian people he would fix the public hospital system by 30 June this year or he would take it over," he said.

"And he has done neither. He hasn't fixed it. Things have gone backwards and he hasn't taken it over.''

He said Mr Rudd's response was another broken election promise.

"He said he was going to bring down grocery prices. We had Grocery Watch - a complete flop,'' Mr Turnbull said.

"He said he was going to bring down fuel prices. Fuel Watch, another flop.

"He said he wasn't going to change the rules on the private health insurance rebate, he broke that promise too.

"One broken promise after another. At some point he's going to have to deliver.''

Mr Turnbull said the Coalition would not support the report's recommendation to raise the Medicare levy to 0.75 per cent to cover the cost of a new universal dental health care scheme, to be called Denticare.

OK, a couple things Malcolm, firstly Rudd never promised he would fix the health system by 30 June this year. He never promised to take over the hospitals by 30 June this year (might be nit picking, but it is nice to keep the facts involved here). This is what the ALP promised:

A commitment that a Rudd Labor Government will seek to take financial control of Australia’s 750 public hospitals if State and Territory Governments have not begun implementing an agreed National Health Reform Plan by mid-2009.
...
If by mid-2009 the Commonwealth and the States and Territories have not begun implementing the National Health Reform Plan, a proposition for the Commonwealth to assume full funding responsibility will be developed and put to the Australian people. Should the Australian people agree to a Commonwealth takeover of hospital funding, a model would be devised to ensure the future of State, private and community managed hospitals.

So the pledge was to hold a referendum on the issue if things don't seem to be going to plan (and importantly, the states were not playing ball). Why wouldn't Turnnbull want to mention the referendum? Perhaps they are a sore point with him...

A couple other things about his statement. OK, Grocery Watch failed - the Government should have funded Choice to do it right from the start - but to say Fuel Watch was a flop is a bit rich given the Liberal Party voted against it coming into place. You can't block something and then say it didn't work. It still seems to be working in Western Australia, and no one over there seems to be under any pressure to get rid of it. So that argument is just dumb. And given Turnbull likes to portray himself as some kind of person of intelligence, such arguments serve only to reinforce in my mind that he is prepared to say anything - including make things up - to become PM.

The other problem with Turnbull's quick out of the gate response is Rudd played him like a cheap violin. Here's the headline from the Liberal Party friendly Australian after Rudd's announcement of the report:

PM flags referendum on health reform

KEVIN Rudd has flagged a referendum to take control of the nation's healthcare system.

The Government has outlined a major transformation of health care in Australia. Commonwealth, state and territory leaders will meet later this year to examine the health system in the wake of the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission report, unveiled by Mr Rudd today.

Australians face paying a higher Medicare levy to fund a universal dental health scheme.

A preferred reform plan will be discussed at COAG in early 2010, but the Prime Minister has warned he will hold a referendum if agreement is not reached. “If there's no agreement to a comprehensive reform plan the commonwealth will proceed to seek a mandate from the Australian people for the proper reform of our health system,” he said.

Err, hang on. You mean Rudd is doing exactly what he promised to do? That's not right!!!!!

Now look you could say that Rudd had promised that by now he would have decided whether to hold a referendum at the next election, but seriously why would he do that now? The report doesn't even recommend the Commonwealth Government taking over the whole lot, and let's say he did come out today and say we're going to referendum on it. First thing I'd ask - what's the question? Then I'd ask if the referendum passes what will happen? Then I'd ask, do the experts think it's a good idea? Will it do any good? Then I'd ask was he going to consult with the public and medical sector before deciding to do this massive upheaval?

The experts have come out saying (according to The Australian):
The commission has recommended the commonwealth should run and fund all primary health care, basic dental care and aged care as well as indigenous health. It also suggested the commonwealth fund all outpatient services and 40 per cent of emergency admissions. The report also leaves open the option of eventually funding 100 per cent of hospital admissions, but explicitly said that should not occur straight away.

So the report gives Rudd an excuse not to take over the whole lot - but does put the onus on him to do something - and something drastic. I actually think that sounds like a good idea, but it obviously is not going to be easy to do.

However let's go back to Turnbull's criticism that Rudd has broken an election promise and that he should take over the hospitals. Does this mean the Liberal Party is now in favour of this idea? They're against the recommendation of introducing a dental cover (little wonder given the Liberals got rid of the Commonwealth Dental Plan), and yet he seems to be urging the Government to go further than the reports recommendation of taking over 40 percent of the funding. So he appears to be arguing the Government does less and more. Or is he arguing the Government should do something even though he thinks it is bad policy?

I have no idea - and I suspect neither does anyone else (including most of the Liberal Party MPs)

And you have to love this line:
"In 2007, Mr Rudd said to the Australian people he would fix the public hospital system by 30 June..."

Which suggests to me that Turnbull agrees the public hospital system was broken in 2007. Gee who was in power then?

So now we have the national political debate being fought on two issues at the moment - Health and Climate Change - both ALP favoured issues. Does Turnbull really want to go to the next election arguing against the Commonwealth Govt taking over 40 percent of the hospitals? He should wake up. At least he has realised on Climate Change that the Liberals are stuffed. Here he was on Insiders yesterday:

BARRIE CASSIDY: What's your view? Can you win the fight [on climate change]?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Your que... Well Barrie, every fight can be won. Every political, every election is winnable. Some elections will be harder than others. Certainly an election on climate – well, we've already experienced one election on climate change so we know what... Look, can I say this to you Barrie: the overwhelming mood of the community, wish of the community, is to have effective action on climate change.

You could see as he spoke that he realised just in time that he was about to admit the Liberals got slaughtered at the last election on climate change, and would be beaten next time as well. So expect him to do a deal come November on the ETS; and also expect him to get into line on Health by this time next year - once the utter lack of logic of his current position is used to hit him over the head during Question Time next month. At best he'll blather about the cost, and the more debt Australia will be in (or not - facts won't come into play).

But if Turnbull wants to fight Rudd on Health he will have to come up with more than "you sort of promised to do this and you haven't". He will actually have to come up with a policy. However, given the performance of Turnbull on this score in the last 10 months, I wouldn't hold my breath.

For Turnbull and the Liberal Party, any policy pills are just substitutes for the real thing. Unfortunately for them, the public can spot the fake ones a mile away.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

AFL Power List: Round 17 (or the Hawks are not dead yet)

After losing one of the many candidates for match of the year, the Hawks looked gone for the season; and then Essendon lost to Richmond. So now the Hawks are out of the 8 only on percentage.

Let’s break it down: Essendon, Hawks and Port are on 8 wins; Carlton on 9; (Home games in blue)

Essendon plays West Coast (W), Brisbane (L), Saints (L), Fremantle (W), Hawks (L). Which puts them on 10 wins.

Hawks play Port (W), Saints (L), Crows (?), Richmond (W), Essendon (W). Which puts them on 11 wins and 1 “maybe”.

Port plays Hawks (L), Fremantle (W), Carlton (?), Brisbane (L), North (W). Which puts them on 10 wins and 1 “maybes”.

Only 1 can make it – I’ll say whoever wins out of the Hawks and Essendon.

For the top 4:

Bulldogs plays Fremantle (W), West Coast (W), Brisbane (?), Geelong (?), Collingwood (?). Which puts them on 13 wins and 3 “maybes”.

Collingwood play Brisbane (?), Adelaide (?), Richmond (W), Sydney (W), Bulldogs (?). Which puts them on 13 wins and 3 “maybes”

Crows play Geelong (L), Collingwood (?), Hawks (?), Eagles (W), Carlton (?). Which puts them on 12 wins and 3 “maybes”

Brisbane plays Collingwood (?), Essendon (W), Bulldogs (?), Port (W), Sydney (W). Which puts them on 14 wins and two maybes.

Carlton plays Kangaroos (W), Geelong (L), Port (?), Melbourne (W), Crows (?). Which puts them on 11 wins and 2 “maybes”

Only 2 can get there; Brisbane has the best draw; but it’s anyone’s really. If Carlton do an amazing turn around in form they can still get to 13 wins; but doubtful that will be enough.

So the big games this week are Brisbane-Lions and Hawks-Port. By my reckoning the Pies need to win the game more than the Lions do if they want to finish fourth. Whoever loses the Hawks-Port game is finished (unless the Eagles beat Essendon).

Rank

LW

Team

Record

Comment

Safe

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1

1↔

St Kilda

17-0

The Saints are brutal.

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2

2↔

Geelong

15-2

Down 28 points in the last quarter, down your best back-man? No worries. Now they host the Crows.

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3

4

Collingwood

11-6

Huge win; the next two weeks they play the other 2 teams hoping for 4th spot – Brisbane and Adelaide.

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4

3

Bulldogs

11-6

The Bulldogs found out, that at best they’re playing to come runner’s up.

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5

5↔

Brisbane

11-6

A solid win, but now for the match against Collingwood to perhaps find out who will come fourth.

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6

7

Adelaide

11-6

Great win by the Crows. Now the reality of Geelong, Collingwood, Hawks to see where they will start the finals.

Need

some

wins

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7

6

Carlton

9-8

This week in The Age they talked about Carlton finishing 4th. I don’t think that will be the talk of this week.

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8

8

Hawthorn

8-9

A game they needed to win, should have won, but didn’t. With their low percentage they may need 13 wins to make the finals – which means beating everyone from here on in – including the Saints.

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9

9

Essendon

8-9

Pathetic; may have blown their finals hope.

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10

10↔

Port Adelaide

8-9

They tried their best.

No

chance

clip_image001[12]

11

11↔

Sydney

7-10

The Swans were about as impressive as the crowd size at Manuka.

clip_image001[26]

12

14

Richmond

4-12-1

A nice win for a team that at least still looks like it wants to win.

clip_image001[16]

13

13↔

North Melbourne

4-12-1

North now get a chance to restore some confidence to Carlton.

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14

16

Fremantle

4-13

Freo won the derby, perhaps because they had less to lose by winning than the Eagles.

clip_image001[4]

15

12

West Coast

4-13

West Coast played hard and will be disappointed they lost *cough*tanked*cough*.

clip_image001[22]

16

15

Melbourne

3-14

In fairness to the Demons, it was bloody cold in Canberra on Sunday, so I wouldn’t have wanted to play either.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Birth of a Nation

Jon Stewart recently came first in a poll on Time magazine's website as the most trusted newscaster in America; which is a pretty sad indictment on American TV journalism. Still given the way he slaughters the politicians and media in that country, it's little wonder the public prefers to trust a comedian who has hosted the Oscars than any number of supposed serious journalists.

A good example is his recent treatment of the "birthers" movement. The "birthers" is a group filled with right-wing, nut-jobs who achieved the pinnacle of their intelligence when they began to walk upright, which believes that Obama was born in Kenya not Hawaii, and thus he should not be President (because to be President of the US, you must be born in America - a dumb law, but what the hey, we'll leave that for another day).

The group has been getting airtime on the standard right-wing blogs and shock-jock talk-back radio shows, as well as the right wing editorial shows that are on the cable news networks. So idiotic is American politics (and particular elements of the Republican Party) that a Bill is going to go before the House to legislate that any Presidential candidate must produce their birth certificate before being eligible to run.

They, of course, say it has nothing to do with "doubts" about whether Obama was born in the USA. Yeah, it's all just an amazing coincidence. Dills.

But still; the good thing about the issue is it allows Stewart to do what he does best, and to do it brilliantly. Watch and enjoy.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Born Identity
http://www.thedailyshow.com/
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day

Friday, July 24, 2009

Your tax dollars at work

Joshua Gans on Twitter linked to this rather cool (in a nerdy, economics kind of way) tool, that shows where your tax dollars go. It's called taxcheck; and all you need to do is punch in how much you earn, and it works out how much income tax you'll pay, and then divides it up. For example if you earn $70,000 a year, you'll be happy to know that you'll pay about $14,850 in tax, of which $64 goes towards paying the Baby Bonus; $1.89 towards early childhood education, and $377 will go towards Government schools.

What is interesting is if you punch in what you expect to pay $100 in tax, you can find out the percentage make up of the tax pie.

So, for example, out of every $100 of income tax, 1 cent goes towards assistance for caring for dementia patients, 1 cent as well goes towards the National Gallery of Australia, $1.50 goes towards fuel tax credits for commercial users of heavy diesel vehicles, and 1 cent towards the cleaner fuels scheme.

It's an interesting way to see how the budget pie is divided, in effect, to see the priorities of the Government.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Doonesbury’s Generational Shift

I have been a fan of Gary Trudeau’s “Doonesbury” comic since coming across it in 1990. For many a year it was the main reason I bought The Australian. Now of course, due to the internet, I need not bother, as it can be read online (and the link for which you can see on the left).

The strip, which has been going since October 1970 (though it started first in the Yale Daily News in 1968), has chronicled and satirised American politics as good as any writer has over that period. Aside from the satire of Presidents, the cartoon is also a veritable Dickensian novel of plots and characters. 

On Monday, the strip covered the continuing story of the romance between M.I.T. college student Alex Doonesbury (the daughter of the eponymous Mike Doonesbury) with the young, wounded Iraq War vet, Toggle (so named due to his incessant use of ipods and other electronic gadgetry). Toggle had served in a unit under Army reservist B.D. who back in 1970 was Mike Doonesbury’s college room mate (see what I mean about Dickens). Toggle and Alex met on Facebook (Doonesbury has always kept pretty topical on social trends – one character, journalist Roland Hedley, has a twitter account), and she visited him over the college holidays.

The strip on Monday was a big one because while Toggle has suffered aphasia since being wounded, there has not been any mention of any other trauma from the war. In the first three panels we see for the first time the mental effects of the war, as Toggle has a nightmare about the moment before he got hit. And then for Doonesbury fans there is a big surprise in the final panel.

There in the bed next to Toggle is Alex – Alex who we have known since she was born on camera in 1988 (her mother J.J. is a performance artist), grow up, learn how to hack computers, become a web-cam celebrity in the early 2000s, get accepted to M.I.T. on the basis of an online poll (which M.I.T.students  hacked) – Alex now has a boyfriend and they ain’t just holdin’ hands and kissing.

In true Doonesbury (and Dickens) style, the strip is also a nod to older readers of how in 1977 we found out that Alex’s grandmother, Joanie Caucus, (who had been living in a college boarding house with among others, Mike and BD – of course!) was getting all snugly with Washington Post reporter (and future husband) Rick Redfern. In 1995, Trudeau put out a book  celebrating the 25th Anniversary, and it contained the strip that showed that the Joanie-Rick relationship had moved to the next level:

scan0007

The big difference though in the 32 years is the reaction. Back then, over 30 newspapers in America dropped the strip because neither Rick nor Joanie were married, and possibly because editors thought the scene was a bit too indiscrete – one newspaper only blocked out the final panel. Given that Joanie was a bit of a feminist icon it also got a reaction from university students – apparently a group of M.I.T. students picketed The Boston Globe newspaper building with signs reading “Joanie We Forgive You” (they took their comics more seriously back then).

Today there would be no newspapers dropping the comic showing Toggle and Alex in bed – although many readers will be thinking “Alex, you can do better!!!” – but it is a wonderful capsule of why I keep reading the comic – it deals with topical issues, has great character development, humour, and also rewards long time readers with subtle references to long past events.

It has long since past its cutting edge point, but it’s still pretty much the first thing I read every morning, and since that has been the case for nearly 20 years, Trudeau must be doing something right. It’s a pity no Australian cartoonist has developed anything similar – all Australia “political” cartoonists seem to favour the editorial style. A pity. Had I any artistic ability I would have been trying my darnedest to do an Australian version when I was a young uni student – oh well chalk that down to another of the many “I shoulda’s” in my life.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

All mountains, no molehills

This is what the riders in the Tour de France face tonight.

Just look at that first climb! If that wouldn't make you reconsider your career choices, then you should be considering your sanity. But then Tour riders are never the ones you would search for if you were after people to chat about sanity at a high school "talk about my job day".

That first climb takes the riders over a mountain higher than Mt Kosciusko (2,228m). Now, ok we here in Australia inhabit a pretty flat land, but even still, that is pretty impressive. And what's more, after doing it, they have to climb another mountain (you know, just for kicks - sort of a, hey that was fun, let's do it again type operation).

When I was young, I ran middle-distance races, and I always knew before the start of a 3,000m race that it was going to hurt - I hated sprinters who did their 12 second sprint then searched for a drink and a seat in the stands - but the pain of the Tour rider is a completely different zone. Tour riders start each day knowing they will probably face moments where they will feel their chest scream in pain as though some evil French imp has reached inside their stomach and is yanking on their oesophagus and heart, and for good measure is squeezing their lungs for laughs. They know the muscles in their thighs will gain the ability to speak, and will be shouting to their brain for mercy, then abusing the mind with the most foul language imaginable. And most likely at some stage the muscles will then sob like a man who has accidentally knocked on a CIA prison and enquired if anyone within knows where the nearest water-boarding party is happening.

They are true insane fools. And God bless them for it.

This year's Tour hasn't been as riveting as previous years. Basically it was over the moment the organisers decided to re-introduce the team time trial. It meant that the ridiculously loaded Astana team was assured of having the winner. And this was confirmed when Astana beat Team Saxo Bank (containing rider Andy Schleck) by 40 seconds, Cervelo Test Team (containing last year's winner Carlos Sastre) by 1 min 37 secs, and Team Silence-Lotto (Cadel Evans' team) by a whopping 2 min 35 secs.

The team time trial is a truly dumb inclusion for a race that rewards one person with victory. What it does do however is highlight how often the winner is the rider who has the strongest team. At least they have got rid of the time bonuses for finishing in the top three of a stage.

After the time trial, it meant the race was between Alberto Contador of Team Astana and Lance Armstrong of Team Astana. And when in Stage 7 Contador beat Evans, Sastre and Armstrong by 20 seconds the tour was over. This was confirmed on Sunday night when up the climb to Verbier, Contador beat Sastre by 1 min 6 secs with Evans a further 20 seconds back.

And yet with the Tour effectively over (Team Astana will not let anyone else control the race from here on in), they still have to suit up, jump on the bike and go through hell.

And yet tonight's is not the worst climb to come - that is on the second-last stage, the stage the organisers were hoping would decide the tour - the climb up Mount Ventoux (known as Mount Baldy because it is a volcanic waste land - no nice green hills here).



Just in case you doubt the torture involved, here's the final climb of the stage in detail:

In 21 kms you go up 1.6km. The black bits show where it is most steep - yep the last 2 1/2 km are the steepest.

It is on Mt Baldy where Sastre and Evans have their only hope. Team Astana will do all it can to protect Contador, but the stage is pretty flat up till that point, so no one will have had to work particularly hard (unlike previous years before final climb up Alpe d'Huez).

I don't hold out much hope for Evans, or Sastre (or anyone else) beating Contador up the Mountain - he is just looking far too strong. But damn, if I don't marvel at their ability to try.

I'd be hopping off and pushing the bike up, and thinking why I hadn't decided to pursue an easier career - pit-bull wrestling perhaps.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Daily Telegraph's Masterchef "Scoop"

While watching Masterchef tonight, I was also flicking around the various news sites, and at the point the show was down to revealing the final judging, The Daily Telegraph had this story on the front page of its website:

Poh wins MasterChef Australia
By Erin McWhirter, TV Editor
July 19, 2009 8:57PM
Source: The Daily Telegraph


AUSTRALIA'S culinary experts backed her and Poh Ling Yeow delivered, becoming the first contestant to win MasterChef Australia last night.


It was a case of third time lucky for the Adelaide artist who initially didn't make it past the first audition, was asked back, eliminated from the top 20 and returned one last time to claim victory over mother-of-three Julie Goodwin in the reality TV cooking contest.

It contained the following:

After pocking the $100,000 cash prize and a cookbook deal Ling Yeow says she's excited about launching her book Food From Mars.
With a heavy Asian influence, the MasterChef winner believes Australians have been waiting for a cookbook which explores her roots.


It then had a comment from the "loser" Julie:
Disappointed but humble, Goodwin praised her feisty opponent for her success.
"Poh's a very deserving winner," she said. "I'm proud of her, she's a good friend and I wish her every success in the world."


All I can say is "whoops". It was obviously a case of Erin McWhirter writing two stories, one of which would be published depending on who won, and then The Daily T deciding to spoil the ending, and completely stuffing it up. This is obvious because by 9:42pm they put out this story:

Julie wins MasterChef
By Erin McWhirter
From:
The Daily Telegraph
July 19, 2009 9:42PM

A MAJORITY of Australia's culinary experts didn't back her, but MasterChef Australia contestant Julie Goodwin went from underdog to winner last night.
In a shock victory, the mother-of-three's old fashioned home-style cooking beat out Poh Ling Yeow's passion for Asian cuisine in one of Australia's most-anticipated TV cooking showdowns.


Both articles had a similar sentence that gives away they were both written earlier. In the "Poh wins" article there is:
However, for Ling Yeow her immediate focus is on returning to her painting after neglecting it for four months.
The established artist is yet to finish all her pieces for an exhibition of her works at the Hill Smith Gallery in Adelaide in November.


In the "Julie wins" article there is:
For Ling Yeow, 35, her immediate focus is on returning to her painting after neglecting it for four months due to her MasterChef Australia commitments.
The artist says she has been busy painting works to display in an exhibition the Hill Smith Gallery in Adelaide is holding in November.


So The Daily Telegraph in an attempt to scoop the field has completely revealed its lack of professionalism, and absolutely ballsed it up.

From the organisation that did the fake Godwin Grech email and the "oops, they were not really Pauline Hanson" nude pics, I would expect nothing less.

UPDATE:
The "tweet" of the night goes to @AbuSufyaan: Exclusive: Telegraph announces Jeff Goldblum nearly wins #masterchef Australia. Came second to Richard Wilkins.

Brilliant.

UPDATE: The Daily Telegraph has now taken the "Poh Wins" page down, but Crikey has made sure you can still get it all. Crikey also shows that Channel 10 was complicit in the whole shambles - by getting Julie and Poh to provide answers to journalists as though they had either won or lost. Gotta love "reality TV".

AFL Power List: Round 16 (or it’s a race of one)

The way the Saints killed the Crows this week should scare all other sides. The Crows were made to look like kids, and I can’t see the Saints being beat in the minor round.

Collingwood’s loss to the Hawks would have them worrying, but their draw should mean they get enough wins to get in the finals. The Hawks’ win is good, but they will still need to win all four against Port, the Crows, Richmond and Essendon to get to 12 wins. The last round match between the Hawks and the Bombers way well decide 8th spot – though at the moment a lot of sides look like ending on 12 wins, so percentage will be crucial.

Rank

LW

Team

Record

Comment

Safe          

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1

1

St Kilda

16-0

The Saints slaughtered the  Crows. Only the Bulldogs (this week) and Hawks I think stand between the Saints and an undefeated season.

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2

2

Geelong

14-2

A easy, but hardly sparkling win over the Demons, especially compared to the way the Hawks stormed over the Pies. Suddenly the GF replay looks interesting.

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3

4

Bulldogs

11-5

A strong win over the Bombers showed they’re definitely a top 4 side. This week they play the Saints to see if they’re good enough to be in the top 2.

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4

3

Collingwood

10-6

Woah! Up by 11 points at half time. 9 goals later it was all over. A big set back.

Looking good  

 

 

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5

5

Brisbane

10-6

A hard slog in wet conditions, but the win sets them up for a good run at the finals.

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6

8

Carlton

9-7

A great final term will have the Blues feeling chock full of confidence as they get ready for Collingwood this week.

Need

some

wins

     
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7

6

Adelaide

10-6

The Crows were outclassed. They’re 2 years behind the Saints at the moment. If Craig doesn’t play Walker this week, then he is the dumbest coach going round.

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8

9

Hawthorn

8-8

That sound you heard is the Hawks bandwagon starting up.

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9

7

Essendon

8-8

At 8 and 8, the Bombers should be thankful that Port and the Hawks have such lousy percentages.

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10

10

Port Adelaide

8-8 

Beating West Cost in Adelaide doesn’t tell us a lot – this week against the Crows will.

No

chance

 

 

 

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11

11

Sydney

6-10

As the finals almost become mathematically impossible, the introduction of Jesse White will at least have the fans smiling

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12

12

West Coast

4-12

The Eagles play Freo – if they win they lost a priority pick. Do they want to win?.

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13

13

North Melbourne

4-11-1

A draw, but after being up with 1 1/2 minutes to go it will feel like a loss.

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14

14

Richmond

3-12-1

A draw, but after being up 42 points it’ll feel like a loss.

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15

15 

Melbourne

3-13

No one expected them to win, and they lived up to expectations.
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16

16

Fremantle

3-13

They kept the Lions honest, but lack of talent always comes out in the end.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Coming Soon: Balibo

I first heard early last year that Robert Connolly (The Bank) was doing a film starring Anthony La Paglia on the Balibo Five story. Immediately I had a feeling this could be a good Australian film - I mean really good - Lantana good; maybe Gallipoli good.

The trailer for the film came out a couple weeks ago, and I have to say it looks great. Too many Australian films look like they were made for bugger all, and even the "expensive ones" still look like they cost less than $5 million. This one looks like some money has been spent, and my high hopes remain.

It won't be a fun film - I don't see much hope for a happy ending. But if it is done well, this could be really worth seeing.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Song a Year: 1991, That Ain't Bad

It's easy in this post Triple J Hottest 100 of All Time world we now inhabit, to think back to 1991 and ponder, ah yes that was the year Nevermind came out, oh how glorious it was to listen to the mosh pit wonder of sweaty druggie shirt excess that was "Smells Like Teen Spirit". And yet, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" really only hit the Australian scene right at the end of 1991. Nevermind entered the Aussie charts in November, and "Smells Like Teen Spirit" entered the charts at the end of December before peaking at the somewhat unamazing place of Number 5 in March of 1992.

So, much as it is a song that reverberates in my mind when I think back to my largely not misspent-enough youthy days at university, it isn't a song of the year for me. Nope, in 1991 there were other much more resonant songs for me.

Another song that came out in November of that year, U2's "The Fly" had a pretty big impact - massive U2 fan that I am. But that wasn't it. Neither was Julee Cruise's "Falling" from Twin Peaks, even though for at least the first 6 months of 1991 that was the show to be known to be watching (ok, bugger all of it made sense, but you just had to watch it because it was bizarre, sexy, fun and well because if you didn't the other kids might not think you were cool).

But no, for me the song that year was one that didn't even get released as a single - it came out on an EP, "Tingles", an EP that sold out in Adelaide by the time it got to Number 1 - a good 3 months after I bought it. The song was "That Ain't Bad" and the band was Ratcat.

Looking back, some 18 years on (oh geez, that is a long time ago) it is easy to forget that Ratcat were a Triple J band. They were a full-on indie band that triumphed over the crap being played on commercial FM radio. Just how bad was music back then? Take a gander at the top 25 songs that year on the ARIA charts:

1. (EVERYTHING I DO) I DO IT FOR YOU - BRYAN ADAMS
2. TINGLES (EP) - RATCAT
3. GREASE MEGAMIX - OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN & JOHN TRAVOLTA
4. THE HORSES - DARYL BRAITHWAITE
5. YOU COULD BE MINE - GUNS N' ROSES
6. READ MY LIPS - MELISSA
7. MORE THAN WORDS - EXTREME
8. I'VE BEEN THINKING ABOUT YOU - LONDONBEAT
9. JOYRIDE - ROXETTE
10. THE SHOOP SHOOP SONG (IT'S IN HIS KISS) - CHER
11. DO THE BARTMAN - THE SIMPSONS
12. UNFORGETTABLE - NATALIE COLE WITH NAT "KING" COLE
13. I'M TOO SEXY - R.S.F. (RIGHT SAID FRED)
14. LOVE... THY WILL BE DONE - MARTIKA
15. I TOUCH MYSELF - DIVINYLS
16. RUSH - BIG AUDIO DYNAMITE II
17. FANTASY - BLACK BOX
18. RHYTHM OF MY HEART - ROD STEWART
19. RUSH RUSH - PAULA ABDUL
20. BETTER - SCREAMING JETS
21. I WANNA SEX YOU UP - COLOR ME BADD
22. ICE ICE BABY - VANILLA ICE
23. SADNESS PART 1 - ENIGMA
24. HERE I AM (COME AND TAKE ME) - UB40
25. 3AM ETERNAL - THE KLF

I mean, let's be honest, there's a fair few tracks there that would make it onto anyone's list of "Songs I'd be forced to listen to in Hell" CD. That I am here now humming "Read my lips and take dictation... if you want to wait till later/ hands of my detonator" is beside the point.

As an aside seeing "Rush", makes me think of how cool I felt when I first heard Big Audio Dynamite's other hit that year, "The Globe" and I mocked it for sampling "Should I Stay or Should I Go" by The Clash. I felt less cool when someone pointed out to me that the lead singer and guitarist of Big Audio Dynamite was Mick Jones who was also the lead singer and guitarist of The Clash. Oh well, it was nice few minutes of cred that I had.

I first heard part of "That Ain't Bad" on the bus back from Flinders University (the glorious 222 - Flinders Uni to Gepps Cross). For a good week or so I kept hearing parts of it on my walkman on the bus. It seemed to always be the song that Triple J was playing just as I turned on my walkman, or would be the song that they would play at the precise moment I would decide to listen to another station.

I only heard them name the band once, and couldn't remember if it was Ratcat or Catrat or Ratcatcher or something along those lines - either way I thought it was a totally cool name, and very quickly they were becoming my band.

You see there's something rather thrilling about being at uni and coming across a band that no one else really knows. It's why the indie rock scene is so beloved by uni students, and why they hate it when "their band" becomes popular. When you are young and trying desperately to be unique in this world, you are desperate to find something that is your own little secret; something that even if you mention to others, you will only be greeted with a blank look (so you can roll your eyes and ponder how anyone could be so behind the times). And thus you listen to Triple J, because they'll play music that Triple M or Nova will never so much as spit on.

The only problem is that by and large, a good 70-80 percent of what gets played on Triple J is total crap (was then, is now, will be in 20 years time - that's ok that's the whole point, you don't want people listening, in case they hear your music and it becomes popular). And so when you find something in that sea of unlistenable music, you cling to it as tight as you can. And so it was with me and Ratcat.

The song "That Ain't Bad" was a kind of grungy number that anticipated the sound somewhat of "The Fly" It had a great running guitar lick that was made for some excellent air-guitar moves, and an incessant drum beat that just got your head rocking back and forth. The lyrics were easy; the chorus, simple (wasn't hard to remember "you...ew..ew..eww... I love you"). It was just a great bit of pop, that because it was only being played on Triple J, was ok to listen to around uni halls - and at my boarding college a good number of times I had it blaring out of my room window across the lawns to us sitting around benches chillin' - because of course I was the only one who owned the actual tape.

And yet it didn't last. Simon Day, the lead singer was far too pretty, and the band itself didn't know whether it was a grungy indie band or the next INXS. It actually supported INXS on its Australian tour in 1991, and well the young girls then just went mad for them. They brought out their first album - Blind Love, with the very poppy single "Don't Go Now". They went Number 1, they were played on Triple M and SAFM. And well that was it really.

No more were they to be heard on Triple J, and while I did buy Blind Love, no longer did I cling to them tightly, no longer did their songs blare out from my dorm room window. Was it because they sold out? Perhaps. Was it because they were now posters on the walls of teenage girls? Maybe. Was it because they never actually wrote another decent song? Who can say.

But for a few bright early months of 1991, Ratcat were cool, and so was I for liking them before everyone else. And "That Ain't Bad" still rocks even though the unis now have students who weren't even born when it was making the charts.




And just to remind you of how bad things were musically, here's Melissa Tkautz singing "Read My Lips". Good luck getting through it all.