Monday, November 30, 2009

Newspoll: ALP 57 – LNP 43 (or the Libs find their base)

So the Newspoll (and the Nielson poll) came out today, showing the ALP getting a slight movement up from the last one of 56-44 to the pretty mundane  level for the Rudd Government of 57-43. All week members of the Liberal Party have been banging on about the Libs ignoring their base. Well in this poll the Liberal Party primary vote was 30%, the ALP’s primary was 43%. That figure alone might be something for Liberal Party strategists to ponder, especially when the National Party (whom some fool MPs were worried would get the base’s support) was good for only 5%.

You don’t need to be a genius to work out that the Liberals will not win Government by trying to appeal to the 5% of the population who are National Party supporters.

Turnbull got a little bump in his satisfaction rating (up 2% to 36%) , but got slammed as preferred PM. Rudd now leads him on that measure 65-14.

The most interesting question asked was if Turnbull was right to support the passing of the ETS: 53% supported it and a miniscule 26% believe he should have blocked it (that 26% by the way is known as the Liberal base).

So there we have it, Turnbull is in danger of being dumped as leader because he is supporting a policy that a majority of the Australian support. And don’t for a minute believe the bull that the Minchin-Abbott Co just want to delay the ETS. You don’t virtually split the party over the timing of passing a piece of legislation; you only go to the point they have if you are out and out against the policy. Let’s say they delay the vote and pass it in March, do you really think anyone will really understand why the hell hey did?  Turnbull knows this is the case, which is why he never talks about delay as being acceptable, he (rather echoing the ALP’s line) has made the game into pass or be a climate change denier.

So what will happen tomorrow? First there will be a vote on whether there should be a spill. If this doesn’t pass then Turnbull wins, and God knows what happens to the party. Firstly a few people like Greg Hunt should ante up and tell the Abbott side to piss off to the back bench and keep quiet. Turnbull likes to say the Liberal Party needs to be a progressive party, well the progressives in the party need to start showing some mettle.

If the spill motion carries, then Turnbull will stand and who else? Most likely Joe Hockey. Abbott is seems will stay out of the way. Who will win? Does it matter at this point? If Turnbull were to win, Hockey is untenable as shadow Treasurer. Now ok, he has been woeful in the position, but it means as well that Turnbull has lost a key progressive from his front bench. Also if Turnbull wins, it won’t be by much and unless someone tells Abbott and Minchin to either shut up or quit the party then this will just be a slow death for all involved.r478558_2424770

If Hockey wins, well then it is worse. For a start Turnbull will be off the front bench. Now look, I have not been a big Turnbull fan, but does anyone seriously think there is someone on the Liberal’s backbench who could replace him? Who do you want to pick from, Kevin Andrews? Alex Hawke, Patrick Secker?? Presumably he is getting backing from Abbott and Minchin on the proviso he delays the ETS Bill. Well then immediately he becomes a puppet leader. Rudd and the ALP will absolutely kill him. It will be ugly to watch. Every Question Time will be a free-fire zone. If Hockey asks a question, Rudd will no doubt wonder out loud whether Abbott gave him permission to ask it etc etc. The phrases “sold his soul”, “spineless” and “right wing puppet” will get a solid work out. And as his demeanour in Question Time in the last 2 years has shown, when things don’t go his way in Parliament, Hockey switches into a being a bit of a grump (oh Mister Speaker!!), the ALP knows this and will taunt him and taunt him. 

If Hockey wins and the right agrees to pass the ETS, well then the Liberal Party has gotten nowhere except they’ve replaced Turnbull with Joe Hockey for no good reason. The right wing will think it can do anything it wants and will keep pushing the Party to the right, Hockey will be slaughtered at the next election, and the party will be stuffed.

So well done Tony Abbott, Nick Minchin and all the other dolts. You’re on track to get a maximum 30% of the vote at the next election (and you know what, I’m betting the ALP will let you have it).


Tony Abbott has just held a press conference saying he couldn’t accept the deal with Hockey to have a conscience vote on the ETS – and too right, if you have a conscience vote on this major bit of policy are you even a political party? Abbott has said he will run against Turnbull. So tomorrow it will be either Turnbull v Abbott or Turnbull v Abbott v Hockey (though I doubt he’ll run now). Either way, my money is on Turnbull, I wouldn’t be surprised if the spill motion doesn’t even get up. What an utter rabble. Two weeks of stupidity for nothing.


As soon as I wrote that Turnbull would win I remembered that last week 35 people voted for Kevin Andrews… only 7 people need to switch their vote. I still think Turnbull will win, but I’m a bit less sure now.


Ok all the press gallery journos think Abbott would beat Turnbull. I’m not sure Hockey will run, and I just can’t believe a party would elect Tony Abbott as leader. Part of me hopes they do, because I would love to see if the ALP can get 65% in a newspoll. So I am still putting my money on Turnbull; but if Hockey does put his hand up… well I’m guessing he’ll win for no other reason than enough MPs will think after all this fuss they might as well elect someone new.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Yet another boring day in politics

For those who wonder why I am a political tragic, today is one of those days that just makes it all clear.

From about midday till 3pm, the internet at my work was down and so I was somewhat annoyed because not only were a stack of work emails not getting though, it also meant I was missing the last Question Time of the year. But when the net came back I quickly worked out that Question Time was going to be very irrelevant.

While Julia Gillard was having great fun making jokes about Kevin Andrews, the twitter feeds of the Canberra press gallery journos starting coming out in floods about rumours that Tony Abbott was going to resign from the front bench, and possibly challenge. Then as soon as Question Time finished things got progressively more mad as word came that Senators Minchin and Abetz were also going, so too Sophie Mirrabella, and Tony Smith and more and more. abbott_wideweb__430x286

They were all resigning over the ETS. But really they were resigning over climate change and the future of the Liberal Party. Turnbull acknowledged this in his press conference at 7pm where he came out defiant and talked straight away about climate change – not the ETS. Forget whatever Abbott, Abetz and Minchin and Co say, they’re not voting against the TES because they think it’s “flawed” – “flawed” policies are amended (as this one has been) and then passed – no they are voting against it because they don’t actually believe climate change is real. You only had to listen to Eric Abetz yesterday in the Senate to understand this.

And what we have here is not an issue of leadership – this is an issue of the Liberal Party.

When Turnbull beat Nelson it was because a small majority of the party believed Turnbull was a better chance to lead them to victory at the next election. It was the same reason Rudd beat Beazley, and Latham beat Crean, and Howard took over from Downer, and so on and so on… This time however, it is not about winning the next election. If it was, Hockey would have most likely challenged Turnbull by now, given he generally wins the “who would you prefer to lead the Liberal Party” polls. But Hockey knows the Liberal Party won’t win the next election, and I am betting so too does the rest of the party. What is happening now is a fight over what the Liberal Party means.

It is also evidence that being in Government hides all sorts of divisions. Under Howard, everyone toed the party-line (as indeed everyone in the ALP is under Rudd), but when you are in opposition the reason for keeping quiet about disagreements starts to fade, especially when after 2 years of opposition and supposedly keeping it all together you find you’re still only getting around 45% of the vote in every poll.

Turnbull has remained as leader despite his horrible poll numbers ironically because of Rudd. Rudd and the ALP are so far in front that no one thus far has been bothered challenging Turnbull because… well why bother? What reason would anyone want to lead the party to an inevitable defeat?

But now things have changed. My view is that the conservative rump of the party, led by Abbott and Minchin have decided that having a moderate leader is pointless if all you can get is 45% of the vote, and that by running an anti-ETS line they will appeal to their base (they may even think they will increase their vote – possibly they are that delusional). The problem is of course, the base was already going to vote for them. The logic that because people hate the ETS they would switch their vote to the ALP is ludicrous. And as for worrying about the National Party winning votes? Please. Such concerns make one suspect some people in the Liberal Party don’t know anything of the history of Australian politics. r477026_2411236

So where to from here? Turnbull is defiant as ever – great courage as ever, but also as ever zero acknowledgment of the political realities surrounding him. He is the captain of the Titanic acting like he can still get the ship to New York. 

But let’s look at the options – Turnbull survives as leader… what the hell do Abbott and Co do? What the hell do the Nationals do? You have to ask yourself at this point in what sense is the LNP a coalition? With Turnbull as leader we have a split in the ranks with at least around 40% against him. If Abbott wins, well then you have Greg Hunt, Joe Hockey, George Brandis and Co suddenly having to stand up with a guy who thinks climate change is a joke, and who will campaign on getting rid of the ETS? In what sense is that stable?

Some pundits have suggested Joe Hockey could be the peacemaker. But he is essentially in line with Turnbull on every issue, and he certainly isn’t about to start saying climate change is bunkum; so the Abbott and co division remains.

It says something of the state of the Liberal Party that talk of a split is not totally beyond reason. I don’t really see it happening, but then they way things are moving in the Liberal Party who knows. This is a party with two largely opposed camps. One is the “liberal” camp, one is “conservative”, both see themselves as the true branch of the party. Under Howard the conservatives reigned supreme. Since then, the liberal side has gained the upper hand, and the conservatives are not happy – especially when the polls are so bad.

And what about the actual ETS Bill? Anthony Albanese came out saying the vote will be held at 3:45pm on Friday, and absurdly it seems like Minchin and Abetz are staying on as members of the front bench until the Bill is voted on. Just madness all round. Perhaps Abbott will call for a spill, and if he wins they’ll try and vote against it, but it’s likely at least 7 Liberal Party Senators will vote for it anyway, so where does that leave the Liberal Party?

This is bizarre stuff, and not likely to be resolved anytime soon. santamaria

In the 1950s, the DLP split was urged on through Bob Santamaria and his anti-Communist line , now it seems the conservative side of the Liberal Party are being urged on by media types such as Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine and Janet Albrechtsen and their anti-climate change line. Whether they will be foolhardy enough to actually split from the Liberal Party, I can’t say – it seems just too big a step to make. And in some ways it doesn’t matter, because the Liberal Party at the moment, like the ALP during the DLP years, is completely unelectable.

Rudd, when he devised his ETS strategy, did it knowing full well this was an issue that would wedge the Liberal Party; but not even he could have seen the wedge working so well. It all makes it clear that Rudd is easily the best politician of his generation. Here’s what has happened in the last 2 years: Howard lost the election and his seat; Costello saw the numbers and knew he couldn’t win the next election and left; Nelson didn’t last a year; Turnbull has been mired in a preferred PM number of around 20%, and is now terminal as leader; and the Liberal Party seems to be attempting to commit suicide. These things didn’t all happen by accident. Rudd has played Turnbull and the Liberal Party like a cheap piano, and if there is one thing you know about Rudd is that when he has an opponent down, he goes in for the kill, so expect Rudd to say or do anything he can to increase the breech in the Liberal Party.

An amazing end (almost) to the political year. And a great week for political tragics.

Good for the country? Well not if you believe a democracy needs a strong opposition…

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On the QT: Politics by Twitter feed

A weird, weird Question Time. On this, the day that the Liberal-National Party Rooms were in fiery debate over the ETS Bill, the Opposition decided to start asking the Government non-asylum seeker questions. Obviously this did not involve asking questions about the ETS. Instead we had the Libs going back into the default mode they were prior to the asylum seeker issue cropping up – namely asking questions and ending them with some very lame, obviously focus groped statements. In this case it was “broken Government promise”.

So we had Hockey asking about debt, Pyne about education, Dutton about health. The weird thing was they asked all their questions to Rudd instead of Swan, Gillard or Roxon. Perhaps the Libs now think after 2 years of Government with record high approval ratings that Rudd is a weak link in the Government….

But look this was all irrelevant (OK, QT is often irrelevant, but today more so than usual), what really mattered was what was happening in the joint coalition party room.

And what was happening? Madness was what. It really went ballistic when it emerged that Andrew Robb had come against the ETS… suddenly the opposing camp had “gravitas”.

After Question Time, the meeting resumed and very quickly rumours of spill motions and what not came filtering through the twitter accounts of various Canberra press Gallery journos. It was a fascinating day for political tragics, as the twitter feeds of the journos relayed in real time what was happening, or what was thought to be happening. Here’s a snap shot of the three best of the day to give a taste:

@samanthamaiden (The Australian)

  • Turnbull fights for deal. Reports Andrew Robb now backing Minchin to delay a deal
  • rebel liberal MPs now threatening to call for a leadership spill if turnbull refuses secret ballot on ets.
  • Turnbull supporters also putting the pressure on mps to cut a deal
  • Unconfirmed reports that there will be a leadership vote. Wild times. Stand by
  • its a cliffhanger in the libs partyroom: 33 all
  • the suspense is all to much for nearly a dozen MPs after five hours - they're leaving
  • 46 33 against some suggestion turnbull has walked out. another meeting at 8pm
  • joe hockey now trying to reconvene meeting at 8pm claims turnbull stormed out 39 speakers against 33 for
  • quote of the day: lib mp when asked if turnbull stormed out "he walked very briskly"
  • can hockey put humpty dumpty back together again. i doubt it. just asked senator if its a spill at 8pm said "dunno!"
  • it's on. leadership spill. fer sure
  • kevin andrews confirms could be candidate majority opposed
  • abbott was looking pretty serious squirrel when he went back into meeting at 8pm. wonder if he will emerge as leader ?
  • MPs are texting no spill ?
  • bedlam turnbull out noone knows what it means
  • brandis and birmingham out and into leaders office wont say if spill is on, over or off
  • bimingham says turnbull won clear support to back ets ! would assume he's wiping blood off before presser?
  • ok were on steely julie is here and macca. "saved thousands of jobs" this is surreal
  • I’m the leader I’ve made the call- turnbull says
  • crikey how many times is he going to say he's the leader
  • its crash through and i fear very shortly..crash
  • julie a little luke warm there. human shield
  • turnbull is an interesting cat. he will split the party to give PM a win before Copenhagen. frank sinatra defence
  • i did it myyyyyyyyyy waaaay

@latikambourke (fairfax radio)

  • Tuckey's call for a leadership spill has been ignored and debate is continuing, says one Lib
  • Another source says 'not long now,' which I assume means not long until the decision is made. Another source says it's evenly split
  • Source says still 10-15 people to speak on ETS (3 mins each) so still some time to go on the coalition partyroom meeting
  • half a dozen more to go with the yes and noes locked at 33 all
  • Turnbull supporter says all is under control and they have the numbers.
  • Rebels doubt likelihood of any leadership spill. Tuckey's muted attempt may be as good as we'll get tonight?
  • Source says Turnbull declaring victory, didn't have the numbers so declared it while Senators were in a division
  • Yep, source says Malcolm's definitely declared it at 50-35.
  • Sources say mass confusion and another partyroom meeting at 8pm to clear up the outcome.
  • Malcolm chucked a wobbly apparently and said the party had to back the Shadow Cabinet. Dissenters playing down supporters' claims of MT win.
  • Andrews says if this is a spill he's a candidate.
  • Definitely a spill!
  • Everyone out. No spill. Source says lib exerted his authority. From Turnbull supporter.
  • Bronwyn Bishop walked said it was an extraordinary meeting. Confirmed Turnbull didn't have the numbers and looked as though been crying
  • Turnbull, 'i've saved thousands of jobs,' (including my own, just)
  • Turnbull, 'i'm the leader, I've made the call.'

@David_Speers (Sky news)

  • turnbull critics concede he will win today and now doubt any leadership spill
  • No decision in Coalition...they will go back into talks after question time.,
  • Turnbull backers still confident he has 2/3rds support. But on speakers so far it's about 50-50. No-one has threatened leadership spill.
  • rebel liberal MPs now threatening to call for a leadership spill if turnbull refuses secret ballot on ets
  • Key critic of ETS deal tells me only "murmers" of leadership spill if they don't get a secret ballot. But nothing serious.
  • wilson tuckey has moved a spill motion
  • According to a separate source Tuckey threatened spill in his speech, but didn't actually move a spill motion
  • short break in Coalition meeting for Senate division. they're about to go in with 10-15 still to speak. latest estimate 50-40 for Turnbull
  • source says 40-33 against a deal, but Turnbull declared victory (he must be counting the shadow cabinet as 20 more on his side)
  • turnbull has definitely declared victory - several sources
  • ok. they're going back in at 8pm for Turnbull to formally declare result. but he's already declared victory with Senators out of room. odd
  • source: Leadership spill at 8pm
  • Hearing there will be a leadership spill at 8pm. A vote on Turnbull's leadership. if he's dumped, then options considered. hmmm
  • several other sources say they're not sure if there's a spill at 8pm
  • andrews says he may run if spill called
  • If spill successful, sources expect Tony Abbott will take leadership
  • no spill
  • lib source: spill thurs morning

It was fascinating to see news in action – the rumours, the words from sources, the missteps that wouldn’t ever make the final copy, the reactions, the commentary. This is what Twitter, and the net, does best. I don’t know if once goes behind the paywall whether their journalists will have to cease twitter as well, but if so it would be a sad day.

Today these journalists (and the others who also were tweeting) gave their followers unfiltered news. No one viewed it as equivalent to an article in a newspaper, or a radio report. You forgive spelling errors, you forgive misreports – the incorrect call that a leadership spill was on. To suggest that these were errors of reportage are to completely miss the point. This was news as it happened, and thanks to twitter we could follow it “live” AND (importantly) participate. Many people were retweeting comments, many were replying to the various journos and were getting responses to questions, others were tweeting friends and followers, commenting on events, making jokes, predictions and generally having fun with the news and the sense of being almost on the inside.

Today was an example of the future of the media. It was fantastic.

Monday, November 23, 2009

On the QT: Parliament House ping pong

Question Time continued its ongoing nadir of level of debate. The Opposition asked about asylum seekers; the Government asked Dorothy Dixers about the ETS.

And back and forth it went. Greg Combet had the most fun of the day relating some of Tony Abbott's better lines about how the “argument for climate changes is crap” and other bon mots which merely proved that Abbott reads Andrew Bolt’s blog religiously. The back and forth pattern was only disturbed when Chris Pyne got up to ask about chaplains in schools; which was rather odd given the Government had announced on the weekend that they were extending the scheme till 2011. Apparently the Libs now want this extended indefinitely, which is rather stupid but oh well, you have to try something I guess.

And that was it really. All rather boring and pointless.

After Question Time things got a bit interesting with all the machinations going on in the Liberal Party room. The laugh of the day came from former Minister for Immigration, and the architect of Work Choices, Kevin Andrews saying: "At the moment we have a leader but I am a loyal servant of the party and I will do any job that I am asked to do." Yep, the Liberals have got to the point where Kevin Andrews thinks someone might be dopey enough to ask him to be leader. Geez, and John Howard thought he had it bad with the Joh for PM campaign in 1987. What with Abbott, Minchin and now Andrews, Turnbull must feel like he’s dealing with a Joh for PM campaign where Joh is already in the party room.

Tonight came word via David Speers of Sky News that Turnbull was happy with Government's final ETS offer. More than 75% of demands met, much better than expected.

So I guess this means he’ll argue it should be supported. We now wait to see how many cross the floor or (as I expect most will) abstain.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dumb Films I Can’t Resist

Call them guilty pleasures, call them underrated gems, call them pure shite. For me they are dumb films I can’t resist. They’re films that I have seen far too often because they’re shown far too often on TV. And yet whenever they’re on, I find myself grabbing a packet of chips, sitting on the sofa and loving every minute.

Now dumb films I can’t resist generally need a few prerequisites:

1. A cast or crew full of talent who are all doing it for the money.
2. At least 3 or 4 completely outrageous lines of dialogue that just demand to be said at random times after viewing.
3. If involving a disaster, one person who predicts the whole thing only to be ignored by everyone (especially superiors)
4. Action! I find dumb romantic comedies are generally just dumb (though there are exceptions as you’ll see below).

So ok, let’s get to it, My Top 5 Dumb films I can’t resist:

1. Sahara


This is the film that inspired this list (mostly because it is on Channel 10 as I write!). Ok, let’s see, are there good actors, doing it for money? Yep – William H Macy, Steve Zahn, Penelope Cruz. Does it have Matthew McConaughy? Oh yes it does.

Is it stupid? Hell yes! Get this, the film is about finding a US Civil War ship in Africa AND about a disease flooding through the country due to toxic waste by an evil corporation! All dumb films I can’t resist must have a requisite amount of sincerity, and this has it in spades. A friend of mine called this The Constant Gardener for dummies and that’s as good as a description as I can come up with. The perfect example of this is that it features a stupid computer graph showing how quickly the toxic waste will spread across the world, complete with a Government official who discounts it straight away.

It also has great dumb moment – McConaughy wind surfing a plane across the desert, and plenty of stupid dialogue:

Rudi Gunn: [Dirk wants Al to pull a "Panama"] What's a Panama?
Al Giordino: It's a Navy thing.
Rudi Gunn: I didn't know you were in Panama.
Al Giordino: We weren't in Panama, we were in Nicaragua.
Rudi Gunn: So why do you call it a Panama?
Al Giordino: Because we thought we were in Panama!

Ha ha h… oh groan

And it has Matthew McConaughy! Of course it will be dumb. But while I can’t get through Fool’s Gold or Reign of Fire this one gets me suckered in every time. It’s a pity it flopped (and that Clive Cussler went so batshit over the adaptation of his novel) because the studio obviously hoped to make some sequels, and I would’ve been loving all that dumb fun.

2. Dante’s Peak


Unlike the other volcanic picture out in 1997, Volcano, which was just dumb, this one is a big favourite of mine.

What’s not to like? Pierce Brosnan plays a vulcanologist who plays by his own rules (there’s always one in every team), who is pretty sure the long dormant volcano above Dante’s Peak is ready to blow. Everyone ignores him of course and then… well you know the rest. But heck it’s fun and dumb.

There’s the nude bathers who die when the water suddenly turns boiling hot, the trip on a dingy through the lake which has turned to acid – and ending with Granny towing the boat the last bit of the way, it has a dog, kids in constant danger, plus a sassy woman who runs the local coffee shop, and (of course) is mayor of the town in her spare time.

Much smarter than Twister and a lot more fun as well (not having Helen Hunt helped in this regard). Dumb dialogue? Try:

Harry Dalton: My 9th grade science teacher always said that if you put a frog in boiling hot water, it would jump out, but put it in cold water, and heat it up gradually, it would slowly boil to death. What is it to you?
Nancy: Your recipe for frog soup?
Harry Dalton: No. It's my recipe for a disaster

The boiling frog metaphor is a sure sign of dumb sincerity. It’s the scientific equivalent of joking that you’re a poet but you didn’t know it. Everyone has heard the boiling frog metaphor, everyone has said the boiling frog metaphor, so why do dumb films continue to use it as though it is a statement of amazing insight?

It also has this line:

Paul Dreyfus: [during the meeting] Ladies and Gentlemen, I can assure you that there is no immediate danger, I believe that this is not the time to put this town on alert. This type of thing happened with mammoth mountain in 1980. The good thing is, that the mountain didn't go up…

A perfect use of the public official getting it completely wrong (which should be known in screenwriting circles as the “Mayor Vaughn”).

3. Starship Troopers


Oh this one is pure gold. I even own the DVD of this. I must admit I’m in the David Stratton camp of thinking this is actually more smarter than it looks. But geez it is dumb as well! Look at that cast – Casper Van Dien and Denise Richards are the leads. Yep Casper Van Dien. It says something I think, that in the time since his work in this film, his best roles have been doing the voice-work for the Starship Troopers computer game, and reprising his character in Starship Troopers 3.

Director, Paul Verhoeven is a talent, but he loves dumb films that are fun – see Basic Instinct, Robocop, and Total Recall – and on this he pulls out all the dumb, fun stops. There’s the requisite amount of nudity, dopey lines, big action, and Michael Ironside. And if Micahel Ironside doesn’t let you know you’re in for a fun dumb action film, then I don’t know who does.

It also features Neil Patrick Harris back when he was trying to escape being forever known as Doogie Howser.

But most of all this film has the bugs – the greatest bugs ever brought to life by CGI. You’ll be holding on tight when the attack bugs come out to play, but when you see the brain bug suck the brains out of Patrick Muldoon, you’ll feel safe knowing that you’re knee deep in fun-dumb.

4. Outbreak


Imagine this cast – Dustin Hoffman, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, Donald Sutherland, Renee Russo, Cub Gooding Jr, Patrick Dempsey and solid action director Wolfgang Peterson.

With that cast, this film may quite possibly hold the record for the most number of people walking around a set ringing up their agents just to double check that the money has been placed into their bank accounts.

This film has it all – dumb dialogue (mostly by Sutherland in his full-on arrogant General role), a graph plotting the impact of the virus, a scientist who plays by his own rules, a love interest who is now sort of on the other side, and a monkey.

It has a virus so powerful it will kill everyone in the country within 48 hours, and yet so weak that Renee Russo is able to get better just by having some substance that looks suspiciously like orange cordial put into her system through an IV (and they’re also able to mass produce the antidote without the slightest bit of trouble).

It is also an action film with Dustin Hoffmann as the lead.

Yes, Dustin Hoffmann.

5. The Rock


Look at that cast! Sean Connery, Ed Harris, Nicholas Cage – between them 5 Oscar nominations and 2 wins. Throw in the wonderful John Spencer (Leo McGarry from The West Wing), John C McGinley (Dr Cox from Scrubs), the ever dependable David Morse and Michael Bein, and well you got yourself a movie worth watching and I don’t care what the script is like… which is just as well because this script is dumb. A group of disgruntled special services guys take hostages on Alcatraz and threaten to blow up San Francisco with some toxic nerve gas unless some restitution is paid, cue Nic Cage, super chemical weapons expert and Sean Connery as the only person to have ever escaped from Alcatraz…. uhuh…

Look forget the plot; enjoy the car crashes. This is Michael Bay after all. The point is not to think, but to laugh and enjoy. Heck I enjoy this film so much it was one of my Flicks of the week. It also contains the great line of dialogue: “I’m gonna take pleasure in guttin’ you, boy!” There’s something so lovely and poetic that it could fit in just about any play or film. You can’t tell me that line wouldn’t have made it into Macbeth were Shakespeare around now… (and his screenplay was being directed by Michael Bay)… well ok, maybe not, but it sure is a great line to use when playing against someone in sport… though I must admit it does lose some of its comedic effect if the other person hasn’t seen the film…

As I said in my flick of the week review of this film, the sad thing about The Rock, is that now one looks back with a sort of nostalgia at such films.

The runners up

Sandra Bullock films. Bullock is almost the patron saint of dumb fun chick flicks. Check out Miss Congeniality, Two Weeks Notice, Speed… all so very dumb, and all so easily put into the “Oh what the hell there’s nothing else on I might as well watch it” category.

Keanu Reeves films. I can’t believe I left out Point Break and The Replacements, where he played respectively, Johnny Utah and Shane Falco. How could they not make a dumb but fun list?? The paucity of acting done by Reeves in both of these films is breathtaking. In one he’s an ex-college quarterback who is now a FBI agent going after bank-robbing surfers(!!) and in the other he is an ex-college quarterback brought in to lead an NFL team during a players strike. What a range! Point Break also has Patrick Swayze – a sure guarantee of fun and dumbness, and The Replacements has Rhys Ifans saying some of the dumbest lines in history – such as the fact that he, a Welsh soccer player, apparently lost money in Wales betting on Falco’s side in the Sugar Bowl…. yep all soccer-mad Welshmen love to gamble on American college football… and it also featured Gene Hackman in the Everest of “doing it for the money” roles.

Top Gun. Need I say anymore? (And if I ever were to meet Tim Robbins, I would go up to him and say “I loved you in Top Gun” – yes Mr. Left-wing conscience played Merlin, the navigator for Cougar (and later Maverick)).

Revenge of the Nerds – time has perhaps not been kind to this film, but back when I was a teenager, this film was, dumb and oh so very fun.

True Lies – has been on TV far too many times, but seeing Jamie Lee Curtis destroy her dress and magically come up with a sexy-little black dress, hearing Tom Arnold’s comedy shtick, and the great exchange with Grant Heslov (who was also in Dante’s Peak) as Faisil and Charlton Heston:

Faisil: They call him the Sand Spider.
Spencer Trilby: Why?
Faisil: Probably because it sounds scary.

is just too hard to resist.

There are many others I am sure that I can’t recall at the moment, but they are the backbone of the film industry! Stupid films that make money at the box office and keep getting run on TV because we keep watching them. What’s not to like about that? Bring them on!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Newspoll: ALP 56- LNP 44 (or welcome back status quo)

Today the Newspoll was released in The Australian, showing the ALP’s two party preferred was at 56% – up from the rogue poll of two week’s ago, but still down on the 59% of a month ago. imageIn reality all that has happened is normality has resumed. Below is the ALP’s two party preferred vote from Newspoll over the last 12 months.

It doesn’t make for fun reading for the Liberal Party. Given the ALP’s vote at the 2007 election was 52.7%, all but one poll (last fortnight’s) has shown the ALP increasing its vote.

Of more concern for the Liberal Party is that as of today, Morgan, Neilson and Newspoll all have the two party preferred at 56-44. It will be interesting to see how these polls diverge from here.

But here’s a list of the number of polls and the ALP’s result:

52 – 1
53 – 1
54 – 1
55 – 8
56 – 5
57 – 2
58 – 6
59 – 2

Which means at best they’ve had one poll which would have them in a position better than the last election, but still not good enough to actually win the election, and unfortunately as well, everyone associated with that one poll has written it off as a statistical quirk, that didn’t actually reflect reality.

image As I say, not fun reading.

Still you have to feel a tiny bit sorry for Turnbull when just before Question Time, the news breaks that 6 members of the Liberal Party and 4 of the National Party have said they will vote against the ETS come what may.

It made for a very easy QT for the ALP, as all and sundry lined up to bag the climate change rabble on the opposition benches.

It was actually a schizophrenic question time – the ALP asking about the ETS and the Liberals (and pretty much only Turnbull) asking Rudd about the Oceanic Viking – essentially trying to get Rudd to admit a special deal had been done. And of course one has been done, but there’s no way in hell Rudd is going to admit that. And his ability to answer questions was made all the more easy because yesterday afternoon Turnbull had held a press conference straight after question time and said Rudd had misled parliament over whether or not Rudd knew about the decision to offer the asylum seekers the deal they have now got.

It is a pathetically trivial inside Canberra type debating point – especially as Rudd is saying he is in full agreement with the decision taken. And also Rudd is not so dumb as to unequivocally lie in parliament. You would think Turnbull had learned this by now, but no, he just can’t resist being a lawyer and thinking tripping Rudd up over some wordage will win him the next election (if not have Rudd resign). All his assertion did was allow Rudd in every answer to Turnbull taunt him to put up or shut up, and to recall the Godwin Grech Affair.

An interesting decision came today when the Liberals with nutty Senator Fielding voted to delay debating of the ETS in the Senate. Debate was meant to being today, instead it will now being… well sometime. The fact is the Opposition doesn’t want to debate the issue because there is absolutely no unity on this issue. However on this issue, Turnbull can run, but he can’t hide. Sooner or later there will be a vote…

Coates forgets there’s been a change of Government

The other major news to occur today was Sports Minister Kate Ellis releasing the long awaited Crawford Report on Sports funding. It recommended against increasing sports funding to elite sports and also suggested the target of Australia coming in the top 5 at the Olympic Games should be revised to Top 8. In essence the report states that too much funding goes to niche Olympic Sports which no bugger actually competes in regularly, and which few care about other than during the two weeks of the Olympic Games. As one of the journalists nicely put it, we’ve been doing better and better at the Olympics since 1976, and yet the rates of obesity are increasing every year, so the link between elite sport and a healthy public is somewhat weak.

Now look, I love the Olympics. Love them. I love elite sport. But the AOC asking for an EXTRA $100 million a year just so we can beat the United Kingdom at the Olympic Games is an absolute outrage. Say it again slowly – one hundred million dollars a year extra. John Coates, the head of the AIOC came out in response to the release of the report in quite possibly the dumbest rant ever by someone trying to lobby the Government to fund his organisations:

“In your words, I’m pissed off… this is a nonsense … this funding is vitally important to the entire nation… The report is disrespectful of all the work that has been done, particularly since the 1980s, in getting us to where we are… This is an insult to some of our great Olympic champions…. Is Mr Crawford suggesting the gold medals won in Beijing by Matthew Mitcham, Steve Hooker and Ken Wallace meant nothing to the Australian people? Is he telling us the gold medals won by our rowers and sailors count for nothing?…

I will leave it to you to tell (archer) Simon Fairweather and (weightlifter) Dean Lukin he's no longer a hero…. They are the ones who are entitled to feel that what they have done for their country doesn't count.''

Coates said Australia's slide down the Olympic table was  "already happening''. "We think we are headed at best for eight in London,'' he said, after a sixth place in Beijing.

Then he came out with this corker:

"Now he (the report's author, businessman David Crawford) is telling us eighth is good enough, or maybe 10th is good enough for Mr Crawford. I just don't think he gets it. It seems un-Australian to me to settle for something second best.''

Well now. “Un-Australian”? Does he think Jon Howard is still in charge? Coates needs to take a good long hard look in the hall of mirrors, because he is living in fantasy land. To say this report is disrespectful of Dean Lukin (err Gold medallist way back in 1984!) is just stupid. It’s beyond dumb. And Ken Wallace? Sorry John, as I say, I love the Olympics, but I had to look him up on Wikipedia to remember who he was.

Does Coates think this is the way to win friends and influence people? His rant has forced the Government's hand. There is no way they will agree to him now, otherwise it’ll look like backing down. And I have to say – a quick squiz a the comments on the story on the topic suggests the hoi polloi are not all that eager for Oates and his athletes to get an extra $100 million….

Coates needs to calm down. This report doesn’t recommend cutting funding. He is perhaps finally realising that unlike when Howard was in office he can’t just pick up the phone and talk to the PM. He also should calm down about this whole Top 5 bullshit. It is an arbitrary number that is absolutely meaningless. Swimming and athletic finals both often involve the top 8 competitors, so finishing in the Top 8 overall seems to me like a damn fine aim.

Look back to Atlanta in 1996 – Australia came 7th, and I thought that was fantastic. Every gold medal was a thrill. Australian need to realise just how amazing a feat it is to win one, and dopey comments by John Coates only serve to make people think they come up with the rations.  Look who “beat” us in 1996 – the USA, Russia, Germany, France, China and Italy. In 2008 the top 10 consisted of China, United States, Russia, Great Britain, Germany, South Korea, Japan, Italy, France and us (we came 6th). Now I have to say all of those countries have bigger populations and all except South Korea have a bigger GDP (Korea comes 15th to our 14th on the GDP table). So to me, I think we’re doing damn well to be in that group. Canada, India, Mexico and Brazil all have bigger GDPs than us, yet we’re “beating” them.

So if we “fall down” the list a bit, does that really matter? I love sport, and think, like the Arts, the Government should fund it, but Coates’s call for an extra $100m a year says more about what a money driven sham the Olympics have become than it does about the importance of sport in this country. An equivalent to his argument would be that we should give $100m to Australian film each year so we can have a film in the Oscar Best Picture nominations. It may be a nice warm and fuzzy goal, but is it why film is important? Just as you shouldn’t make films to win Oscars, you shouldn’t just fund sport to win Gold medals.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Downer gives us the real dirt (sotto voce)

A couple things happened today – Malcolm Turnbull announced the Liberal Party asylum seeker “policy”, and Alexander Downer gave us an insight into what the Howard Government policy on asylum seekers really was.

First let’s look at the policy. For a start you know it’s a complete crock because of two things. First its title: Coalition's strong stand on border protection. That is this has nothing to do with policy, and everything to do with politics; Turnbull wants to appear strong. Second, while releasing the policy, Turnbull announced that further details about the policy would be announced closer to the next election. Which means, this isn’t a policy, it’s a media release – a policy is something that has been researched, surveyed, consulted and arrived at. This “policy” didn’t even get canvassed through the Liberal Party room. But hey, let’s have a look anyway. It consists of four bullet points:

1.We will once again secure our borders. Our aim is to stamp out people smuggling and effectively deter unauthorised arrivals while at the same time treating refugees compassionately in accordance with our obligations under the UN Convention on Refugees.

Great, one quarter of the policy is meaningless words that contain nothing but a platitude – in fact Turnbull wouldn’t even be able to argue this is different from the ALP policy.

2.All processing offshore. We will ensure that unauthorised arrivals seeking asylum are intercepted and processed offshore at Christmas Island, not on the Australian mainland as Mr Rudd is preparing to do.

Err, well this is the ALP policy as well. In fact as Rudd pointed out on 2UE, since Rudd has been elected only one boat has reached the mainland, and every other boat has been processed on Christmas Island… Hmmm you’re not doing well Malcolm; we’re half way through and so far you agree with Kevin Rudd.

3.A non-permanent visa for unauthorised arrivals. We will introduce a non-permanent visa for asylum seekers who arrive without authorisation. Asylum seekers who arrive without authorisation will be granted this safe haven visa rather than Labor’s permanent residency. It will be reassessed after a specific period not longer than three years, and if they are found to be in need of continued protection they will then be eligible for permanent residency. If they are found not to be in need of such protection, they will be returned to their country of origin.

Here we go – the reintroduction of Temporary Protection Visas, although under the weird name of “Safe Haven Visas”, which is about as Orwellian as you can get. Safe Haven???  That actually sounds like something you would want to get – in fact it sounds like something you would sell to asylum seekers –“Come on down to Australia and we’ll give you a Safe Haven Visa!!” Oh yes please, put me down for one!

But what it amounts to is a return of the TPVs that didn’t work under Howard. How do we know they didn’t work? Well they were introduced in 1999, and yet the arrivals of boat people skyrocketed in 2000 and 2001. And why would they deter boat people? The big thing about TPV is that if you hold one you can’t apply for your family to come and join you in Australia. So if you were the father with 2 kids, what this policy encourages is for you to actually bring your whole family on a leaky boat, rather than you just brave the trip on your own.

How do we know this?  Because that is what happened after the TPVs were introduced in 1999. As Sue Hoffmann wrote in May this year;

Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) were also introduced as a deterrent but targeted at asylum seekers rather than people-smugglers. TPVs illustrate how poorly-conceived government policy can have dire consequences. They denied access to family reunion programs, which led to increasing numbers of women and children turning to people-smugglers. TPVs were the reason why hundreds of women and children were on board the SIEV X boat when it sank, claiming 353 lives.

So good policy there Malcolm, you introduce a visa which denies asylum seekers anything but the merest amount of welfare (ie enough to keep them alive… how gracious of us) but which also encourages the whole family of asylum seekers to come. Well done Malcolm, in one fell swoop you have trashed any semblance of the moderate compassionate Liberal you tried to sell yourself as. The Liberal Senator Judith Troeth and MP Petro Georgiou came out straight away with their views:

Liberal backbencher Senator Judith Troeth has told The World Today the visa inflicts mental anguish on asylum seekers and is a backward step for Coalition policy. "I'm sad and disappointed that we're going back to that style of visa because I believe it punishes the victims of people smuggling and not the perpetrators," she said. Fellow backbencher Petro Georgiou has also said that any return to a temporary visa is a "cruel response to legitimate refugees".

At least Turnbull has proved to us all there is not depth to which he will not stoop.

Ok, let’s see the fourth bullet point:

4.A compassionate and fair refugee and humanitarian program. A Turnbull Government will maintain Australia’s substantial humanitarian program for refugees who come to Australia through legitimate processes. This intake will always favour those most in need.

Oh geez. More waffle. So the policy is three quarters waffle that everyone in the world agrees with (and which is also ALP policy), and the other one quarter is bringing back a visa policy that didn’t work last time it was tried. So much for Sharman Stone’s “suite of measures”.

Now let’s move on to Alexander Downer’s words of insight. He was interviewed by Fran Kelly on Radio National Breakfast. In it he said his usual platitudes about how great the Howard Government policy was, but then he let slip what the real “solution” on the Howard Government was:

The other thing we did, which we did more sotto voce was to tow the boats – I must say this is not something that has generated much publicity recently in Australia – we used to get the Navy not to guide the boats into the Australian shore line what we did was [laughs] we got the navy to tow the boats back to the Indonesian territorial waters, left the boats with enough fuel, food and so on to get to a port in Indonesia – guided them where to go – and them left them.

Obviously monitored them to make sure the boat was safe but disappeared over the horizon. And this worked very effectively, but we did this without any publicity, we didn’t run around boasting that we were doing this because we knew the Indonesian accepted these people back through gritted teeth. But what the present government has done is in a way is what we did over the Tampa make too much noise publicly, back the Indonesians into a corner and so then the Indonesians said they wouldn’t take the people, just as they wouldn’t take the people from the Tampa.

Sotto voce – code for “we did this without the media finding out”. A couple months back the media was reporting on how many boats were intending to come to Australia, and yet back then the media seemed to be unaware that boats had made it to Australia and were be turned around! How many boats? How many people were on these boats? Did all the boats make it safely back to shore once they were “over the horizon”? Just a few questions, I wouldn’t mind being answered…

But the interesting bit about what Downer has revealed is that it highlights that neither the Pacific Solution, nor the TPVs, nor any other policy the Howard Government introduced stopped the boats. In fact they didn’t stop the boats, what they did was turn the boats around. What Downer has revealed is that the “pull” factors were irrelevant. It didn’t matter what policy Howard and Downer and Ruddock introduced, the boats still kept coming. All that Howard and Downer and Ruddock did was turn them around and dump them on Indonesia (geez no wonder they haven’t been all that helpful with the Oceanic Viking!).

But that’s not a solution. That’s like saying you stopped drunken behaviour because you stopped drunks drinking in your pub, by leading them into the pub next door.

So now we know, everything Howard and Downer and Ruddock and Turnbull and Stone and Co have said is for total bull. Putting refugees into detention, putting them on Nauru, bringing in TPVs etc etc etc, were all just window dressing for the Australian public. Howard’s actual policy was to fob it off on to Indonesia, and presumably then put his fingers in his ears and yell “nah nah nah I’m not listening!!!”.

Yeah, that’s great leadership, the kind to make you feel proud to be Australian. Proud that we voted them out of office that is.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Movie Review – The Boys Are Back

The-Boys-Are-BackScott Hicks’s latest film, The Boys are Back, opens with sports journalist Joe Warr (Clive Owen) driving a 4WD along a beach. He is laughing all the while as  the people on the beach all look at him in anger, yelling abuse. The camera pans around and we see why they are reacting so – sitting on the hood of the 4WD, holding on only to the windscreen wipers is Joe’s 6 year old son Artie (Nicholas McAnulty). It is a scene that almost encapsulates the entire film, it is one of joy between father and son, and yet one which you also can’t help but feel incredibly uncomfortable, if not freaking out about the safety of the boy.

The film then flashes back to Joe with his wife Katy (Laura Fraser), in what looks to be pure heaven on earth – a wonderful house, good job, great kid, happiness in abundance. Then Katy gets cancer, dies and leaves Joe, a bloke who had left the child rearing to Katy while he jetted about following sports events around the world, absolutely at a loss of how to cope with not only his wife’s death, but also his new found need for responsibility, which is further added to when his teenage son Harry (George MacKay) from a previous relationship announces he wants to move from England and come and live with his dad.

The film is based on the memoirs of British political sketch writer Simon Carr (who was actually living in New Zealand), and it recounts the strategy he embarked on to deal with this change. Essentially it boiled down to a parenting strategy of “Just Say Yes”.

And this is what we see happen in the film, Joe virtually abandons any sense of rules or discipline (or housework) and seemingly takes a Lord of the Flies style attitude to parenting. It freaks out the women in his life, and I must say it freaked out me – especially at points where it involved Artie and Harry finding themselves in serious trouble and danger.  1109hgboyscomp_140

There is much to like about this film. Scott Hicks and his cinematographer Grieg Fraser (who also did the shooting on the soon to be released Jane Campion film, Bright Star) make South Australia’s McLaren Vale seem absolutely ravishing with the film having the look of a Tom Robert’s painting –  the unmistakeable light and colour of rural South Australia, that just can’t be replicated elsewhere.

The acting by the three males is excellent. It is good to see Owen acting again after far too many films where he seems to play Clive Owen (which can still be good, if it is in something like Inside Man, but which is God awful if in something like Duplicity). My only concern is he comes across as a bit too clean to be such a slob. Sandra Hall in the SMH has suggested Colin Firth would have been better casting, and I am inclined to agree – Joe is a character more akin to the role Firth played in Fever Pitch – a slovenly, football-mad school teacher.

The-Boys-Are-Back 1The young actors playing Artie and Harry are note perfect. McAnutly, in his first ever role, is nicely unHollywood – he’s not a wise cracking know-it-all kid, he is actually quite naive, and very sweet. George MacKay will suffer from everyone thinking he is the guy who played Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films, but he gives a very strong performance as a kid who actually needs the discipline that Joe is unable to give.

My big worry with the film is whether it will find an audience. Since seeing it I have often been wondering whether I would like to see it again. It is a film that is not easily pigeon holed, and throughout I really had no idea where it was heading. It could have been a comedy but it doesn’t play for laughs; it could have been a tearjerker, but (the first 20 minutes aside) it doesn’t play too heavily on the mawkishness (though it does use the lazy device of having Katy be visible at times to Joe so he can interact with her and talk about how he  and Artie are doing), it could have been a romantic comedy, but it doesn’t go down that path. Instead it is sort of all of these things, but not.

As a result, I’m not sure what its market is. Mirimax in the US seem to have taken the same view, because despite very good reviewers from Variety, Screen Daily and the Hollywood Reporter, they didn't seem to put a lot of weight behind it, and it has pretty well died at the box office there. And I can understand why – it’s set in Australia, doesn’t star any Americans and it doesn’t end with Joe performing a strip tease to a bunch of working class women in a pub while “Y0uCan Leave Your Hat On” plays. 3923406640_2dd2a62802

Instead what we have is a very honest portrayal of a man placed in a crap situation. Honest to the point of uncomfortableness. I could never advocate parenting the Joe Warr way, and yet the honesty of the man’s love for his sons, and his struggle to cope are brilliant to watch. I also have to say the death of Katy is quite possibly the most heart breaking death I have seen in film – and Hicks and screen writer Allan Cubitt are to be commended for getting the audience to care about her and Joe in such a short space of time, but mostly I commend them for the way they write Artie’s reaction to his mother’s death. It was so unlike anything I had seen on film, and was so achingly true – it was a film treating a six year old as someone who is actually six and not ten.

I left The Boys are Back feeling unsure of how to react. It didn’t give a big Hollywood payoff; but I couldn’t get the film out of my head. I kept thinking about the things Joe did, kept thinking about Katy’s death, kept thinking about what I wished the film had been, and also I kept wanting to hug my wife and daughters. At a discussion on Australian film held in Sydney recently, it was suggested Australian films don’t need to tell Australian stories, but they do need emotional impact. Well this is not, despite its setting, an Australian story, but it certainly has an emotional impact.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Guess I’m a problem gamer

For the first time I want to buy a computer game that has the adjective “controversial” attached to it. Today Activision’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (otherwise known as COD4.2 because it is actually the sequel to Call of Duty 4) was released. The game has been described as controversial because appamodernwarfaremain-420x0rently at one point in the game, players can infiltrate a terrorist group and in the process can be in a situation where they are able to shoot innocent civilians in a terrorist attack.

Well excuse me for not feeling all that outraged. Killing innocent civilians?? Oh geez, let’s run for the hills! Spare me. I guess when I’m playing Crysis and I go out of my way to shoot a Korean soldier with a shotgun from point blank range that’s ok then because he’s not “innocent”?

Games have been about death and destruction since games began – in fact even before. When I was growing up I would go through periods where every afternoon meant getting together with my friends and playing war. We had wooden guns, and sure when you got shot you had only to count to 20 before you could live again, but there was a reason we played “war” and not “chasey”.  Heck I grew up wanting to join the army and go to war. That is until I realised the chances of my being able to storm the beaches of Normandy or fly a Wildcat in the Battle of Midway were rather limited, at which point I decided instead to fight my wars in video games.

Aces_of_the_Pacific_CoverartOne of the first computer games I owned was a wonderful flight simulator called Aces Over the Pacific. In it you could play as either a Japanese or  an American pilot. Did I feel any guilt playing as a Japanese torpedo plane pilot, coming in to lay waste to Pearl Harbour? Hell no. I felt as much guilt as I did when playing Civilisation I decided the best way to respond to another nation breaking a treaty with me was to nuke every city they had.

Playing as the bad guy is actually a pretty common part of playing computer games. Heck, you only have to have watched War Games growing up, where Mathew Broderick immediately chooses to be the Soviet Union when he plays “Thermonuclear War” to see that being bad in a game can be fun.

Of course the thing is that today’s games are much more realistic, and thus comes the outrage.

In the past, perhaps only one game that has provoked controversy have I wanted to play – Fallout 3. That game is set in a post-apocalyptic world. It was originally denied classification in Australia because:

"The player can also select and use 'Morphine' (a proscribed drug) which has the positive effect of enabling the character to ignore limb pain when the character's extremities are targeted by the enemy. The board made explicit mention that the game's violence "could be accommodated at an MA15+ level of classification", leaving its concerns about the depiction of drug use as the sole reason for refusing classification. 

So a game showing morphine being a pain reliever is enough for it not to be classified. Heck, I better close my eyes next time I watch Band of Brothers, because they were shooting up morphine in that show like it was some sort of miracle drug!fallout-3

And here we get to the stupidity of it all. The developers of Fallout 3 took out that aspect of the game, and so it got an MA15+ rating, meaning teenagers were now able to play it. Because Australia does not have an R18+ rating for games, the board was not able to keep the game as it stood, only preclude teenagers from playing. So they took out the morphine but kept in the mass killing. Guess that’s a win for the wowsers.

The stupidity of the Australian Classification system is revealed when you read that the board approved COD4.2 as an MA15+ rating. And the makers didn’t have to change a thing – the playing as a terrorist stays and so does kids playing it.

Now I’m not arguing that kids shouldn't play it – after all having played previous versions of Call of Duty I can say quite confidently it is not a game that rewards evil behaviour (and by all reports this version of the game doesn’t either). But if you were someone who wanted to keep “evil games” out of kids’ hands wouldn't you want there to be an R18+ rating so kids couldn’t play them?

At this point we should bring in South Australian Attorney General Michael Atkinson. For an R18+ classification to be introduced in Australia all state and federal attorneys general must agree to it. Atkinson has stated he will never agree to it. Why? Because:

He doubts whether any safeguards could be put in place to deter young people, who after all (are) the most computer literate and savvy in our society, from being able to access material."

You get that? He is against bringing in an R18+ classification on games because he thinks it won’t deter teenagers from accessing it. So instead his policy (or lack thereof) actually results in games being given an MA15+ rating, which not only allows kids to play them, but actually lets parents feel like it is ok for them to play it – in effect encouraging them to buy it for their kids because it has been given the stamp of approval by the Government.

So when COD4.2 came out, what was his reaction? Surely he must be outraged at such a system that allows the game to be played by kids? Nope. Instead  he said,"Expecting game designers to be responsible by not glorifying terrorism will always lead to disappointment."

Huh? So his policy is that gamers should self regulate?? You would think he would be up in arms, saying teenagers shouldn’t be allowed to play such games. But instead he is the one person stopping such a restriction being imposed.

Perhaps there’s logic there, but it’s way beyond me.

Look, most of the games that have been refused classification in Australia are not games I would particular want kids to be playing.  Some of them seem pretty vile. But why is it that a film can depict things that can’t be depicted in a game?

Most gamers are now above the age of 18, and many computer games are decidedly not for kids – and nor are they aimed at them. But currently in Australia, parents are denied making informed choices, because the fact is, games that are on the borderline mostly are approved at MA15+ with little or no changes rather than be denied classification, which means most parents would then buy them without concern.

The truth is Atkinson has ingeniously come up with a policy which is actually achieving the exact opposite of that which he aims.

Mike Rann should slap Atkinson on the back of the head and say to him (as my Dad would) “wake up dopey”. Bring in an R18+ and then let the classification board debate whether or not a game should be MA15+ or R18+, rather than the farcical situation we have now that lacks logic and doesn’t help anyone, except kids who can con their parents into thinking that an MA15+ game is ok to play.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Stewart skewers Beck

If any of you have ever come across Glenn Beck in your travels on the internet, you'll know you have stumbled across the... oh how to put it nicely... err.. the dumbest right wing nut bag ever to walk the earth. He is the type who makes everyone feel better upon seeing, because he allows everyone else to know that at least one person in the world is dumber than they are.

He is an absolute kook, who (of course) has his own show on Fox News. He is into conspiracy theories in a way that makes the plot of a Dan Brown novel seem like 2+2 = 4. He is the type who if he saw a politician wearing a red tie, would put a mark down next his name as a likely communist. If that same politician the next day wore a blue tie, he would see it as evidence that the politician was trying to disguise the fact he was a communist.

In short he is well susceptible to being laughed at. (and unfortunately, because he is a right wing nut bag, he has a horde of followers who hang on his every word). He has 150,000 followers on twitter, who get to read his updates - things like:

When will Washington STOP abusing our nation and children's future?

He has started a thing called the 9/12 Project - because he wants America to feel like it did the day after September 11. (Yeah you know, scared shitless, and fearing all foreigners). He blathers about wanting to bring back true American values etc etc. It's all a massive joke, that would be funny if it wasn't so scary because of the platform he has on Fox News.

Thankfully we have Jon Stewart to pop the Beck balloon for us. Last week he did one of the best parodies of Beck you'll see. For those who have seen Beck in action, go straight to the Stewart clip, and enjoy. For those who haven't seen Beck, watch the following first, and you'll see I wasn't exaggerating at all in my description (oh and good luck trying to last the full 8 minutes).

now Stewart does Beck

The 11/3 Project
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9 Reasons why Baseball is better than Cricket

I realise of course this is absolutely the wrong time to write this blog – it should be done next year as the baseball season begins, but I said I’d write it now, so here it is (I’ll probably just repost it in April!)

Comparing baseball with cricket is a somewhat fraught exercise, but given cricket’s seeming desire to make itself more and more like baseball, it can be quite easily done, especially if the focus is on comparing baseball to one day and Twenty20 cricket. Test matches are a supreme life form that I will not hear criticism of (well unless it is criticism that agrees with my own!), but that said there are still an easy nine reasons why baseball is better than all forms of cricket:

1. It’s over in 3-4 hours:

The time factor is the big thing that kills one day cricket – it goes for one whole day! My family were all members of Adelaide Oval, and when I was a kid and we went to the one day games to see Australia play Sri Lanka or some lightweight team, I always hoped that Sri Lanka would bat first. They would be lucky to get much over a hundred, meaning that Australia would be a good chance to knock them off quickly and we could go home early.  I hated it when Australia batted first, made 300 and then Sri Lanka (or whoever) would eke out 150-200 over the fifty overs. We never went home early, and I just hated the whole thing (mostly because back then Adelaide Oval didn’t have lights and the match would be played during the day in 40C heat).

Test matches of course take 5 days, but on this category I’ll let that pass (and besides a test match day only goes for 6 hours, not the 8-9 of a one day game).

In baseball you’re looking at around 3-4 hours for each game. It means they can start playing at around 8pm. Yeah they’ll have a late finish, but you’re able to go to work and then come home and watch the game. This is the one reason why Twenty20 cricket has been popular. People do not want to spend all day watching a sport. The most popular sports to watch are all the forms of football – be they NRL, AFL, NFL or soccer. All of them are done and dusted in under 3 hours or so (NFL can drag out a bit). In, out, done, rest of the day or night to do other things.

So the brevity of baseball has it all over cricket, except…

2. It may never end:

A cricket match is 20 overs long, 50 overs long or a 5 day test. And once that set amount of overs or time has been reached, that’s it. Game over. In baseball (at least in the major league version) there are no ties, and so if the game is all square after nine innings, then the teams keep going until one team has a lead after a complete innings. Theoretically a baseball game can just keep going, much like the 5th set of a Grand Slam tennis match (except, ironically, in the US Open). It means a game can turn into a war of attrition where heroes can emerge in the 14th innings at 2am.

But the best aspect of the fact that the game may never end is…

3. It’s never over till it’s over

Twenty20 and one day games are all devised to try and produce a close result. I have seen quite a few Twenty20 games live, and I think only one has been close. A close one day game? More the exception than the rule. And why is this so? Because once your 10 men are out, that’s it, and once your 50 or 20 overs are bowled, then that’s it. So if you are 40 runs down with 2 overs to go. Well let’s be honest it ain’t going to happen and if it does it is remarkable. If you have 10 overs to go and you’re down to your last 2 batsmen, likewise, forget about it, the game is over. Hairston_Walk-off_HR

In baseball however look at this example from the world series Game 4. It is the top of the 9th innings. The Yankees are down 3-4. There are two outs. Johnny Damon is batting, the count is 1-2 (one ball, two strikes) meaning Philadelphia are one strike out away from winning. Damon proceeds to get two more balls and also fouls off five pitches. On his ninth pitch he hits a single. Mark Teixeira is up next. Damon steals 2nd base, and then seeing no one is on 3rd, he steals that as well. Teixeira gets hit by a pitch and moves to 1st base. Up next in Alex Rodriguez. He hits  double, Damon scores, Teixera moves to 3rd. The scores are now tied. Next up for the Yankees is their catcher, Jorge Posada. He fouls the first two pitches, and is thus on 2 strikes. Again Philadelphia is one strikeout away from ending the innings. On his fifth pitch, Posada hits a single and both Teixeira and Rodriguez score. The score is now Yankees up 6-4.

And the thing is, while that is a great comeback, it is not all that uncommon. In fact it is expected of the best players that they can come through “in the clutch”. The best players are those who get hits when it is close and tight in the last couple innings. If the team is down by 2 runs, and there are 2 runners on the base, it’s the 9th innings and there are two outs, well no one in the crowd is leaving – and if you are considered the best hitter on the team, the opposition might even intentionally walk you just so you don’t hit a home run.

Such comebacks are so common that specialized pitchers called “closers” have the job of closing out the game in the last two (or one) innings. The reason they have this job is because the game is never over till it’s over. You’re down 9 runs with one innings to go? Are you going to win? Probably not. Can you win? Absolutely. You can be one pitch away from being out, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still win.

In many ways, baseball scoring is again more like tennis than say cricket. You can be down 2 sets to love, and down 40-15, 5-0 in the third. Will you win? Unlikely. Can you win? Absolutely. In cricket, you’re nine wickets down, one over to go, and 30 runs shorts? Can you win?. No. In fact, most likely half the crowd has already gone home.

4. Every pitch matters but some matter more than others

Cricket is a leisurely game to watch. The bowler takes a long run up, runs in and delivers the ball. The batsman lets it go through to the keeper, and everyone goes back to talking to their mate, or reading the paper. In a cricket match, you only need to look at the play for that second or so that the bowler delivers the ball and the batsmen either hits it or lets it go. Once it has been fielded, unless it is a run out chance, you can look away for 30 seconds. If the captain decides to change the field then make it a minute.

You can’t look away during a baseball game. The pitcher doesn't need to run in, and if there is a runner on one of the bases you have to watch even before the pitch is made to see if he is going to try and steal a base. Every pitch could be a home run. And yes every ball in cricket could be a wicket, but it is the intensity of watching baseball that makes it so different. The time between pitches is less than in cricket, the pace of the game is so much quicker.

There are also less opportunities in a baseball game where you can go off and get something to eat. In a one day game, or test match, there are ample times when your can go out for a while, knowing it is pretty likely when you get back not much will have changed. In baseball in the matter of a few pitches the whole game can change. A pitcher can be cruising along, with 2 outs in an innings, he walks a batter, the next gets a single, the next hits a home run, those last two things could have happened from just two pitches. And boom, what was once a no hitter is suddenly a 3 run game, with one out still to get, and the next batter up could be in great form and before you know it you’re thinking this could be a blow out. And yet just four pitches before you were thinking the pitcher was cruising.

Now maybe that happens a bit  in Twenty20 cricket, where one over can change a match, but it rarely happens in test cricket – and it may happen in one over out of 90 in a day’s play. In baseball every innings can be like that. Getting that last out is crucial, and it can all go so bad for a team so very quickly.

5. It comes down to moments

In some ways this is a colliery to reason 4 and reason 3. In Game 6 of the World Series, the Phillies were down 7-3 in the 7th innings. They had two outs, but there were two runners on base. Up to the plate came Chase Utley, the 2nd baseman for Philadelphia, who in the first 5 games of the World Series had hit 5 home runs – 2 in Game 1 and and 2 again in Game 5. This guy was in seriously good form, and could hit the ball a mile. If he hit another Home Run, Philadelphia would be down only 1 run with 2 innings still to go, if he got out, it is unlike he would have got another chance to hit in the game. This was a arodkey moment. Yankees relief pitcher Damaso Marte struck him out with three pitches. From that point on the Yankees looked unlikely to lose.

And every game in baseball has these types of moments. It might come in the first innings when the bases are loaded, or the last innings when one runner is on. You never know when, but they’re always there, and they crop up regularly. In cricket it just doesn’t happen that way. A batsmen may come in at a crucial time for the team – they might be down 3 wickets for bugger all runs. But what that batsman (and his partner) needs to do is make a century which means he needs to stay in for 2-3 hours. That ‘moment’ is actually half a day long. The only time a cricket match ever gets down to a moment is if 6 or less runs are needed off the last ball. And that doesn’t happen often. 

Baseball isn’t just about close endings, it’s about tense moment all the way throughout the game.

6. Everyone gets a second chance

Imagine going to a cricket match, and you are all excited because you know a great batsman – say a Tendulker or a Lara is going to be batting that day.  He comes to the wicket, and the ball moves off the seam, he edges it and he is caught behind for a duck. Everyone in the crowd roars in a cheer but then they groan knowing they won’t get to see him bat. In baseball every player can count on getting on average four chances to hit. If you are a top player, the likelihood is at least 3 of those opportunities with be “a moment” in the game, a time where the crowd will be inching forward in anticipation of seeing something happen.

Not only do players get a second change, so too do the spectators. Every batter gets another chance, and everyone knows that you can’t expect the batter to get a hit every time. For here is the most stunning thing for cricket fans about baseball –if you get a hit 3 times out of 10 in a season, you’re doing very well. If you average a hit 4 times out of 10, you’re a legend.

7. The statistics

This season, Yankees captain Derek Jeter hit .334 (ie he had a hit 33.4% of the time), but if you include walks and hit by pitches, he got on base 40.6% of the time (what’s called an on base percentage – OBP – of .406). In innings from the 7th innings on he batted .341, in day games he batted .347, in night games it was .328. He averaged a walk 10.1% of the time he went to bat; his ratio of ground balls to fly balls was 1.21:1; he averaged 3.82 pitches per plate appearance. And I could go on and on and on. Baseball loves statistics. You can find out each player’s batting average against each pitcher, what their average is when the count is 1 ball-1 strike, what percentage of balls they hit to left field as opposed to right field etc etc etc. Some are pointless – do we really need to know what a player averages when the count is 2 balls and 1 strike? – others are interesting and make for great reference.

And it’s not just the averages and other statistical aspects, it’s the records that matter – Hank Aaron’s 755 home runs, Pete Rose’s 4,256 career hits, Ricky Henderson’s career 1,406 stolen bases. These matter; they are remembered.

Yes cricket has lots of stats as well, but nowhere near as many, and nowhere near the amount that can be compared to other eras. Batting and bowling averages matter – though given the size of grounds, and make of bats now, an average of 50 is perhaps a little bit devalued (but not much) – but overall records? Players play so many more test matches now than in the past that the record number of runs and wickets are meaningless. No one even bothers comparing Ponting’s total runs with Bradman’s because Bradman played so many fewer tests. But in baseball up until the middle of the last century there were 160 games a season, and now there are only 162, so career hits, runs, home runs can be compared. If you played for 15 seasons in the 1980-90s you would have played roughly the same number of games had you been around in the 1920-30s. It’s why hitting 500 home runs, 3,000 hits, or winning 300 games all mean something.

Just think about cricket; how many test runs do you need to make to be considered an all time great? 6,000? 7,000? 10,000? If someone made 4,000 runs in the 1930-40s how does that compare with someone today? You can’t say – you would need to look at their average. And it’s why statistics in cricket really don’t have the resonance that they do in baseball.

Baseball also has more records than in cricket – there is no comparison in cricket with Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak, or Nolan Ryan’s 6 no hitter games pitched. Sure cricket can come up with some stats – the site Howstat! is quite interesting, but it’ll only ever be a poor man’s Baseball Reference.

8. The history

Cricket is older than baseball, but when it comes to history, baseball has it all over cricket. In 1919 the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series, in 1923 the Yankees won their first World Series, in 1941 Joe DiMaggio produced his hitting streak and Ted Williams hit over .400 (the last person to do so), in 1947 Jackie Robinson became the first black man to play in the major leagues, in 1961 Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle engaged in a chase to break Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in a season – Maris did it, hitting 61. Now I could rattle those facts off without a second thought, but I have to say I have no idea what happened in cricket in 1919, 1923, 1947 or 1961. Babe-Ruth-and-Lou-Gehrig---Photofile-Photograph-C10106975

Heck I don’t have to even go that far back. In 1984 my football team Norwood, won the Grand Final against Port Adelaide, having come from 5th to win. I can’t remember who Australia even played in the 1984-85 summer. I think it was New Zealand – but did they play 3 tests or 5? I know Chappell, Lillee and Marsh debuted in 1970 and retired in 1983. I know World Series Cricket was between 1977-79. I know Australia won back the Ashes in 1989 – because that was the year I was in Japan, so I generally recall events of that year quite easily. But who did Australia play in 1989-90? I have no idea. I can’t even remember as I type this who they played last summer. Oh wait… it was South Africa... before that it was the Ashes, and before that… errr. But I could name the Grand Finalist each year from about 1980 without too much trouble.

And likewise with baseball. I know who the Yankees played in the 1996 World Series, and even who was MVP. Does anyone ever remember who is man of a series in a set of test matches? Who was man of the series in the last Ashes series? billd0I have no idea and I watched every match.

But it’s not just the scores and the names, it is the way baseball is so indelibly linked with American history. In part this is because of better story telling by Americans – I hate that I know more about Shoeless Joe Jackson than I do Victor Trumper. But think about it – can you imagine the movie Bull Durham being about cricket? or Field of Dreams being Oval of Dreams? I guess they could – after all a very interesting film called Wondrous Oblivion does  convey some of the sense of joy and wonder about cricket, but somehow I doubt it would resonate as well.

For me cricket just struggles to match baseball for history – for magical moments you remember, for dates in time that you will never forget – a case in point: I was at Adelaide Oval when the West Indies beat Australia by a run, but I can’t tell you when that was – I’ll guess either 1991 or 92 because I know I was at uni at the time. In baseball the season is vital to the memory because of one absolutely vital reason…

9. It’s a club not a country

The most supported sports in the world are all forms of football. What is common about all (except Rugby Union) is that for day in day out supporters, the ultimate aim is his or her club winning the championship/Grand Final/Super Bowl. Baseball is the bat and ball game that replicates this fervour. I have never been in America, but I love the Yankees. If baseball was like cricket and America played other nations, there is no way I could get as excited – in fact I didn’t care when America played in the World Baseball Classic this year, even though a number of Yankees were playing.300px-NewYorkYankees_PrimaryLogo_svg

The ESPN’s “Sport’s Guy” Bill Simmons is a mad Boston Red Sox and, in the NFL, New England Patriots fan. After Game 4 someone asked him if he would be happy for the Patriots not to win the Super Bowl this season, if it meant the Yankees would choke and lose the Super Bowl. He thought for a couple seconds, and then said, “yes”. The key thing about sports which involve different clubs is that not only do you want your team to win, but if your team can’t, then you want your enemy to fail. I used to say I’d be happy for the Crows to come second last, provided Port came last. I was only half joking. Now I’d say I’d be happy for the Crows to come third last provided Port and Collingwood finished below. When Geelong flogged Port in the 2007 Grand Final, I thought it was hilarious and a great game to watch. 

But with cricket? Yeah when I was young I wanted Australia to win, but by the early-mid 1990s, when the arrogance of the team became overwhelming, I have to say I didn’t mind seeing them lose. That is something I could never say about the Crows. It wouldn’t matter who played for them, I would defend them to the death, and each loss would be a small death.

In the early mid-1990s when one summer they let the Australia A side play in the one day series, a number of commentators couldn’t understand why Australian crowds would cheer for the team to beat the “Australia” side. The reason was simple – for many (especially South Australians) the Australia A side contained some favoured sons who we wanted to cheer; and in effect Australia A became our team. Yes it’s great to cheer for Australia, but there is nothing better than having a team who you feel is your own – and one you have to defend against work mates. It’s why the Indian Twenty20 is doing the right thing by making it a team competition, and why I think in Australia they should try a Twenty20 comp with more than the state sides. Have 2 teams in Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth. One from Hobart  and maybe 3-4 from Sydney and Perth. Heck even align them with footy teams – Can you imagine the Collingwood Magpies playing the Adelaide Crows in Twenty20? I don’t even care who is playing, I already want the Crows to win, and I sure as hell want them to win more than when South Australia is playing Victoria.

Baseball has teams you can follow all your life. They play 162 times a year. You can work with a baseball fan and never agree on anything. If you are a cricket fan, and you work with a cricket fan, are you ever going to have an argument about whether Australia is better than England? Not unless your workmate is English.

Playing for and supporting your country is a great thing. But it should be like playing for your country in soccer. Baseball, unlike cricket, has worked out that true passion lies in having teams to live and die for. Case in point, Johnny Damon beat the Yankees while playing for Boston in the 2004 American League. I hated him. He now plays for the Yankees and he starred in Game 4 of the World Series – so obviously he is now a great player and I won’t hear a bad thing said against him! If say Virender Sehwag suddenly got an Australian citizenship I’d be wondering what the hell he was doing trying to get a game playing for Australia, and would cheer for him somewhat reservedly – it would feel odd, because, well country is country. But if he were playing for the Adelaide Crows against Collingwood in the Australian Twenty20 Championships, then I would be crossing fingers, and toes during his innings, hoping like hell he scored a ton of runs, and cheering madly.

Country is great, but for week in week out support, you need a club, and on that baseball beats the stuffing out of cricket.