Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Has anyone checked between the sofa cushions?

Today on the Australian Stock Exchange, $55 billion was lost. ("I could have sworn it was in my wallet when I went to work", the Chairman of the ASX said, "and then when I went to pay for my morning coffee it was just gone".)

It is such a huge amount no one really can grasp it - it's gone past logic and understanding. Will it hurt the economy? Well yes, it will I guess. Will we soon be making purchases with some bizarre bartering system involving nuts and berries? Too soon to tell; but just in case I'm holding off on eating that big bag of cashews I've got in my pantry.

Look I have an economics degree; I could try and analyse it all, and then weigh up what this will mean on "main street" (my prediction - an increase in teenagers doing "mainies" on Friday nights), but instead, I think it's better to sit back and watch Jon Stewart. Because when all you can do is laugh, you might as well laugh.

Monday, September 29, 2008

I'm with Gebrselassie for the first 100m

On Sunday in Berlin, Haile Gebrselassie broke his own world record in the marathon of 2hrs 3 min 59 sec. Running on the course where he set the old mark last year (and where Paul Tergat had set the previous record in 2003).

Now I was disappointed when Gebr decided to skip the Olympic marathon due to concerns about pollution, and I doubt he would have beat Wanjiru on that day anyway (2:06:32 in the heat and smog of Beijing was a great run), but he has certainly shown that while he may have lost some speed on the track - he came 6th in the 10,000m - he is still the king of the road (and also close to a million dollars richer).

Now let's break down his time.

He went through the halfway mark in 62 min 04 secs; which means he ran the second 21.1km faster than the first (ok only 5 secs faster, but still most mortals would only do the second half of a marathon faster if the ambulance they were in the back of on the way to hospital decided to go along the marathon route).

Now the time itself - 2 hrs 3 minutes, 59 seconds over 42.195 km. Break that down and it's 2 minutes 56 secs per kilometre. Should you be near a gym in the next few days, hop on a treadmill and try it at that pace for a kilometre. If you're still standing, you can call yourself fit. Do it for another 2 kilometres and I hope you're getting paid for whatever sport you play.

Ok, break it down some more. That pace equates to running 400m (one measly lap of the oval) in 70secs. 800m? We all did that at school - but hands up if you did it in 2 min 21 secs? If you did, you were most likely the state champion in your age group.

How fast is that for a mile? 4min 43sec. Ok, it's not Roger Bannister pace, but the difference is Gebrselassie kept it up for 25 more miles...

How close is he now to breaking the 2 hour mark (aside from the obvious 4 minutes)? He would need to run every kilometre 5.6secs faster. Or every 400m 2.2secs faster, or only 0.56 secs faster per 100m. That's only half a second! A doddle! The first 100m should be easy... the next 421.95 lot of them might get a bit tougher though...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Paul Newman: 1925-2008

How long was Paul Newman's career? Well his first two big breaks in movies were in Somebody Up there Likes Me (1956) and The Left Handed Gun (1958) in two roles intended for James Dean, and his last work in film was doing the voice of Doc in the Pixar movie Cars (2006), which is my 5 year old daughter's favourite movie.

The actors nominated with him for his first Best Actor Oscar in 1958 were Tony Curtis, Sidney Poitier, David Niven (the winner) and Spencer Tracy.

In 2002 he was nominated for best supporting actor, and of his fellow nominees Chris Cooper, Ed Harris, Christopher Walken and John C Reilly only Walken was in his teens in 1958 (Reilly wouldn't be born for another 7 years).

That is a career.

He was among the first wave of method actors (he studied at the New York Actor's Studio), and he was a great actor - his work in the early films is raw and edgy; but what really put him ahead of the rest was how great a star he was.

Within 2 years of his role as Rocky Graziano in Somebody Up there Likes Me - which if you ever catch on TV is gritty and very "method actorly" - he was co-starring with Elizabeth Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and then being the star of the huge blockbuster Exodus.

His best decade was the 1960s - The Hustler, Hud, Harper, Torn Curtain, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, would be the type of CV 99% of actors would die for. But in the 70s he kept going and really became a major star - The Sting, The Towering Inferno and the marvelously low-rent Slap Shot.

The 80s could have seen him do cameo roles, but instead he kept acting, and turned in some of the best performances by 60year old+ actors - brilliant in The Verdict, solid in The Colour of Money (for which he belatedly got an Oscar that he could/should have won at least 3 or 4 times), and I love his performances in Nobody's Fool in 1994, and The Road to Perdition in the 2003.

So that's at least one great performance (and generally more than one) in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s. Amazing. To put it into context, Tom Cruise, or Russell Crowe, or Denzel Washington will have to be putting in an Oscar worthy performance in 2030.

He is of course just as well known for being the perfect husband - married to Joanne Woodward since 1958 (often forgotten he was married for 10 years prior and has three children by his first wife) - and as the great all-round person - his pasta sauces and charity work etc.

He was serious about his acting, but didn't have the reputation of being a pain in the arse on the set. He was one of the great stars, but he wasn't known for big-noting himself, and was scandal free (maybe because he only hit it big at the age of 31).

And if his nine Oscar nominations aren't enough of an accolade; he also could be proud of the fact that he made it onto Richard Nixon's enemies list for "Radic-lib causes".

And so where do we see him when we remember him? Playing pool against the Minnesota Fats in The Hustler (very near the top of the list of great films that are hard to watch)? Sitting on a bed in crutches arguing with Liz Taylor in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof? Giving Katharine Ross a ride on a bicycle in Butch Cassidy? Playing poker against Robert Shaw in The Sting? Trapped in a burning skyscraper in The Towering Inferno?

For me, it has to be eating 50 eggs in Cool Hand Luke:

He's about the last of his generation - Poitier and Curtis are still alive, but not really acting, and other "older" actors like Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford and Jack Nicholson are all around 12 years younger than he, and didn't arrive on the scene till the end of the 60s. He's a guy who worked with Alfred Hitchcock, Robert Wise and Sam Mendes (and also voiced a computer animated car in a Pixar film).

He did it all, and he did it well.

You can't ask for much more than that.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

It was a bluff

Back on September 1, after John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate I declared Barrack Obama the winner of the US election.

Within a week of my making that prediction, McCain's polling went up and the Daily Gallup poll had him leading at one stage 49% to 44%.

I then wrote that the Democrats had to hold their nerve and keep raising the stakes, because in poker sooner or later you have to show your hand, and we would see if the Republicans were holding an Ace, or if it was all a bluff.

Well it was a bluff. A big, unsubtle bluff.

And it turns out the Democrats didn't raise the stakes, the stakes got bigger all on their own. The financial crisis had all of America thinking it's 1929, and the more they looked at Sarah Palin; the more they heard her speak in interviews, the less they liked what they saw. In fact the more scared they seemed to be.

Obama's polling has stayed rock solid. At one point he was leading the Gallup Poll 50% to 44%. It's now at a more reasonable 48% to 45%.

Palin is now considered what I thought she was when I first looked at her back at the start of the month - an embarrassment. It was all fine and dandy when she was at the Convention and nothing was actually real. But when the economy seems to be going to hell in a hand basket, you want someone who at least seems like they grasp the issues. Palin doesn't - she doesn't understand the issues, and she doesn't even seem like she could understand them.

The big reason I think Palin has become a negative factor is that the problems are domestic. Had the main concern been foreign; well she would've been fine - she sounded tough on those damn Iranians and Russkies. She is obviously an America first; the entire rest of the world second kind of politician that Americans love. And anyway, you would expect the Generals would be able to give her some advice should she need to go to battle.

But messing around with the economy? That ain't fun. That actually requires thinkin'. And Palin wasn't brought onto the campaign for thinkin' and showing off her book learnin'; nope she was brought on to appease the far-right wing of the Republican Party with her guns and small-town ways, and also to give McCain's tired image some oomph. It was the ultimate short term solution for a long term problem.

However, now things are really turning against her. She had an interview with Katie Couric on CBS News. It was bad. Here's a snippet with CNN commentator Jack Cafferty giving his views on her performance.

Now Cafferty is not a friend of Republicans - he has been known to criticise Democrats for not being tough enough against Bush's Iraq War policy. But here's conservative commentator, Kathleen Parker:

Palin's recent interviews with Charles Gibson, Sean Hannity and now Katie Couric have all revealed an attractive, earnest, confident candidate. Who Is Clearly Out Of Her League.

No one hates saying that more than I do. Like so many women, I've been pulling for Palin, wishing her the best, hoping she will perform brilliantly. I've also noticed that I watch her interviews with the held breath of an anxious parent, my finger poised over the mute button in case it gets too painful. Unfortunately, it often does. My cringe reflex is exhausted.

But look, that's just talking heads putting forth their opinions; let's let Palin persuade you of her credentials, the ones that she excels in - yep foreign policy:

Yep; a heart beat away from holding the most powerful office in the world. Oh well, I guess she can always try the old pitbull and lipstick line again. That's always good for a laugh...

Friday, September 26, 2008

Let's call a time out

You may have heard the John McCain decided to call a halt to his campaign because of the Financial crisis.

I guess this is because Presidential candidates can't do 2 things at once.

Anyhoo. The one thing he really should have done before suspending his campaign is go on The David Letterman Show. He didn't and Dave didn't take it real well; especially when it turns out McCain was appearing in an interview with Katie Couric instead.

About 5.5 - 6 million people would have watched this on TV, and this particular You Tube vide has already been downloaded 1.6 million times in 24 hours...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

On the QT: Deja vu all over again

Have to say I watched most of QT today, but felt like I was watching a re-run of the entire week.

Questions from the Libs on the credit crisis were recycled; the Govt slapped them away with similar answers to those provided in the days before; Lindsay Tanner referred to him still feeling nostalgic for Brendan Nelson; Anthony Albanese quoted Shakespeare; Warren Truss even asked another question about X series Jaguars and Toyota Land Cruisers (note to Warren: give it up man! There are cheaper 4WDs around than Land Cruisers - and how come suddenly every person who works in rural areas needs to go out and buy a new one?).

There was even another motion to suspend standing orders. It was a dumb one. There had not been any questions about pensions, and suddenly Turnbull stood up and started talking about the Government needing to increase the pension. It was bizarre. Such motions are meant to be proceeded by question upon question on an issue. This time it was like Turnbull just oh bugger it, let's end the week with me getting to talk.

The Government silenced his motion and that was it (well Joe Hockey bleated, but you get that).
All in all it was a good week for the Government; bad week for the Libs; very bad week for Julie Bishop; and an odd week for Kevin Rudd, who wasn't really missed at all....

Anyhoo with that I 'll end this week's politics with a couple clips of Bill Clinton on the Daily Show. As ever, Bill makes some good points, and generally makes you think if only the US Constitution hadn't stopped him from running against George W in 2000.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

On the QT: Have straws, will clutch

Julie Bishop had a shocker yesterday. She is clearly the target of the Government front bench in much the same way the Libs tried to target Swan at the start of the year.

The problem is Julie Bishop thinks she is doing splendidly, and thus keeps talking: good for the Government, bad for her.

Yesterday Wayne Swan caught her out plagiarising from the Wall Street Journal. She also apparently altered in Hansard her personal explanation which she gave in Parliament on the issue after she got back to her office and found out she had actually plagiarised (it's one of those things about Parliament - it's worse to lie about plagiarising than is is to actually plagiarise).

Today she was apparently "ropeable"; which I think is code for she was stripping the paint off the walls of her office as she blamed some poor flunky.

That poor flunky was obviously given a worse punishment than cleaning out the toilets of the Liberal Party Headquarters, for it seems someone in her office was forced to go through all of Wayne Swan's speeches searching for plagiarism.

Yep, she decided to go for the old "but he did it too" primary school argument. And boy did she come up with a cracker (well no she didn't but I'm trying to build up the suspense). Before we get to that we had the Assistant Treasurer Chris Bowen pretty much lacerating her over another stuff up found in her Monday's plagiarism speech. In that speech she stated:

This is a government that says it wants to promote Australia as a financial services hub and then reduces withholding tax for foreigners.

Err yes... the whole point of reducing the tax for foreigners is to get them to use Australia as a financial services hub. Julie Bishop must have skipped the chapter in Economics for Dummies which points out that when the price of something goes down people demand more of it. (At this point Turnbull must be calculating that the price of winning leadership of the Liberal Party is a bit more than he reckoned...)

After being thus shamed (but to be honest she didn't seem to grasp that she had been) Julie B strode up to the dispatch box armed with what always makes her feel good - yes, props! She help up two photocopied speeches; one off of Bowen's website dated 4 June 2008, and one from Hansard delivered by Swan on 16 June 2008. And she announced with much disgust on her part that apparently there were 8 paragraphs the same in both!!! (all of which had been nicely highlighted by previously said flunky).

Well geez... Swan slapped her down by pointing out he and Bowen are both in the Government, so it's not surprising they are using the same words (which was a good response given he had no idea what speeches she was talking about)... but there was more... Anthony Albanese got up a few questions later and pointed out that Bishop's flunky may have got Bowen's speech off his website, but Bowen had actually delivered it in Parliament when he was introducing a Tax Law Amendment Bill (ie a Treasury Bill) and that Swan's speech was given as the summation to the debate on the same Bill.

The reason the words were the same was that Bowen was actually introducing the Bill on behalf of the Treasurer - in effect reading out Swan's speech for him (who was overseas at the time).

Look, I don't want to get too dismissive of the absolute incompetence of this attack by Julie Bishop; but comparing her passing off something written by a journalist from the Wall Street Journal as her own words with Bowen and Swan using the same words in speeches on the same Bill is akin to claiming my stealing $2 off your desk to buy myself coffee is the same as you giving me $2 to buy you a coffee. But I guess a drowning Shadow Treasurer will grab a snake...

This is how bad things are for her at the moment: Simon Crean is scoring runs off her. He cited her saying in her Monday speech (again!) that because of the Howard government "the diversification of our exports has reduced the volatility of the terms of trade". It's a nice statement except for the fact, as Crean pointed out, Australia's exports didn't increase in diversification during the Howard years, and the terms of trade hasn't reduced in volatility. Oh well.

Most of QT today was admittedly pretty pointless - I mean when you have Warren Truss asking Swan why an X-series Jaguar is excluded from the increase in the luxury car tax, but "a Toyota Land Cruiser for a shearer isn't" you know things are pretty dire on the opposition's side. That he had earlier asked about farm hands and country vets getting slugged when they buy "a new Toyota Land Cruiser" leads me to think Truss must have a part-share in a Toyota dealership somewhere in his electorate.

Anthony Albanese got the line of the day award for suggesting in his attack on Bishop that when she took up the position she didn't ask for extra staff, she asked for an extra photocopier.

Underperformer of the day award goes to Julia Gillard. She did nothing wrong, but she passed up a golden opportunity. Turnbull asked her about the Government rejecting a proposal in April to increase the pension by $30 a week (it didn't but let's not let facts get in the way), and he ended by asking "Who is engaged in hypocrisy now?"

Well now, that line really deserved more than Julia gave it. She got a couple runs, when really it deserved being hit out of the grandstands. Perhaps she is holding herself back. I guess that's the problem with standing in for Rudd - she has to walk a balance between being very good, but not so good that people start thinking...

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

On the QT: Shakespeare and Demidenko

Today was a significant day in Australian politics: it was the first day a woman has acted as PM in Question Time. Julia Gillard gives the impression she has been waiting to sit in the big chair all her life, and she took to the role with ease.

The theme of the day was pensions and why the Government shouldn't support the Liberal's Bill to raise the single aged (and belatedly, thanks to Laurie Oakes, the single veterans) pension by $30 a week.

But really the day, like the Bill, was all about theatre.

Turnbull gave Julia a nice warm up delivery asking her if she still stood by her statement that it was impossible to live on the single aged pension.

Before she stood up those on the Government Front Bench were calling out to Turnbull as the Merchant of Venice (in reference to Albanese's nice quip yesterday). Joe Hockey talking before thinking called out at Julia that she was Lady Macbeth; which allowed Julia's first words as acting-PM to be "And we can always count on the Member for North Sydney (Hockey) to play The Fool as usual".

[Note to self - never heckle Julia Gillard.]

Yesterday on ABC radio Julie Bishop made the ultimate bad start as shadow treasurer when she got the RBA cash interest rate wrong. Given the way Costello and Howard slathered over Rudd getting the tax rates wrong last year, it was not surprising to see Swan get up and absolutely skewer Julie today.

This was probably Swan's best day (and to be honest, he's had a few good ones of late). Now I actually think he was actually kinder to Bishop than he needed to be - he could have pointed out that members of her side had given her the Homer Simpson defence - for eg Barnaby Joyce pointed out "It's her first day in the job...". Senator Eric Abetz concurred: ""She's very new in the job."

And also all those damn numbers are a problem - I mean how is one to remember the number 7? Here's a tip for you Julie - think of it like it's Bingo, except your Bingo call will be "7, lucky for some unless you took out a mortgage just prior to 10 interest rate rises in a row"

Swan then moved onto the next bumbler of the day, Malcolm Turnbull, who this morning on Fran Kelly was asked what football teams he supported. Swan read out his answer verbatim complete with arrrs and ummms (and verbatim I shall quote it as well):

"I have to confess I vote for, I arrr I, I support, in ummm Australian Rules the Roosters, who of course aren't in the Grand Final"

Kelly quickly pointed out they were in the NRL, and Turnbull equally quickly recovered and continues, "yes I meant the Swans in the AFL, and the Roosters in Sydney in rugby league which are, of course, the Eastern Suburbs Rugby League Club which is right next door to my (Bondi Junction electorate) office in fact.''

Look I'll give him the benefit of the doubt - he probably does support the Swans in the AFL - though I'll wager he's more a Rugby Union lad than League. But still Swan did well with the material he was given. He followed up by saying that next we could expect Turnbull "to congratulate Ricky Ponting on winning the Brownlow Medal".

Which gets my line of the day award.

Lindsay Tanner was up next with a Dorothy (it was the type of QT where the questions from the opposition were pretty much irrelevant, as they were all very close variations on the same question on pensions) and he had more fun with Julie's inability to remember big numbers (well numbers over 5 at any rate).

He sighed and remarked "he was already nostalgic for the Member for Bradfield" (Nelson), of whom say what you like "but he knew a good statistic when he saw one". Tanner said Nelson would have known the RBA cash rate rate - "in fact he probably knows the interest rate and bond issue of Uzbekistan as well".

At this point Nelson smiled broadly, nodded his head and pretty much joined in on the joke with Tanner, no doubt absolutely loving that his former Deputy who last week voted against him (yes loyal to the almost end) was getting splayed.

After another question to Julia on pensions, Turnbull got to his feet and started to move that Standing Orders be suspended so he could talk about pensions. Unfortunately for him, the Speaker had already given the call to a Government backbencher. After much argy bargy (mostly from the Member for Argy Bargy Joe Hockey) Turnbull sat down, and Swan was asked another Dorothy. And what a good thing it was that is was asked.

Swan pointed out he had listened to Julia Bishop's response to a Ministerial Statement on the financial crisis yesterday in Parliament and his ears picked up when he heard her say regarding the US Government rescue package:

"The proposal would give the Treasury Secretary significant leeway and flexibility in buying, selling and holding residential or commercial mortgages as well as any securities, obligations or other instruments that are based on or related to such mortgages. Among the things the US government is asking for is the authority to hire asset managers to oversee the buying of assets. "

Swan told Parliament those words sounded familiar. And sure enough he had seen them before - in the Wall Street Journal. On September 20, Deborah Solomon wrote:

"The proposal would give the Treasury Secretary significant leeway and flexibility in buying, selling and holding residential or commercial mortgages as well as any securities, obligations or other instruments that are based on or related to such mortgages.” The article also said: "Among the things the US government is asking for is the authority to hire asset managers to oversee the buying of assets."

While there's nothing wrong with quoting the Wall Street Journal, common practice anywhere outside of Primary school is to acknowledge your source, not claim the words as your own.

Swan with glee branded Bishop as the Minister for Plagiarism, and then added, "She's the Helen Demidenko of Australian Politics".

Yep, it's taken a few months, but Swan is now having fun in Question Time - he has finally worked out that in Parliament, as in life, "the play's the thing".

Monday, September 22, 2008

On the QT: What news on the Rialto?

A new team on the opposition side, but little change in proceedings really.

First up Turnbull came in off the long run and pitched up a half volley to Kevin Rudd. He asked: "Will the PM before he jets off to New York meet with me to discuss what bipartisan arrangements can be arranged to help combat the current financial crisis?"

Before Rudd was even to his feet the Government front bench was pointing out that once again the question was all about Malcolm. Seriously has this guy ever uttered a line without the use of the words "I" or "me"?

Rudd saw this delivery coming from last Friday and slapped it away with ease, pointing out if Turnbull wants to demonstrate some bipartisanship on the economy he can tell those in the Senate to unblock the budget. Too easy really.

The first Dorothy to Rudd was on the financial crisis, and Rudd it must be said was bloody boring. I don't really know what he was banging on about, and I did an honours degree in economics (admittedly it was a long time ago, and I really didn't understand much of what was being said, but you get the idea).

Julie Bishop the new shadow Treasury spokesperson (yes my wishes were granted) fronted up to ask a question to Rudd on liquidity in the market or some such. It was an inauspicious first effort - though I'll give her some credit and assume it was a warm-up. But Rudd dealt with it easily, putting the ball through the covers for a four - not a great shot, but more the type of four that requires the fielder to run all the way to the fence only to just come up short).

Julie B's next effort was to her counterpart Swan on why the government has had three different positions on short selling (the act of "selling" shares you don't actually own in the hope the share price will fall so you can then "buy" - or close out - those shares) in the last three days. Now I watch a fair bit of politics, and this massive lots of changes by the Government had passed me by, but no doubt she was basing it on something. I guess.

Swan started by welcoming and congratulating her to the position, and then after the niceties were done, he laughed and put out the front foot and drove her over the fence. He pointed out that the Government had put out a policy on short selling earlier in the year, that things were moving at a pretty quick pace in the last week, and that at the end of last week most of the stock exchanges around the world began banning various types of short selling. Thus if the Government hadn't changed its policy to adjust to this it would be akin to letting everyone in the world sell short Australian companies.

Now that recap just shows the type of QT it was - mostly boring, because let's be honest, unless it's about Charlie Sheen trying to cozy up to Gordon Gekko, finance is pretty boring.

Chris Bowen had fun with a Dorothy by pointing out the different positions Malcolm Turnbull has on how big $6 billion is. He pointed out that last Friday Turnbull thought it "a very small amount of money", then on Sunday in an interview with Laurie Oakes he said this:

"Clearly, $6 billion is a gigantic amount of money in anyone's terms. It's a huge amount of money".

So it's very small and gigantic and huge, but talk about it is "just rhetoric". With such great material to work with, it's little wonder Bowen looked like he was having fun.

Turnbull then asked Rudd whether it was really a great time to leave the country (because I guess by God nothing can get done if he's not within our borders). Rudd dealt with it pretty easily, but he was actually more the set-up man for Anthony Albanese who was up next with a Dorothy on the importance of overseas travel.

If Bowen had great material, Albanese's was fantastic. He pointed out that back in April Malcolm Turnbull also ventured to New York. Here were the reasons he gave:

There is very great concern about the situation here in America and that’s really the reason I’m here. The security, the mortgages, the homes, the jobs of Australians depend in large measure on the international developments coming out of the United States of this credit crisis, so it was important for me as Shadow Treasurer to come here and discuss that with the Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and of course with the Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Don Kohn and other senior officials and political figures here.

Gee who will Rudd be meeting? No he won't be meeting with the Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve. No. He'll meet the Chairman, Stephen Friedman.

Albanese also pointed out that just a week ago Turnbull was jetting back from the sunny climes of Italy, where he was doing...errr bugger all really. Albanese to the absolute delight of the Government front bench pointed out Turnbull had thus gone from merchant banker to the Merchant of Venice.

The rest of QT to be honest involved me not paying too much attention. It seemed like Julie Bishop was trying to blame Rudd for the global financial crisis, and some such.

Joe Hockey, in his new guise as shadow Finance spokesperson asked Rudd that as Rudd had said the crisis will have an impact on government revenue, will that be because of lower growth or fewer jobs.

Now when they were both on Sunrise you got the impression Hockey and Rudd got on OK, I doubt that is the case now. Rudd almost sneered in contempt, and pointed out that the budget had forecast a decline in growth due to the financial crisis so wake up dopey (or words to that effect).
The release of today's Newspoll revealed how biased the media is - especially The Australian. The previous Newspoll had a Two Party Preferred of ALP 56 - LNP 44; today's was ALP 55 - LNP 45. Hardly anything to get excited about.

Last week in anticipation of the first Newspoll after Turnbull taking over the leadership, the blog Larvatus Prodeo put on a little comp for people to come up with the headlines of The Australian depending on what the Newspoll result was. I laughingly put forward the following scenarios:

ALP 52- LNP 48 will be “Turnbull Has Rudd on the Run”
ALP 53- LNP 47 will be “Turnbull Stuns Rudd”
ALP 54- LNP 46 will be “It’s Game On!”
ALP 55- LNP 45 will be “In other news today on page 12…”

So the result was 54-46... and what headline do I find today on Janet Albrechtsen's column? Yep. "Game On". Sad but true.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Flick of the Week: "I'm only borrowing your Hum-Vee"

This week’s flick takes us from The Longest Day in 1962, which featured the fine early work of Sean Connery, to 1996 and Connery as a star in Michael Bay’s action blockbuster, The Rock.

Now The Rock is not by any stretch of the imagination a great film. It’s definitely a 2 ½ stars out of 4 job, that is likely to get replayed about once every 8 months on Channel 10. But I think it is an interesting film because 1996 was a crucial year in the history of action films; and The Rock also highlights a number of other interesting changes, that mark it different from similar types of films that came before.

The three greatest action films of the 1980s were, without any shadow of a doubt, Beverly Hills Cop (1984), Lethal Weapon (1987) and Die Hard (1988). Beverly Hills Cop made more money than the other two, but had less initial impact. One of the reasons for this was Eddie Murphy: there just aren’t that many comedians who can also play tough guy roles. Robin Williams can play a teacher or psychiatrist, but can you see him pumping a guy full of lead Clint Eastwood style? BHC, though was important for being the first action film produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson (whose first big hit was Flashdance).

Lethal Weapon set a great template – translating the odd-couple from comedy to action. It also made use of the Vietnam War – both Gibson and Glover in LW are Vietnam War veterans. It took the theme from Rambo, and used it as pure character development (plus a bit of plot). But while the Lethal Weapon template of partners and the Vietnam War had some influence, the real influential action film was Die Hard.

For the next decade at least just about every action film could be characterised as “Die Hard on a ...” – Speed (on a bus); Under Siege (on a battleship); Die Hard 2 (in an airport); Speed 2 (on a slow boat); Passenger 57 (on a plane); Air Force One (on a plane with the President).

The Rock could even be called “Die Hard on an island”.

The Rock actually uses both Lethal Weapon and Die Hard – the partnership is used, as is the reference to the Vietnam War, plus the whole “trapped with the bad guys” aspect of Die Hard. But The Rock signals a change from the action flicks of the 80s not-least because of two people – Don Simpson and Michael Bay.

This is Don Simpson’s last film (he died of a heart attack after living a life of absolute excess), and it was the second film of Michael “if it stands still blow it up” Bay. Simpson with Bruckheimer had produced, apart from Bev Hills Cop, Top Gun, Days of Thunder, Bev Hills Cop 2, and Bad Boys. Bad Boys is also important because it was the first film directed by Michael Bay, and it also harked back to Lethal Weapon (the partners) but this time also Bev Hills Cop – the comedian/action star (Will Smith). Simpson represents the 80s action film; Bay the 90s and after.

The other two names involved in The Rock that are interesting to note are Sean Connery and Nicholas Cage. Now if you are going to be an actor, pick Sean Connery as your role model. During the 1960s he is, of course, Bond. In the 1970s he gives up the big budget, but appears in some smaller very good films where he gets to act – The Man Who Would Be King is the best of them.

However, by the 1980s his career seems to be all but over; he was reduced to doing another Bond film and appearing in bit roles in trash like Highlander. Then came The Untouchables: he wins an Oscar, and suddenly Boom! Talk about a resurrection, he finds the role of “supporting actor” – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Hunt for Red October, Prince of Thieves. He was suddenly the go to guy when you needed an old guy with gravitas.

In The Rock he plays not only the old guy with gravitas, but also the old guy who can kick butt.

Here’s the five movies Nic Cage did before The Rock: Guarding Tess, It Could Happen to You, Trapped in Paradise, Kiss of Death and Leaving Las Vegas. After The Rock he did these five: Con Air, Face/Off, City of Angels, Snake Eyes, and 8MM. It’s not hard to see this marked a turning point in his career – from indie type weird, not sure where he fits guy, to major action star. He is now perhaps the most versatile actor going around. He can do mindless action in Gone in 60 Seconds, then do bizarre indie-film in Adaptation. He can do drama – Lord of War and World Trade Centre – and then be a comic book hero in Ghost Rider or National Treasure.

I don’t particularly like Nic Cage; but there’s hardly any film where he can’t turn up and fit right in.

So with Nic Cage and Sean Connery, you’ve got a good base for your action film. The Rock also had a great supporting cast – Ed Harris as the bad guy (but with honour) playing the standard bad guy but with honour in any army themed film – ie he has to be THE most honoured soldier in the history of the army. The big shift with The Rock was the reference to the Gulf War. While Ed Harris’ character had fought in Vietnam, the reason for his taking hostages on Alcatraz is the Gulf War. It signalled a generational shift, one reflected in Broken Arrow which came out the same year (in that film John Travolta’s character makes mention of how many missions he flew over Iraq).

Others in support are the “must have in an action film of the 80s” Michael Bein; John C McGinley in between his days acting for Oliver Stone and finding himself in Scrubs; John Spenser in between his time on L.A Law and The West Wing; plus one the great “oh yeah, he’s that guy from that film” guys with David Morse.

The plot is great – bad guy with honour takes hostages on Alcatraz because of some obscure not really sure, but who cares reason, he threatens to explode poison across San Francisco, so cue nerdy poison expert Nic Cage (with the typically unreal movie name – Stanley Goodspeed) and the only man to have escaped Alcatraz, Sean Connery (pity they couldn’t get Clint Eastwood). First there is a pointless car chase (with a humvee, as you do), and then Cage and Connery team up. Once on the island the story is pretty much over. No prizes for guessing who wins, but it’s all done pretty well.

In fact it is done so well, and with at least half an eye on some semblance of reality, that some 12 years later you can watch it with an almost fond nostalgia. Ah, an action film where there is actually some pain; where there is some semblance of concern that the heroes may be in danger. Since The Rock – and 1996’s Independence Day was a big player in this – action films have got further and further from reality.

It’s no surprise that now action films are pretty much all comic-book films, because it had got to the stage anyway where action stars all had the healing abilities of Wolverine. Consider the latest Indiana Jones film – at one point in the film the characters go over a series of four Niagara Falls size waterfalls, and come out with nothing more than a “phew that was wet” expression (mind you by this point Indy had already survived an atomic bomb by hiding in a fridge...).

So The Rock may not have influenced any films after it, but it is a nice meeting point of the 80s and 90s. It contains actors and elements from the 80s, and the director and star of many of the 90s action films that dumbed down the genre. So stupid have action films become now, that were this released this year Connery would probably be considered for an Oscar. It’s a great indicator of how movies have become progressively more targeted for 14 year olds (and mostly it seems really dumb 14 year olds).

Nostalgic for The Rock? I would never have believed it.

Best line:
John Mason: Are you sure you're ready for this?
Stanley Goodspeed: I'll do my best.
John Mason: Your "best"?! Losers always whine about their best. Winners go home and f*ck the prom queen.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Malcolm and his ego need to get a room

Today, Malcolm Turnbull's love affair with himself continued to unabated.

He decided that due to the financial crisis in America, it was time for a bipartisan approach on the economy. Yes the economy. You know that thing that most elections are all about.

Here's a tip Malcolm; you want a bipartisan approach on the economy? How about you first PASS THE FRICKEN BUDGET?!

Malcolm apparently wants to put "petty issues" to one side. OK, how about you also put the serious issues to one side and you agree to the Government's workplace relations policy?

Kevin Rudd quite rightly pointed this out in his press conference today.

Rudd would also know that "bipartisan" implies two parties, and with Malcolm, any marriage always involves three - You, Malcolm and Malcolm's ego.

Malcolm's view of working together is everyone getting together to decide to agree with him.

He is like the guy you invite around for a barbecue who takes over the cooking while you are inside grabbing a beer, and when you get back, somehow neglects to pass you back the tongs and then tells you to hold off on putting on the chicken kebabs, that he has just bought a flash new 4 burner BBQ, that you really should have marinated the steak overnight, and oh would you mind grabbing him a beer?

And excuse me if Kevin Rudd shouldn't rush to seek help from an ex-merchant banker on a crisis involving the failure of ... gee what is it now? oh yes - a shirt load of merchant banks!

And given that back in May after the budget was delivered newspoll showed that voters saw Wayne Swan as the most capable person to handle the economy over Turnbull by 40% to 26%, I don't see why Rudd would want to go with the runner-up.

Turnbull and his party, might also do well to realise if Australians had wanted his mob to be in charge of the economy they would have voted for them last year.

But geez, the hubris of this guy is infinite. And I believe his onanistic desire to be thought the best at everything will be his undoing.

I am positive he will do well in the polls in the short term; but it's my belief that with Malcolm, less is definitely more. The more people really see of him, the more they will realise that no one comes before Malcolm in Malcolm's eyes.

I have been a Republican since I was 9 and my Dad let me stay up and watch The Dismissal on TV; it is one of my abiding hopes that Australia will become a republic before I die. And yet, by the day of the Republic referendum, even I was feeling like voting "no" due mainly to the pompous arrogant git who was running the Australian Republican Movement. Hmmm, now who was that guy??

But look, what do you expect, Turnbull is an ex-merchant banker, and we all know what that is rhyming slang for...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

On the QT: But enough about me, what do YOU think of me?

Yesterday, during the Q&A session after her speech at the National Press Club, Glenn Milne asked Julia Gillard what she thought of Malcolm Turnbull. Julia replied:

"If I can make one personal reflection, I think if I was in a room with him, I'd be a little bit concerned about whether there was enough space for me, him and his ego. That would be on my mind."

Turbull's ego was on display in QT today, and even he realised it.

His second question to Rudd seemed to be made up somewhat on the spot, as it referred to some remarks of Turnbull's contained in Rudd's answer to a Dorothy Dixer just prior. It seemed he had decided to change the wording a bit and thus got a tad unstuck:

"Mr Speaker my question is to the Prime Minister...arrrr...and I refer to my remarks made this morning where I said [pause] and I quote...

At this point the ALP side of the House fell about laughing at the ludicrousness of him quoting himself in a question (normally questions are meant to be about things the Government has said - but not for Malcolm, he wants all of QT to be about him!).

Anthony Albanese took the opportunity amid the laughter to make a point of order asking "is it in order for the leader of the opposition to ask himself a question?"

Once the merriment had briefly subsided, Turnbull tried to salvage something from the fire:

"...I arrr...ask the Prime Minister whether he agrees with these comments..." (at which point he quoted himself)

But give credit to Malcolm, he knew he had completely stuffed up the question, and that it had drawn attention to his deep abiding affection for himself. He allowed a sheepish smile to come across his face as he stood up to ask the last part of the question. His smile was noticed by Julia and others on the front bench, who laughed ever more.

Later, Wayne Swan in response to a Dorothy on "responsible economic management" (as generic an economic question as you can get) stated of Turnbull, "You could see his sense of self satisfaction that he was even quoting himself..."

Yes Turnbull is better than Nelson, and the ALP knows he is; but they do not fear him yet.
The rumours seem to be pretty strong that Julie Bishop will get the shadow treasury spot. If so, expect more Dorothys to Julia on broader economic areas that will allow her to continue to attack Julie B's throat.

If Julie does get the job, it will be the first time someone has been promoted to get them away from their opposite number.

Julie B's smug sense of superiority was again on display (in fairness she could not possibly turn it off, it is in her DNA). After asking Julia a question about why her speech at the National Press Club on the Government's new workplace relations legislation did not once mention job creation, Julie flicked through the printed speech and turned ever so slowly away from the dispatch box in an attempt to display her total contempt.

Julia then ripped into her for obviously still being in love with workchoices.

Were I Julia, I would have also said that the Howard Government was great at talking about how work choices created jobs - it was less great at providing actual evidence; but still Julia did enough to annoy Julie B (which should always be one's goal), and when Julia finished, Julie B tried to table the speech (which was denied by the Government - again done purely to annoy). She kept on talking and the Government front bench started heckling her, at which point she cried "Ooh Mr Speaker!"

Oh, I say Julie, yes they were perfectly horrid to you. Now sit down.
Line of the day went to the Speaker, who in prefacing his call to Bob Katter to ask a question, said: "I'll just get comfortable." Everyone, including Katter, who is well known for his long, convoluted questions, had a good chuckle.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

On the QT: Secret Seven Win Through, or Five Get in a Fix

According to Steven Lewis, the crucial voting block that switched to Malcolm Turnbull were seven MPs from NSW: Tony Abbott, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Bronwyn Bishop, Louise Markus, Alex Hawke, Joe Hockey, and Helen Coonan.

All seven of them were absolute rusted on Howard supporters; and excepting Hockey (and perhaps Coonan to an extent) all are from the far right wing of the Liberal Party. You could say they are from the side of the NSW wing that brought the NSW Liberal Party Peter Debnam.

Alex Hawke is a young neophyte commonly referred to as an "extremist" and who I wouldn't be surprised if he were to have a poster of Sarah Palin on his wall.

Fierravanti-Welles has spent most of her short time in the Senate complaining about the ABC being terribly biased against the Liberal Party. Here are a couple of examples of her complaints from the May 2006 Budget estimates committee:

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS—Regarding double standards on length of answers; when the Prime Minister went on the 7.30 Report and was interviewed by Mr O’Brien—and again I will provide you with a copy of this—the Prime Minister gave a 15-line answer to a question. Mr O’Brien stated: ‘Let’s hope for some shorter ones now’ and he goes on, ‘it’s chewing up the interview time’. The PM was responding to a very complex issue—might I say typically rude and gratuitous of Mr O’Brien.

A few weeks earlier when Mr O’Brien interviewed the Labor Party president Warren Mundine, a 22 line answer was unremarked by Mr O’Brien. One standard for the Labor Party and another one for the Prime Minister. Could you investigate the issue, Mr Cameron, and provide your comment to me. It is really demonstrating double standards, particularly in the 7.30 Report and its treatment of one side of politics as opposed to the other.


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS—... When, for example, Mr Beazley attended the May Day rally, you had four ABC microphones set up with all the attendant staff. Mark Vaile appeared at the Cole Inquiry and there were 14 ABC reporters and production staff present. Why did you need 14?

(Gee I don't know Senator, maybe because the opposition leader attending a May Day rally is as boring as bat shite, and a Minister appearing before a Royal Commission on whether or not he knew about the oil for food scandal is big news?)

but anyway, you get the idea...

Louise Markus is a member of Hillsong Church, and the campaign in her electorate in 2004 election has been viewed by some as a template for what happened last year in Jackie Kelly's electorate. Markus' ALP opponent in 2004 was Ed Husic, who is a Muslim. Pamphlets during the campaign were distributed (by whom we don't know) with a fake ALP logo bearing the slogan "Ed Husic is a devout Muslim. Ed is working hard to get a better deal for Islam." It was also alleged that Liberal Party supporters at booths on eleciton day were overheard urging voters to support Ms Markus "because she's a Christian".

And you know all about Tony Abbott and Bronwyn Bishop...

The big problem for Turnbull is that aside from wanting to have a Liberal Government, there are bugger all issues on which he would agree with any of the above infamous five (especially on social issues).

So why did they vote for him? Well obviously because they want to win government, and rightly believe Turnbull is a better chance than Nelson. But the important thing is Turnbull won by only four votes, and while that group of five desperately want to win the next election; as the right wing of the NSW State Liberal Party has shown, they can be more concerned with ensuring the party stays deeply conservative, even if it results in an election loss.

So what does Turnbull have to do? Well pretty much improve the Lib's position in the polls to the extent that he doesn't have to worry about those five (and other far-right wing MPs in the party) looking for another candidate. If he improves the polls, many of those who stayed with Nelson purely to give him a fair go, will quickly move to Turnbull's side and his majority in the party will be strong.

But even then, the five will be a vocal minority; and will not stand for too much Wentworth style "small "L" liberalism" from Turnbull, which is unfortunate, because that's who he is, and Turnbull does not have a history of changing for anyone. Interesting times ahead.
QT was again in the phony war mode. Still no new Liberal front bench, so not really much ado about anything.

Turnbull and Christopher Pyne (who will likely be promoted) were on the attack against Attorney General, Robert McClelland, for comments he made about the recent terror trial in Melbourne. Turnbull and Pyne were trying to get Rudd and McClelland to say that his comments could be cause for an appeal by the guilty parties and that he was wrong to make them because there are still 3 cases before the courts.

It was a nice line of questioning by the pair, unfortunately it was also pointless. Their main argument was that the judge in the case said McClelland should have not said anything, because it didn't serve the justice system. While he is entitled to his opinion, a quick squiz at the transcript shows McClelland did nothing wrong:

ROBERT McCLELLAND: The jury in the Pendennis trial has now reached a verdict in respect to ten of the accused. The jury is still deliberating on charges against two individuals and the court orders remain in place in respect to those matters, so, as such, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on detail relating to those matters.

However, I welcome the convictions that have been handed down today.....

So it wasn't exactly Kevin Andrews and the Haneef case.

The unintentional line of the day was from Julie Bishop. When Lindsay Tanner was making light of Malcolm Turnbull's time on struggle street (you know, the rented flat), Julie B got up to make a point of order and said she knows "the Government is entirely intimidated by the new leader of the opposition".

The laughter from the Government benches seemed to indicate otherwise; and she probably didn't think that he remarks also meant that even she knows the ALP feared nothing from the old leader of the opposition...

Look I think Turnbull is a much better opponent than Nelson, but I do not think the ALP is intimidated by him. And they really have no reason to be - nothing he did in his time in Government was at all worthy of pride. He was put in charge of water and the environment and was pretty much walked over by Howard; and were it not for the ALP running an absolute dud candidate in Wentworth at the last election he might not have even made it back into parliament.

He's been a personal success, but in the public sphere he has few laurels to rest on.

Julia Gillard was on the attack as well today. She first answered rather dully to a Dorothy Dixer on workplace relations... her next answer to a Dorothy on the ALP's new "Forward with Fairness" brought out the venom. She challenged Turnbull to decide whether he was "to spit in the face of the Australian worker and treat them as chattel" by continuing AWAs or if he "would dump his deputy".

It was a sign of things to come. Bishop amazingly is being touted as Turnbull's shadow treasurer. Surely the ALP couldn't be that lucky? One might almost think the Libs believe they did lose the last election only because they stuck with Howard - do they recall the anti-workchoices campaign?? Bishop is the most pro-WC member of the Libs, and quite possibly the only one of the Libs whose demeanour makes Turnbull seem middle-class.

But I wouldn't be surprised if she is given the job. I think the Libs are believing their own words and think the economy is so bad that people actually want workchoices back because we now all realise how wonderful it was. I am sure Julie B believes that most Australians think they made a mistake in November. Until the Libs realise some of their own policies were to blame for their defeat, I think they're going to struggle. The problem is Turnbull realises this, but he is in the minority...

The real line of the day goes the Annabel Crabbe. Yesterday I was trying to think of a good description of Turnbull and Bishop at their press conference. Thankfully I didn't come up with anything, because Annabel's description of the two of them as "the Blake and Krystle Carrington of the Liberal Party" is absolutely perfect.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

On the QT: I'm only a poor ex-Merchant Banker

Malcolm Turnbull has the image of being a rich, toff millionaire merchant banker from Sydney's eastern suburbs. And it's one that will be hard to shake (mainly because he is a rich, toff, millionaire merchant banker from eastern Sydney).

Now I know Kevin Rudd is just as rich (due to his wife's business), but politics is perception and Rudd does not come across as the type of person who hangs out at art galleries and dines at Aria and Testuya's. Turnbull not only comes across like he does, he comes across as someone who buys paintings from art galleries, and has a personal table at Aria and Tetsuya's.

And if you think Turnbull doesn't think it's a problem, check out his opening words at his first press conference as leader of the Liberal Party:

"I do not come to the position of the leader of the Liberal Party from a lifetime of privilege. I know what it's like to be very short of money, I know what it's like to live in rented flats, I know what it is like to be raised by a single parent."

Geez, where's a violin when you need it?

He also knows what it's like to be considered part of Sydney's A-list
Now because of the leadership vote in the morning, Question Time was a rather dull affair; obviously the Liberal tactics' committee had other things on their mind; but even given that, Turnbull's opening effort was an odd attack. He asked Rudd what concrete action the PM was now taking to strengthen the Australian economy due to the global financial crisis, in particular the failure of the Lehman Brothers Bank.

So to counter the image that he is an ex-banker, he opens with a question about an investment bank.

He did the same with his second question, seeming to ponder the exposure of various levels of government to Lehman Brothers, and wondering what Rudd was going to do about it.

It was somewhat odd - especially as not half an hour earlier at the National Press Club, Peter Costello in the course of delivering his own eulogy, remarked on the strength of the Australian financial market compared to the US.

According to Samantha Maiden of The Australian it was Turnbull "attacking the Rudd Government on economic management". Which suggests that the bar of what constitutes an "attack" has been set pretty damn low.

The rest of QT was made up of questions from back benchers. Obviously as Turnbull has yet to pick his front bench, there wasn't much point in letting any of those sitting up the front ask questions on areas they may no longer have any responsibility of in two days time.

It probably wasn't helped by the stream from the parliament house website being rather scratchy, but for mine it was all pretty boring. The real QT won't begin again until the Libs have a new front bench.

Wayne Swan had the line of the day, suggesting that to Turnbull alcopops is the sound made when he opens a bottle of Moet. It was a nice class-war line, but I'm not sure how many legs the "rich Turnbull attacks" have. I think his ego and arrogance are more of a put off to voters than his wealth.
So what impact will Turnbull have on the polls? Well obviously there will have to be some improvement - it's hardly possible for him to make them worse!

But one of the things Turnbull and the Liberal Party will now realise is that 2010 is a long way away. The early strategy seemed to be to let Nelson take the first 12 months and then run for the line 18 months to 2 years out with a new leader. Now the run for the line is over 2 years long. And Turnbull will have to produce significantly better polling or the sharks will start to circle again. He also needs to unite a very conservative block of MPs behind his rather more moderate views (let alone work with the National Party...).
There is a corridor in Old Parliament House which has the photos of every opposition leader who never became PM. Brendan Nelson will now take his place after that of Kim Beazley, Mark Latham, Simon Crean, and Alexander Downer. Where does he rank among those? Obviously better than Downer; but certainly not as good as Beazley (who ran in 2 elections, and also got the ALP back into a winning position). I guess he was better than Latham, but only in retrospect - Latham did OK as a leader, his legacy was only trashed once he lost the leadership and published his diaries, and also Latham led the ALP to an election, something Nelson didn't get close to doing, so perhaps he's ranked behind Latham.

I think Nelson is about equal with Simon Crean; both were failures, but both did good things for their party - Crean ensured the ALP voted against going to war in Iraq, and Nelson made the sorry to the stolen generations a bi-partisan apology.

In a nice bit of means nothing symmetry Nelson has been replaced by Turnbull who is the member for Wentworth. Nelson also becomes the second "Dr" to fail as leader the Liberal Party; the first was of course Dr Hewson, who was the member for Wentworth.

Monday, September 15, 2008

On the QT: But I like jam sandwiches

Today's abbreviated Question Time was all about pensions, but in reality it was about Brendan Nelson's leadership

The Opposition wanted to talk about why the Government wouldn't support its Bill to increase the single aged pension by $30 a week.

The Government wanted to talk about the fact that there was no Bill to support as the Libs had stuffed up and not realised the Bill they were going to introduce was unconstitutional.

The Opposition wanted to talk about why the Government was doing a review into pensions when leaked documents showed a mini review on pensions had been done in March this year.

The Government wanted to talk about why the Libs had suddenly started caring about pensions, when Peter Costello's memoirs state that last year the Howard Cabinet had knocked back a proposal to increase the single aged pension.

In the end bugger all was talked about because Nelson moved that Standing Orders be suspended so that a debate on pensions could occur. This allowed Nelson to do what he most loves doing - getting overwrought, and using props.

Now, back in May and June after the budget the symbol of struggle for Nelson was Taragos and wheelchairs:

...they will be there in their Taragos with a wheelchair in the back... these are the men and women who are making decisions about whether they are going to buy processed sausages or chops..

Pensioners however don't drive Taragos, but never fear my friends, the processed sausages are still there.
He wailed about pensioners having to survive on "processed sausages and jam sandwiches".

Now obviously the processed snags was a slip on his behalf (I guess when he's excited he goes back to the old faithfuls), because it was soon replaced with "Home Brand baked beans and jam sandwiches".

At this point he held up a jar of jam and a tin of baked beans. He then mentioned jam sandwiches once more before sitting down in a lather of righteous indignation.

I would hated to have had Nelson as my GP; I can just imagine the scene:

ME: So Doc, what's the prognosis?

NELSON: Look it's too early to say, but if the worst case scenario occurs, you'll die; and probably die horribly, slowly and painfully.

ME: Oh my God! But that... that's the worst, what about the best case?

NELSON: Look, son, forget the best case, think about dying a long, slow, terrible death. If you have a Tarago, I'd suggest selling it to help pay for the funeral. In fact if you look at this prop I have here, you'll see the various stages of the awful termination of your young, sad life.

ME: Geez, but you said it was just an ingrown toenail.

Now obviously had it been Malcolm Turnbull delivering the lines, he would have held up a jar of Fig Jam; but to give Nelson credit, it seems like he has opted for the less self-opinionated strawberry.

It was such a pathetic effort that I doubt it will do little to stave off Turnbull's rise. If Nelson is what the Libs' think is a good leader, you have to figure their strategy for getting back into Government is for the ALP to forfeit the next election. (Though given their performance in the by-elections of Mayo and Lyne, even that might not work).

Think back to great speeches in history - do you recall the speaker using a prop? Nope you don't, and the reason is you use a prop only to get a two second grab on the nightly news, and because your words aren't good enough to win the argument.

Julie Bishop is another serial props user, but she didn't do much today. Rudd though nailed her during one of his few answers when he referred sarcastically to her "deep standing compassion for the poor in this country". Given you sense Bishop would rather spend an hour locked in an elevator alone with Wayne Swan than be seen shopping in a Big W or Aldi, it was a nice little snide remark by Rudd, who it must be said was pretty comfortable during the short Question Time.

The comfort explains Nelson's decision to move the suspension of standing orders. Oppositions do such things when the leader is struggling and he wants to make a big show of strength to his party, and when they are not able to trouble the Government in Question Time. (Beazley for example did it on the day before he lost the leadership to Rudd).

Nelson referred to Swan in his speech as "the nervous treasurer"; but all those on his front bench knew that it was an out of date remark - especially as not 10 minutes earlier Swan had gleefully referred again to Nelson, Costello and Turnbull as Plan A, B and C of the Liberal Party.

For mine the best line of the day was by Rudd. Over the first part of this year, there has often been a great deal made of Nelson being able to speak without notes while Rudd often reads his speeches. It has obviously rankled Rudd somewhat, and so today after ripping into virtually every individual member on the Lib's front bench as "not being fair dinkum" about pensions, he pointed at Nelson, and with a fair bit of venom in his voice, described him as one who "memorises everything and believes in nothing".

Nelson was obviously rankled himself by the remark as at that point he stood up to move the suspension of standing orders and tried to prove that he believes his leadership has credibility.

It doesn't.

Just after writing this I read on the ABC website that Nelson has called a leadership spill for tomorrow.

Turbull has thrown hit hat into the ring.

Ok, prediction time... Nelson. No Turnbull. No Nelson... lol I don't know to be honest. Were I a Liberal I'd vote for Turnbull, but the problem is trying to work out if enough Libs hate Turnbull's moderate ways to keep persevering with Nelson; or if enough think the time has come to change and are prepared to put up with Malcolm (or possibly think they'll be able to control him).

Ok, 9:39pm. I'm going to say Turnbull wins; with Abbott and Bishop throwing their support behind him. I just saw a clip of Nelson today doing his Jam and baked beans shtick, and neither Hockey nor Bishop sitting behind him looked particularly impressed - which is a change from back in June when he was going on about Taragos (back then Bishop even prompted him).

But I say it with no real conviction. The internal machinations of the Liberal Party aren't my forte.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

My teams

Last night I stayed up till midnight so I could watch Liverpool play Manchester United. At the final whistle, with Liverpool winning 2-1 (beating Man U for the first time since 2004), I was as happy as would be with an Adelaide Crows win, despite the fact I've never seen an actual Liverpool match, never been to Liverpool, and don't even think I've met anyone from Liverpool.

I have teams in just about every sport in a number of countries. Most of the time the reason I support the team I do is because they were the first team I saw play, or possibly were the first team I heard of that played the sport.

I've been supporting Liverpool since at least 1986, when I sat up and watched Craig Johnston play in the FA Cup Final against Everton. It was pretty natural to support Liverpool - they had an Australian playing for them; and at the time they were the best team in the world. I think however that I had known about this thing called Liverpool FC before then, and perhaps for no other reason than The Beatles were from Liverpool I chose them to be my team.

Since then I have followed them with ever increasing fervor. In the late '90s early 2000s I worked in a company that was full of English Premier League fans (to the point where there was even a staff Premier League tipping comp), and during that time as one of the few Liverpool supporters working there every win was treasured; every loss felt deeply (and usually accompanied by scorn and derision).

I was ecstatic when Kewell signed with them; disappointed with his constant injuries. I daily check out the team's website for any updates, and now that I have foxtel I watch as many games as I can. And so because of some unknown little reason 25 odd years ago, I now get to stay up till midnight and ride the highs and lows with an English football team.

Liverpool is not my only football team. In Spain I support Barcelona, if only because I like their jersey (yep sometimes the reasons are dopey) and because I hate Real Madrid - all that history with Franco. In Italy, I follow Juventus; which all things being equal would be a team I would despise (they're black and white; they flirt with corruptive practices), but because when I was in primary school I read a book on Italy that mentioned Juventus in glowing terms I have supported them ever since. Stupid really. Were I to come to the Serie A now, I would likely support Inter Milan; but alas I am a Juve fan, and with sport you can't let logic interfere with being a supporter.

In 1982, my sister and I were at home one January morning when on the TV came the Super Bowl featuring Joe Montana's San Francisco 49ers against the Cincinnati Bengals. My sister got in first and said she was going for the 49ers; and thus as brothers must, I went for the other side. And have been cursed ever since. Most people would have abandoned the Bengals immediately after the end of them losing Super Bowl XVI; but no not I.

Ever since that day, I have desperately followed the Bengals - which means getting used to disappointment. I did sort of switch allegiances to the Kansas City Chiefs in 1993 when Joe Montana was traded there (while I couldn't support the 49ers I did like Montanta, so once he left I felt no problems supporting him at his new team). But even during that time I would still first look to see how Cincinnati was doing.

Since I have been supporting them they have lost the Super Bowl twice to the 49ers, and they have had many, many losing seasons. Sigh.

Having missed out on Montana in the NFL, I have used the Montana connection in choosing a College Football team to support. He went to Notre Dame - and as, due to the "let's do this one for the Gipper" line sprouted by Ronald Reagen, they were the only college team I really knew anything about it has been easy to pick them.

I don't even know why I would bother supporting a college football team, but probably since I got on the internet and have been able to read news stories, and get regular scores I have been following them closely, to the point of getting excited when in 2004 they met the number 1 ranked USC, I was on-line "watching" the game on the espn gamecast, and was oddly shattered for at least most of the day when they lost. Which is pretty stupid really. But that's sport. Last year they had their worst season ever (3-9). Sigh.

When it comes to baseball, I am a Yankees fan and I don't give a damn if they are the Collingwood of the Major League; I don't care if they are everything I hate about professional sporting teams. I have been a fan of them since again reading about them in my primary school days - I mean Babe Ruth, DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig... it wasn't hard to choose.

I am actually a big baseball fan, and a mad Yankees fan - or as mad as one can be when you're never able to see them play, or read anything about them in newspapers. My real support for the Yankees is due to the internet. I generally will have their games on the net during the day; I read as many news articles about them that I can; I know the stats of each player; I know the pitching rotations and other things of which without the internet I would be blissfully ignorant.

When Aaron Boon hit a walk-off home run against Boston in the 2003 play-offs, I was more excited than I had been about any cricket match for over a decade. Similarly when they blew a 3-0 series lead against Boston in 2004 I was as shattered as any sports fan could be.

This year for the first time since 1994 they won't be in the play-offs. And so like a true fan, I don't give a damn who wins the world series. Sigh.

There are other teams that I have followed over the years - like the Edmonton Oilers in the NHL, but I just don't get to see any hockey at all, and I don't know any of the players so they don't really count.

The one sport I have never adopted a team is Rugby League. I lived for over 11 years in Queensland, and yet could not get excited or even vaguely interested in the sport, and even less so in the fortunes of a team. I couldn't even muster a concern over the result of the State of Origin. I did watch this year's games, but I can't remember who won.

It's weird really, name another sport and I'll probably have a team - if a hurling match is on I'll be cheering for Country Cork (saw them play back in the 80s on Wide World of Sports); if it's Japanese rugby union, my loyalty is to Waseda University (once saw them beat Meiji University at the Olympic stadium in Tokyo).

I just have to have a team if I am going to be bothered watching a sport - even during the America's Cup in Fremantle in 1987 I was firmly behind Australia IV over Kookaburra III (the fact that they were both competing to represent Australia didn't concern me, once Australia IV lost, I didn't give a damn - in fact was almost happy when Kookaburra lost to Stars and Stripes).

I would probably be a happier person were I without all these loyalties - the Crows haven't won the AFL since 1998; the Bengals err have never won the NFL; Liverpool haven't won the English League since 1990 (but European and FA Cups make up for that); and Notre Dame haven't won a NCAA title since 1988. Sigh, sigh, sigh, sigh.

But sport rewards the faithful (it must!!), and so I shall keep the faith from afar - via the internet and pay TV - and hope for a glory year when it's all joy in England, America, Australia in summer and winter.

Palin and Hilary on SNL

As soon as Sarah Palin came on the scene, Saturday Night Live comedian Tina Fey must have been rubbing her hands together in glee.

Here's a clip of Fey as Palin with Amy Poehler (doing her usual fantastic Hilary impersonation) on the opening episode of SNL.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The effortlessness of gods

Last Monday Roger Federer won his fifth straight US Open title. This was just as well because had he lost just about the whole of the tennis world was ready to write him off due to his terrible year.

Yep his terrible year: he lost in the semi finals of the Australian Open, lost the final of the French Open and Wimbledon, and won the US Open Final. He was the only person to make 3 Grand Slam finals, and only he and Rafa Nadal made the semi finals in each.

For anyone else, this would've been a career year. A year people say "Remember 2008 when 'Bloggs' was on fire?" To give it some context, neither Pete Sampras nor Andre Agassi in their entire careers ever had a year where they made the semi final of every Grand Slam. Agassi in 1999 made 3 finals, but only the 4th Round at the Australian Open; Sampras never had a year where he made 3 finals.

The only person who has ever been marked as harshly as Federer this year, was Tiger Woods in 2003 and 2004 when he did not win a major. He said he was working on his swing; quite a few thought he was finished. Since then he has won 6 majors and finished runner up 4 times.

The reason both of these men are judged so harshly is because they are seen as not just good, and not just better than anyone else, but perhaps better than anyone else ever has been. When Federer steps on the court, and Woods strides the fairways, they are playing ghosts and legends as much as their opponents.

With Federer, I think the harsh marking this year from commentators and tennis fans is due to something extra - a feeling that we might have lost something. Federer in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007 won 3 grand slams each year. At one stage he was as far ahead of Rafa Nadal in the rankings that after winning the Australian Open one year he could have lost every match for the next 6 months and still would have been Number 1.

But more than that was the way he played. He was astonishing; and I think people were almost angry that they may have to face up to the fact that was gone.

His play is the crucial difference between him and others.

Sampras holds 14 Grand Slam singles titles; one more than Federer. But I doubt anyone could mount a sensible argument to suggest that Sampras was a better player. And though I watched Sampras play a lot of matches, I remember him mostly for his serve. He had a great forehand, and was a strong volleyer, and his overhead smash (the slam dunk) was brilliant. But mostly I remember him winning games with the power of his serve - especially his Wimbledon titles.

And while he obviously was a great player; I think his greatness lies in the number of titles he won. That may sound odd; but for mine, I rated Federer better than Sampras about 4 Grand Slams ago. The difference between Federer and Sampras is that Sampras is defined by his titles and his record; Federer is defined by his play.

This is because Federer is a genius.

What is it about Federer that has had this label attached to him for so long? I cannot ever recall Sampras, or Agassi being given such a label. Even today, Nadal is considered number 1 (he has had a year for the ages) but I don't think of him as a genius on the court.

Back in the 1980s, Lendl won 8 titles; yet it is McEnroe with 7 titles who is considered the better player; and yes the one considered a genius (in fact he was really the last player before Federer to be called as such).

What is it that grants a sportsman the title "Genius"?

In the movie Chariots of Fire, at one point the hero of the film Harold Abrahams is having an argument with the dons of his college at Cambridge. They object to him employing a professional coach and devoting himself to running before all else. He rebukes them saying:

"You know, gentlemen, you yearn for victory, just as I do, but achieved with the apparent effortlessness of gods."

And that is the difference between the great, and the ones who rise above even that level. Federer has skill to burn - he produces shots that marvel and he does them with the apparent effortlessness of gods.

Sampras was better than everyone else in the '90s because he played the games better than everyone else. He served better, he had a better forehand, he moved around the court better, he produced big serves on break points. He just did it all better than his opponents.

Federer does that as well, but he does more - he is not doing things better than his opponents, because none of his opponents could do what he was doing. He would win points from positions that for anyone else would demand a defensive shot to try and get back into the point. Not for Federer - he would rip a winner that would leave his opponent shaking his head.

You tube has plenty of Federer clips, but this one is my pick as one that encapsulates his genius:

The thing is; even though it leaves you shaking your head in wonder, what really has you shaking your head is that you know it's not a fluke (and you know Roddick realises this as well).

The good players can pull off a great shot; great players regularly play great shots; a genius doesn't just play great shots; he invents new ones.

When you watch Federer in full flight you know you are seeing things not done before - Sampras was to tennis like a person who can write a grammatically perfect essay is to writing; Federer is to tennis like James Joyce is to writing. Grammar no long matters.

And Federer does all this with that apparent effortlessness - for a long time he has achieved all his success without a coach, almost giving the impression he just turns up at a Grand Slam; wins and then goes back to doing whatever geniuses do.

What they do of course is work hard at their craft.

Joyce took 7 years to write Ulysses - often spending a day rewriting a couple sentences; and yet when you read you don't feel the effort involved in the writing - the words flow in a sea of perfection.

Leyton Hewitt was Number 1 in the world for 75 straight weeks, and yet he isn't even in the conversation when talking all-time greats. And even during his reign at number 1, Federer and Marat Safin were considered better players - they were the artists; Hewitt, then as now, showed too much effort. You just knew he was wringing every sinew of ability out of himself. And yet while we applaud the effort, we reserve the louder applause for those who don't seem to be working so hard.

Safin is a case in point. Many, up until the rise of Nadal, considered he the only one who could beat Federer. In terms of talent he was seen as the only one considered close to Federer. And yet while he was able to look like he wasn't working; what he too often failed to realise that the secret is not to be effortless, but to look effortless.

Only once has Safin been able to tame his talent and give us a glimpse of the possible genius that lies within. In 2005 at the Australian Open, Safin met Federer in the semi-final. Federer had just destroyed Agassi in the quarter-final (6-3, 6-4, 6-4), and for once Safin seem to care more about the tennis than the blondes in his entourage.

The match was I think the best Federer has been in - better than the recent Wimbledon final with Nadal. Both Safin and Federer are artists - Nadal is closer in spirit to Sampras than Federer - Nadal does everything better, but like Hewitt, he also shows the effort involved - dripping in sweat, his play is all physical (the mental seems lacking).

But on this night in Melbourne, Federer and Safin were two artists at the peak of their powers. They worked on a Rebound Ace canvas, and produced a work fit for hanging in a gallery. Safin prevailed 5-7, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6, 9-7.

Safin won the day (and later the tournament) but he will forever be a flawed masterpiece. Like Finnegans Wake we can see the greatness, but know that it's not as good as it could or perhaps should be. There's too much going on; it's fragmented and distracted, overblown and incomprehensible.

Federer is Ulysses. Perfect; effortless; rendering all that has come before outdated; and ensuring all who come after will be judged against him.

I hope he does win the French Open; and I believe he will. I don't think the Grand Slam will happen - if it was going to happen it would have in those glorious three years of 2005-07.

As a fan of his, I was happy that he won the US Open. But as a lover of tennis, I was more happy because it meant the genius is still there. I wasn't ready to let that go and to be merely content with watching people play their best; I want to keep seeing art; the stream of consciousness on the court; the effortlessness of gods.

To go out with here is a cool Nike ad featuring Federer - giving some insight to how he practices for matches: