Australia’s Political Malaise

With Election 2016 well underway (but still with about 6 weeks to go… yeesh), it’s looking increasingly like we’re going get more of the same. What happened to Australia’s politics that made it so insipid, so unable to hold forth a discussion in which some may be worse off, but the result would be better for the country?

The MacroBusiness blog has a theory on the 8 factors that have contributed to the dire political straits we find ourselves in:

2. Bad economic structure

This is the more important reason behind the centrality of the budget to business and thus the push for rents. Australian spruikers like to sell the economy as “diversified” but this is rubbish. At its base, Australia has only two economic drivers: houses and holes. Mining delivers national income and banking leverages it up to spread the wealth. Everything else follows these two. That means that these two industries have limitless power over policy. Disruption in one equals disruption to the entire nation.

Given the financial crisis in 2008 and now the commodities price crash (which was always going to follow the boom), it’s increasingly inevitable that we’re looking down the barrel of some bad economic outcomes, but no-one in power seems to be acknowledging it.

The talk is small while the problems are writ large. I’m skeptical that any party is going to be in a position to manage it, and that’s going to become rather scary rather fast for us. More on those thoughts later.

A Blind Mind’s Eye

Blake Ross can’t visualise things like others:

I have never visualized anything in my entire life. I can’t “see” my father’s face or a bouncing blue ball, my childhood bedroom or the run I went on ten minutes ago. I thought “counting sheep” was a metaphor. I’m 30 years old and I never knew a human could do any of this. And it is blowing my goddamned mind.

My first thought was “yeah I’m pretty bad a these things too,” but then I kept reading, and I realised how much I do visualise in my “mind’s eye” that just seems alien to those with this same condition.

Comparing economic records

May 2016 marks 43 years and 6 months since the election of the Whitlam Labor government in 1972, and conveniently provides a mid-point for the two political parties – 21 years and 9 months of government each. Stephen Koukoulas uses this pivot point to provide a detailed comparison of their respective economic performances, and he comes up with more-or-less a dead heat, with a slight edge to Labor:

The overall weighted average quarterly GDP growth rates since 1972 are 0.80 per cent for the Labor Party and 0.77 per cent for the Liberal Party. This shows that the economy grows faster, on average, under Labor than the Coalition by 0.03 per cent per quarter, which is a touch over 0.1 per cent per annum.

Figures are similarly in Labor’s favor for job growth – noting this also includes the recession we had to have.

Something to keep in mind this election season, and for the budget tomorrow.

Jury Duty

Thoughtfully written behind-the-scenes peice from a juror serving on a homicide trial:

At some point, one of the older women gets out her makeup kit and gives Ally a makeover. This is literally a scene from The Breakfast Club. Edith looks up from a game of solitaire and casually mentions that she actually thinks the murder was committed by the accomplice, who was never found and is not on trial. But since the defendant’s lawyer did such a poor job exonerating him, she concludes, she’s going to deliver a guilty verdict. My jaw drops. No one questions her obviously flawed reasoning, because she’s on their side.

Molly mentions that she watched 12 Angry Men over the weekend.

“It’s so good,” she says. “It’s just like this.”

Brilliant perspective on how people interact and how flawed jury trials can easily become. It takes just one informed person acting on principle to swing that, and it’s scary how easily it could go the other way.

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

What does one say about a series like Star Wars that you haven’t already heard? It’s such a pop-culture phenomenon that you’d be hard pressed to avoid it in any English-speaking country. The revival of Star Wars by Disney’s purchase of the rights from George Lucas was huge, and with Episode VII, The Force Awakens, we can see just how huge the juggernaut can get. I went to watch it on Friday, a whole 42 hours after its release on midnight Thursday, and I already felt like I was out of the loop for almost two days.

Still, the experience is unique in its own way: the lights go down, the trailers end, the screen goes dark… and then those words appear – A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… cue the fanfare.

The Star Wars experience is as codified as a fairy tale starting with “Once upon a time”, and the rush of seeing it in a full theatre is equal for fans and non-fans alike – you can’t help but be caught up in John Williams’ score, or the scale and scope of the visuals that march across the screen. This is a sign the fun’s just getting started.

The Force Awakens starts with a thirty year jump from the end of Return of the Jedi (and in the real world, it has been over thirty years since as well, so this is only too apt). Luke Skywalker is missing; the galaxy is not yet wholly under the New Republic; the Rebel Alliance still relevant as the Resistance, who fight the remnants of the Empire in the form of The First Order. Leia is a general in the resistance, and sends a pilot, Poe Dameron, to track down a map to the whereabouts of Skywalker. He’s being tracked by The First Order, who want to prevent the return of Skywalker as much as they want to re-establish control over the Galaxy.

Since it’s still so close to the release, I’ll tuck the rest away under a break for spoilers…

Continue reading Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Movie Review: Spectre

It was always going to have to come to an end. Bond actors don’t last as long as you think, though it’s been 9 years now that we’ve had Daniel Craig as the image of Bond – from his reinvention of the character as a gritty, conflicted type in Casino Royale, a vast gulf separating the reboot of the character from Pierce Brosnan’s portrayal through the 90s and early 2000s. Handily, the plot in Spectre serves much the same – a sense of an ending is present very early on.

Following the events of Skyfall, Bond finds himself in Mexico City, where he must kill a man – ostensibly, once again, Bond is on leave, but still appears to be doing his best to serve his country regardless. This is not a man that takes being off active duty very easily, it appears, and the assassination witnessed by a whole city celebrating the Day of the Dead doesn’t help him cover that fact up terribly well.

Back in London, the new M dresses him down for acting without orders, and is seemingly inevitable for Craig’s Bond, officially suspends him – this time ruminating over the fact that MI6 no longer hold special privileges with the era of digital surveillance and digital killing with drones quickly outpacing human intelligence.

Of course, as part of being suspended, Bond must visit Q, and so the Bond movie structure clicks into place. Gadgets are introduced, a reason to go off-book is brought up, and for the first time in Craig’s run of movies, I finally got the feeling we’re back in familiar Bond territory.

And that’s how this plays out – M disapproves, Bond gets Moneypenny involved, Q’s toys get to be Chekov’s gadgets, Bond finds the truth runs deeper, and there’s a race against the clock to prevent a mad plan from dropping into place – especially when the sinister head of Spectre, played with relish by Christoph Waltz, appears to ramp up the tension.

Between the plot, gadgets, cars, international (but more or less European) locations, girls (Monica Bellucci played far too short, Léa Seydoux played a little beyond her abilities), Bond’s meticulous dress sense that shifts from scene to scene, and the call-backs to earlier Bond movies, this is a departure for Bond as portrayed by Daniel Craig – this is Bond of old, Bond made un-gritty, in a way that could’ve seen Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan happily embrace the occasional silliness. The obligatory car chase in prototypes, the obligatory hair raising shootout in a fantasy location, the obligatory explosions which – in hindsight – don’t quite make sense but are spectacular nonetheless; it is all what the Bond franchise delivered for so many years.

Spectre is above all else entertainment; where Casino Royale sought to humanise Bond the character, where Quantum of Solace was driven and purposeful, albeit without plot, and where Skyfall was intensely personal for Bond, this one lets us back into the super-spy world – perhaps ironically given the plot talking about the end of the human pulling the trigger. It aims to tie a nice bow on the arc of the story which Craig’s portrayal started, and in a way it does – the first time in the Bond universe you’d have a plausible reason to watch back to back, which is its own novelty.

The performances are largely fine, with Craig possibly the weak point as you can see he tires of the role and its low dimensionality. Whishaw is excellent as Q, a much better every-man than perhaps would be expected, and Waltz’s villain gets steadily more pathological as the story progresses, working perfectly with the building plot.

Don’t go in expecting something as complex or empathetic towards Bond as Casino Royale – this is much more the Bond movie that you enjoy for the ride, without closely examining the details because the movie asks you to move on with steady pacing; if you do take it for what it is, you’ll be in for a good time.

★★★★

The New Devil’s Dictionary

A guide to the terms of modern living:

tab (n.): Something opened, then closed, then opened again, then closed again, for eternity.

social (n.): An app or website that simulates what it might be like to interact with other people.

Instagram (n.): A persistent reminder that people you know can afford more expensive restaurants and better vacations than you.

So much to cringe and nod at.