Thursday, 20 April 2017

The last refuge(e) of the scoundrel and the bigot

Changes to immigration and refugee policy always have been the last refuge of the scoundrel or the bigot. Rarely are such changes anything but reactionary, designed to engineer a bump in the polls and "send a signal" (i.e dog whistle) to a specific portion of the electorate.
And so it is the case with Malcolm Turnbull's latest policy "leak" announcing a tightening of Australia's citizenship process.

It's been observed before, but this arguably marks the complete disappearance of the leather-jacketed Turnbull beloved by most Australians of the centre...and many Labor supporters. The erudite classical liberal Turnbull has been subsumed by an ugly combination of John Howard and Tony Abbott in a better suit. Like Darth Vader, "he's more [Liberal Party] machine now than man. Twisted and evil."

But he has a problem. The people he is trying to appeal to, the folks who think that hearing a foreign language on the street is tantamount to an "invasion", simply don't trust him. Even with all of his lurches to the right, they still ultimately view Turnbull as a latte-swilling inner-city leftie. Besides, these people get their jollies from people like Hanson, and even if he wore a tiny moustache, red and black armband and brown tunic, Turnbull could never satisfy their needs.

Turnbull's greatest weapon could have been his wide appeal — that frightened Labor silly when he won the leadership — but this has now been all but scuppered, and is entirely of his own making.

Rudd found himself in a similar position before the 2013 election. Seeking to close down refugee policy as an election issue, he tried to outflank the right by announcing no refugees who arrived by boat would be resettled in Australia. It's doubtful he gained even a single vote by being a part of the "lurch to the right" on immigration policy he had previously argued strongly against. He sold out his principles and, perhaps unsurprisingly, voters didn't think more of him. All it allowed was the then-opposition and next government to wave inhumane policy through without debate and without an effective opposition. And didn't it just work out so well for Rudd and Labor in 2013...

Is there anyone who seriously thinks gaining Australian citizenship is easy? Well, yes, otherwise Turnbull wouldn't be embarking on this course. But like those who think citizenship comes in a cereal box are informed by A Current Affair. They're told how dem imgrints get more than poor old granny from Centrelink, with none of their beliefs actually supported by evidence. So basically we have policy, in conjunction with the 457 visa announcement, that exists not to address serious issues, but designed solely to manage the incorrect and often xenophobic beliefs of a few. So much for leadership.

Changes to immigration and refugee policy always have been the last refuge of the scoundrel or the bigot. Voters now have to decide which one Turnbull is.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

With Friends Like These...

The business lobby's tone deaf response to Mark Kenny's entirely story about the groups' offices being shut on a Sunday demonstrates why they're going to lose — if they haven’t already lost — the battle over penalty rates.

The lobby groups and their acolytes got their knickers in a knot over the story, saying that as a professional group and not a service provider, there was no demand for them on a weekend and were thus shut. This is true, but it completely misses the point of the story.

Their response misses the optics — as PR flacks are fond of saying — of the situation, which is that those who are so very eager to cut weekend penalty rates value their own Saturday–Sunday weekends. This was the point that Kenny admitted he was trying to make. He succeeded, even if his targets didn't get the hint.  Some labelled Kenny's story a "stunt", while others continued the habit of scoring own goals,  criticising the story by saying "it's called a normal working week, duh“, to which Kenny replied "exactly".

The blindness to these optics means business groups have lost this battle before it has begun, even if they had "masses" of evidence to support their dubious claims (they don’t). They try to blame the SDA — whose agreements have often reduced penalty rates in exchange for higher base rates of pay — not realising the old adage that two wrongs don’t make a right. Some have tried to insult workers by saying they’re “lucky” to have a job and should go without penalties entirely. Basically every negative sentiment workers feels about employers is being confirmed.

It’s very difficult for captains of industry large and small to claim victimhood at any time, let alone when profits in some sectors are at record highs, trust in business is low and they’re campaigning for even more funds from the public purse by way of company tax cuts. Trying victimhood on for size while advocating slashing the take home pay of their lowest remunerated workers is not a good look. Combine this with an almost sociopathic disregard for the effect of pay cuts on workers, and you've got a battle that's already lost for employers.

With friends like these, who needs enemies?

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Closed Sundays

closed sign
Shameless cliche of a stock photo from Wikipedia Commons —

You really have to question the PR and business acumen of Australia's most egregious rentseekers. Completely predictably, Fairfax's Mark Kenny spent a few minutes on Sunday afternoon calling some of Australia's peak business lobby groups.

Surprise, surprise, no one picked up. These offices were closed on Sunday. I guess the 24/7 economy is a case of "do what I say, not what I do".

This Sunday silence goes to the heart of the hypocrisy of those loudest voices in favour of cutting the take home pay of our poorest remunerated workers. The weekend is still special to them.

Perhaps just to get a taste of weekend work, the lobby groups' phones can redirect to the mobiles of their respective CEOs. It might interrupt their day in the MCG corporate box hobnobbing with all the other knobs, but it might help them understand why Sunday isn't just another day.

If nobody in their offices has the skills to redirect their phones, then I'd be happy to teach them for a fee on Sundays.

Monday, 6 March 2017

President Trumble cites #fakestats. Sad!

President Trumble has gone on the attack, claiming there are "masses of evidence" to support claims that penalty rate cuts will lead to more jobs.
Sadly, this mass of evidence was not presented at the Fair Work Commission hearings into penalty rates. Nor were the Treasury Secretary or the Treasurer, it would seem, appraised of this evidence. Instead, on penalty rates, the Coalition Opposition-in-Exile has been mumbling about "independent umpires" and blaming Bill Shorten for everything.
The Opposition-in-Exile is like the dog who has caught its own tail and has absolutely no idea what to do with it. For years, some in the Liberal Party have been complaining about penalty rates as a handbrake on employment without providing any evidence (aside from spectacular own-goal anecdotes about business owners who want to put more workers on Sunday because the owners want to spend time at home with the family).
Now they've got their desired cut and they are disowning it as quickly as possible. The government expecting the egregious rentseekers of the business lobby group world to do the heavy lifting selling the case for a penalty rate cut. Sadly they are about the Coalition's least reliable suppprts, condemning the government on inaction, then staying silent when action takes place.

Could it be there simply is no evidence to suggest "more jobs" will be the ultimate outcome of "less pay"? Hands up if you've worked in a business where a colleague has left and not been replaced? [my hand is up].
Years of deregulation and wholehearted embrace by all of the good and bad of economic liberalism has brought first hand experience to employees that employers aren't really interested in creating jobs, they're interested in creating profit. Not a criticism, just a fact. If more profit can be created through more jobs, then great, more jobs come. But nine times out of ten, existing workers are saddled with a higher workload while employers pocket the difference.

So what about those "masses of evidence"? Simply put, they don't exist. No evidence of the sort — certainly not "masses" — was put before the Fair Work Commission and no labour market expert takes such claims seriously. All cuts to penalty rates will do will make the lowest paid tighten their belts even further — a latte at the cafe in the morning before work replaced by a Blend 43 in the tea room; a lunch break focaccia in the food court replaced by a Vegemite sandwich brought from home. These are the likely outcomes. In an age when the twin pains of youth unemployment and underemployment are on the increase, it'd be nice to see the government help those under 30 for once, instead of actively harming them.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

T minus 4 Years

Donald Trump was sworn in as President overnight in an inauguration that was bleak and miserable as the weather in Washington D.C.

Despite the inevitable forthcoming Twitter protestations to the contrary, crowd numbers were down substantially on the past two inaugurations. Anti-Trump protests abounded in the city, with reports of some damage to shops and property.

Those expecting the new President to strike a conciliatory tone in line with the loftiness of the event were sorely disappointed. Trump basically reaffirmed the worst of his campaign sloganeering, telling the world he's going to govern for the anxieties and worst excesses of White America.

Mine — and most of the world's — only hope is that if this is to mark the end of Pax Americana, they do so with a whimper rather than a bang.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Score

Cover of the Soundtrack to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Music by Michael Giacchino

When Alexandre Desplat was originally announced as musical score composer for Rogue One, I was intrigued. Here was a very accomplished, Academy Award-winning composer — whose work to date could has been powerfully rhythmic, but pretty low-key — being asked to write in the tradition of one of the most iconic film scores of all time. Not an easy task. To me, hiring Desplat was a very positive sign that the filmmakers wanted to take these Star Wars anthology films in a very different direction from the saga. Alas, Desplat's place in the Star Wars canon was not be be. In September, it was announced at the last minute that Star Trek composer and J.J. Abrams favourite Michael Giacchino had replaced Desplat.

I felt bad for Desplat, but knew Giacchino is a safer choice for this type of film. Rogue One was touted as a war film, and Giacchino has spent more time writing for World War II-themed properties than almost any other living composer on the planet. Desplat ostensibly departed the project due to 'scheduling' conflicts, but given the talk of reshoots (and the evidence of many scenes in trailers not present in the final film) it wouldn't be surprising if the departure was also due to changes in the film's tone.

Michael Giacchino is a pioneer in multimedia music scoring. The first gig that brought him to wider attention was as composer to the score of the maligned Lost World Playstation game. The game sucked, but the music was great and was indeed the first video game to feature a recorded symphonic score. Giacchino's work on this game led to him scoring the first Medal of Honor game, a game produced by Steven Speilberg and his studio Dreamworks Interactive. Giacchino went on to score the game's sequels, MoH: Underground, Frontline (my personal favourite), Allied Assault (using the pre-existing scores from the other games) and — after a hiatus from the series — Airborne. He also scored the first Call of Duty game, bringing the composer back to World War II yet again. These scores are truly great works in any medium. Giacchino's scored a heap of films and television series since his Medal of Honor days, but it is these early scores Rogue One most closely resembles. The games' heroic themes for the Allies and bombastic goose-stepping marches for the Axis are transplanted into a galaxy far, far away, with a great effect.

The Star Wars series is a natural fit for Giacchino. In fact, he's seemed destined for this role for a long time, with his work on films such as Abrams' Star Trek franchise, Jurassic World and others positioning himself as a natural successor to Williams as the composer who can meld bombast with nuance. Abrams, naturally, opted for John Williams to score The Force Awakens so Giacchino — a long-time Abrams collaborator — was cast as a stormtrooper in the opening on Jakku instead.

Which brings us to Rogue One. Fans looking for a rehash of themes from the original trilogy will be disappointed. This score is almost wholly originally. The cover of the album may credit John Williams as the "Original Star Wars music" composer, but this is mainly a marketing exercise. Just as the film uses iconic characters sparingly, so too does Giacchino quote Williams' themes infrequently, but judiciously. Instead of dumping in the Imperial March every time a Star Destroyer appears on screen, Giacchino very smartly develops his own Imperial themes, derived from those of A New Hope, rather than the Imperial March of the Empire Strikes Back.

There was disquiet about Williams' use of the Imperial March in the prequels, owing to the fact that in the timeline of the films, neither the Empire or its theme had been established. Giacchino wisely quotes from it sparingly and instead chooses to develop the Death Star's four note motif (duuh duh-duh DUUUUUUH) and even employs Darth Vader's original motif (sometimes called the 'Imperial motif', but referred to a pre-ESB Williams as 'Darth Vader's Theme') of bassoons and muted trumpets which has not been heard since the original 1977 film.

Imperial Motif or Darth Vader's Original Theme from the 1977 film Star Wars. Music by John Williams

All in all, this is a very good score that serves the film exceptionally well. The same people who threw the banal critique at The Force Awakens soundtrack as not having a 'hummable' tune will probably dislike this score. There probably isn't enough Williams for the casual viewer's liking, and interweb-based film score forums (yep, such things exist) will issue keyboard criticism after keyboard criticism, but this is a very good score. As Gordy Haab (Battlefront), Mark Griskey (The Force Unleashed), Joel McNeely (Shadows of the Empire) and other composers have shown, there can be exceptional Star Wars scores without the original maestro at the helm. Sooner or later John Williams won't be around to compose a Star Wars score; we were very lucky to get a seventh saga score from him. I can't think of anyone better than Michael Giacchino to inherit the Star Wars musical mantle.

Krennic's Aspirations — The re-emergence of a very familiar character and some very familiar themes.
Hope — Once you've seen the film, the opening of this track will probably give you nighmares. It's instantly iconic and will be a track long remembered, to paraphrase a certain memorable villain.
The Imperial Suite — a concert version of Giacchino's new themes for the Empire, like an ur-Imperial March. A lot of similarities to some tracks from MoH: Airborne.

Other Albums You Should Listen to:
Medal of Honor: Frontline (Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube)
Medal of Honor: Airborne (Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube)
Battlefront OST, Gordy Haab (YouTube)
The Force Unleashed OST, Mark Griskey (YouTube)
Shadows of the Empire, Joel McNeely (Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube)

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Democracy Isn't Broken — We Are

The Opening of the First Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia by H.R.H. The Duke of Cornwall and York (later H.M. King George V), May 9, 1901 — better known as The Big Picture — by Tom Roberts
I fear for the future. This time around it is more acute. I seem to see everything through the filter of my 11-month-old son. I think about the world he is going to inherit and I die a bit inside. And that was before the 2016 presidential election.

Already, the media — which got this whole thing so, so wrong — are trying to parse what went wrong to prove their continuing relevance. And at once we find almost everything Trump said about the "elites" in the media to be completely right. We saw it here, too only a few months back, although with a better result: for all the Daily Telegraph's apoplectic fuming against Labor, the party managed to win seats in the great nation of Westsydnia. The media's diminishing influence will be rapidly accelerated after this election. Polls will never be trusted again after an annus horribilis for professional political junkies. When all is said and done, though, the better pollsters can take solace in the fact that they were really only 1–2% off the actual outcome. Most said it was going to be close, and the more sobering ones (which progressives like me in the public and in the media tended to ignore) warned that a small win for Clinton in the popular vote wouldn't necessarily translate into an Electoral College win. How right they were.

Which brings me back to democracy. Friends, if you're going to run around after the election has been held and hope to subvert the will of the people, then you're no better than Trump. If you're going to hope British MPs will ignore the referendum and not vote to invoke Article 50, then you're no less reckless than not accepting the result unless it goes your way. Accept the result, but don't necessarily be happy with it.

Democracy remains our least-worst system. It is not broken, but it is up to us to make it work. It is up to us to make the parties invoved work for us.

Fight and resist every single day and most importantly, learn from the victors. Learn from what they did this time around and harness it the next. That means getting out there next election and fighting for what you believe through any means possible. Join a political activist group, hell, join a political party. They will be made stronger and more relevant by your involvement, not weaker. They will become more represenative of the population the more of the population they have as members. Ultimately, it's up to us. By us, I mean anyone under 40. We're the ones who are going to have to pick up the pieces in four, eight, or 20 year's time. Otherwise our kids will look at our generation with contempt as the group that let this horror happen.