21 December, 2013

The Rules: ‘Happy Holidays’

If you’re the kind of person who gets their knickers in a twist over people saying ‘Happy Holidays,’ instead of ‘Merry Christmas,’ then that’s your prerogative. Just don’t pretend to care about the Season of Goodwill.

If you won’t accept a greeting in the spirit in which it’s offered, and instead use it as a semantic excuse to get angry about something, then with all due respect, that’s not the way to Peace on Earth, my friend.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, whatever! It doesn’t matter. Just be happy for Christ’s sake.

I say all the above as a Catholic.
Happy Christmas.


19 December, 2013

Meet the Bottom of the Barrel

When Paul McCartney was asked around the time of The Beatles Anthology albums if there was anything left in the vaults that might eventually be released, he said that if they ever did, they would have to call it Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel.

Well, we’re there. In fairness, Bootleg Recordings 1963 is not a desperate attempt to find some product to release. It’s an open secret that these recordings are being quietly released in order to extend their copyright. Briefly, current copyright laws have recordings reverting to public domain after 50 years but if they have been officially released, the owners can squeeze another 20 years out of them.

Sony has already begun doing it with its Bob Dylan archives, even going so far as to title the first volume, The Copyright Extension Collection. However, whereas Sony released the Dylan tracks in ridiculously limited (as few as 100) physical editions, The Beatles are doing it with a Wikileaks style file dump. Fifty-nine tracks were released on iTunes yesterday with almost no promotion.

The first quarter of the collection is outtakes from the recording of the Please Please Me album and singles from 1963. Since these records were made live in the studio, these takes are extremely similar to the released versions. Some of them even sound a little better without the added reverb. The tracks are mixed for stereo, the same as the album versions, with vocals and rhythm guitar on the right, and drums, bass, lead guitar and vocal reverb on the left. The sound quality is just as good as the remastered albums. Apart from some studio talk and missing harmonica, if you told people these were the album versions, all but the most expert fan would probably believe you.

Speaking of studio banter, there’s not much of it, so if you were hoping to hear The Beatles working, you’ll be disappointed. It’s easy these days to think The Beatles were always all-conquering but in 1963, they were simply rising stars, barely out of their teens. They were rising quickly for sure, but this was before they had the run of EMI studios to do whatever they wanted, so what we hear is The Beatles on their best behaviour.

When On Air - Live at the BBC Volume 2 came out last month (a mere 19 years after Volume 1), some people asked why they don’t just release all the BBC sessions. Well, be careful what you wish for, because most of the remainder of this collection does just that – for 1963 at least. Forty two tracks from sixteen different sessions across six different programs.

The sound quality of these recordings is variable with songs from Saturday Club being particularly poor. It might have been possible to use some studio magic to clean these up but listening pleasure is not really the point of this release. Sometimes the quality varies wildly across the same program. It might even come down to which particular shelf the BBC had the tape on. It’s all perfectly listenable though and the recordings from the Pop Go The Beatles sessions are quite good. It does, of course, add to the authenticity of recordings that were meant to be heard on AM radio.

The sequencing of the BBC tracks is slightly odd. Rather than playing all the songs from a particular program, they chop and change for no apparent reason. The sessions from Pop Go The Beatles are all over the place, yet these are followed by all the songs from the Side by Side program together. I don’t think the collection would be any more or less repetitive (and it is repetitive - you won’t want another Taste of Honey for some time) if they just played the programs in order. Then again, this being iTunes, you can just make yourself a playlist if you like.

The two concluding tracks are demo versions of Bad to Me and I’m in Love, which were eventually recorded and released by Billy J Kramer with The Dakotas and The Fourmost respectively. Bad to Me is played by John and Paul on acoustic guitars; I’m in Love is John solo on piano.

The most notable tracks include Takes 1 and 2 of One After 909 (a song that was shelved until the Let It Be album), I Saw Her Standing There with just a whispered count-in, a slightly swinging version of Love Me Do from Saturday Club and A Shot of Rhythm and Blues from Pop Go The Beatles.

So, should you buy it?
Well, everything about the way this ‘album’ was released suggests neither Universal (and gee it feels weird to talk about The Beatles’ recordings being owned by Universal and not EMI) nor the Beatles want you to. It’s not even a fans-only release. If it were, it would at least have a digital booklet with notes and explanations. This is just marking territory. They had to release them in order to stop anyone else releasing them.

Musically, it’s nothing more than a collection of historic curios, which is fine if you’re into that kind of thing, and there are millions of Beatles fans who are. (Hello!) However, if you’re one of them, you’d better get in quick. Now that it has been released, legal honour is satisfied and they can pull it at any time, which is possibly why it has only been released digitally and not physically.

The other consideration is the price. When I downloaded it yesterday morning, it cost me $15.49, which is beyond reasonable, it was an absolute bargain. (I must thank my twitter friend Greg for the link, without which I would have missed the cheap price. I owe you several beers some time, mate!) Four hours later, it had disappeared from the store and old links no longer worked, leading people around the world to suspect that it had already been withdrawn from sale. Then today, it was back in the iTunes store, for $69.99! (Check your local guides) No way is it worth that much; certainly not without four CDs, comprehensive sleeve notes and an elegant box. It’s just another reason to suspect they really don’t want anyone to buy this.

If the law doesn’t change, we can presumably expect one of these collections every year and they will only get bigger as The Beatles’ career exploded. However, next year we will be expecting it which means that availability may be even briefer, so keep your eyes peeled next December.

15 December, 2013

Shut up about Peppa!

One sentence was all it took. Just one sentence in an otherwise predictable and formulaic rant against his competition and Piers Akerman seemed to distract the whole internet...

I'll tell you the rest at AusOpinion.

07 December, 2013

What we have lost

Last night on the special edition of 7:30 on the passing of Nelson Mandela, Quentin Dempster asked Andrea Durbach, “What do we lose with Nelson Mandela’s death?”

It’s a powerful question and if I might offer an answer, part of what we lose is control over his words and what they mean.

There are certain icons of history; people who not even the most churlish of contrarians would disagree with. Nelson Mandela is certainly one of them, but what happens to those icons is that their words get co-opted and their messages corrupted by those who want only to be associated with them, not to embody them. From Jesus Christ to Martin Luther King, you don’t have to look far to find those who are happy to quote their words without any understanding of or empathy for their real meaning.

I have seen King’s speech about judging people not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character actually used as an excuse for racism. Hey, we’re judging people by the content of their character and it’s a pure coincidence that the character we are judging just happens to belong exclusively to people with different skin colours.

As the messages of those who were once considered radicals finally, and rightly, become mainstream, there will be more and more privileged idiots who try to claim their struggle as their own, from Pete Hoekstra comparing the attempts to shut down Congress to the struggle for democracy in Iran, to Tony Abbott comparing his own time in opposition to that of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Already, it is happening to Mandela. Just last night, Rick Santorum compared the struggle against the great injustice of apartheid to his own struggle against the “great injustice” of Obamacare. I kid you not. I couldn’t make that up, and if I could, I wouldn’t.

I wouldn’t presume to know what Nelson Mandela would make of such a comparison but I doubt he would agree. Perhaps he would respond with a dry and playful irony similar to his response to the Spice Girls comparing his movement to their own phoney and confected “girl power,” which everyone would again take as an endorsement of their own assumptions, whatever they may be. Such was his wit.

The world loses much with his passing and no small part of it is his authority and perspective on what a struggle against injustice really is.

01 December, 2013

The Bonus Discs: New

The US Target edition of New comes with a bonus DVD called A Rendez-vous with Paul McCartney.

It’s a 22-minute interview, conducted by Genevieve Borne, about the ‘Out There’ tour. It’s an odd inclusion, given that the main part of the tour concluded before the album was released and didn’t preview any songs from it.

As short tour films go, it’s paint-by-numbers stuff, containing very little that long-term fans wouldn’t already know. There’s a bit of discussion about previously unplayed songs recently added to the setlist such as All Together Now and particularly Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite, but we only hear snippets of the actual songs. The warmest moment is talking about the plague of grasshoppers that invaded the stage in Brazil. 

On the whole, it’s like an extra feature on a concert disc that was never released.

The packaging is no different to the regular deluxe version (yes, there are regular, deluxe, and special deluxe editions). The DVD comes in a cardboard sleeve with artwork identical to the album cover, stuck with removable gum to the album packaging.

Audio: Dolby Stereo
Worth paying extra for?  If you can find it at Target, it doesn’t cost any more and it’s certainly worth having, but not worth going out of your way for or paying ebay prices. Look it up on YouTube instead.

28 November, 2013

The rules: Causing offence

Anyone who has spent more than a little time in online discussion will probably have come across this little nugget:
You don’t have the right to not be offended.
It’s true; you don’t.

Saying something that you know is going to upset people can be a powerful way of getting your point across and making people think.
It can be.

However, using the ‘you don’t have the right to not be offended’ argument is usually the last (if not the first) refuge of a jerk.

08 November, 2013

What's wrong with Christopher Pyne

I tried to just let this go and not go on a rant about it, but I can’t contain it.

The ABC’s Q and A programme ditched its tag line, “Experiments in Democracy” a long time ago and rightly so. Over the years, it has degenerated into a kind of pseudo-intellectual thunderdome, full of trivia, point scoring and gotcha moments. And every Tuesday morning, there must be a hundred ’blog posts along the lines of “Holy crap! Did you hear what _____ said on #QandA last night? Zomg, how stupid!”

Once in a while though, usually by accident, it does provide some insight, and we got it from a seemingly trivial question on last week’s edition.

An audience member asked the panel to mark the passing of Lou Reed by naming their favourite Lou Reed song. After a few panellists offered answers that were respectful and relevant, there came 90 cringe-inducing seconds which showed everything that’s wrong with Christopher Pyne.

It started when Judith Sloan outed him as having never heard of Lou Reed. There’s nothing wrong with never having heard of Lou Reed in and of itself. Pop culture questions are often used to try and catch politicians out and a smart person would just be honest about it. Not Christopher Pyne, though. That would be too simple and obvious for him.
First, he compounds his ignorance:
“No, that's not true. I had heard of Walk on the Wild Side. But I'm a ‘70s child. Lou Reed wasn't big in my era.”
Yes, he was, Chris. The 70s were the height of Lou Reed’s relevance.

Having been alerted to the existence of Lou Reed prior to the show (Yes folks, the topics are discussed before the show, sorry!), he could have at least borrowed someone’s smartphone to look up Wikipedia (a perfectly legitimate use of the resource). Instead, Christopher Pyne’s arrogance just assumed that if he wasn’t aware of Reed’s work, then he must be from a different era.

After being corrected by Ray Martin about which era Lou Reed was big in, Pyne immediately changed his story:
Yeah, well, I didn't like him. I didn’t listen to him. He wasn't playing where I was going.
How can you not like someone you weren’t even aware of? Now you’re just lying!
There’s nothing wrong with not liking Lou Reed. Even his biggest fans would have to admit he’s an acquired taste. There’s nothing wrong with not listening to him, but in the space of a sentence, Pyne tries to turn an accident of where he happened to be during the 1970s into a conscious choice. He’s flailing all over the place in an attempt to make himself look good when it doesn’t even matter.

He then kicks the smarm into overdrive with this, complete with “air quotes” for the man’s name:
“It’s such an ABC discussion to end with a discussion about Lou Reed.This, you know, heroin addict and transgressional. So ABC. Apparently we’re all - if we don't know who is Lou Reed is and love his music as a heroin addict and transgressional whatever apparently we’re not in the loop.”
Having made an utter fool of himself without any need to, Pyne now attempts to play the victim, framing the entire conversation as some kind of leftie elite attack on normal people like him.
But then…
“What about Dvorak or Tchaikovsky?”
Uh, oh! Chris blows his cover.

Now, I love a bit of Tchaikovsky when I’m in the mood and no-one who does should be mocked for it. However, the Liberal party spent three years pitching themselves at… well, I don’t like to say “bogans,” but, oops, I just did. And I daresay that Mr and Mrs Mortgage out there in the outer suburbs that the Liberal party considers its new base are far more likely to own Transformer than anything by any 19th century eastern Europeans. In fact, I’d go so far as to guess that the only Tchaikovsky that 90% of the denizens of the Liberals’ beloved Rooty Hill have ever heard would be a disco version of his 5th Symphony which was used as the theme to the Paul Hogan Show. That’s if they’re old enough.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with preferring Dvorak and Tchaikovsky to Lou Reed but it does make a bit of a mockery of the Liberals’ pose of standing up for ordinary Strayans against the interlektewal elites; the same kind of elites Pyne pretended to be attacked by in his previous sentence. Make your mind up!

While all this was going on, Wendy Harmer was being talked over by most of the men on the panel, which is par for the course for women on Q and A. When she finally managed to get a word in, she asked what Pyne’s ultimate 70s music would be. Joel Fitzgibbon suggested what everyone was probably thinking: that Pyne would be an ABBA fan. Bingo!
“ABBA dominated the ‘70s…There’s nothing wrong with ABBA.If you want people to dance at a wedding, play ABBA.
He’s right. There’s nothing wrong with ABBA. They were incredibly musical. However, it has to be admitted that part of ABBA’s brilliance was to make sophisticated pop music that was also very accessible to people with not much taste in music otherwise.

I will defer to a Coalition front-bencher’s greater knowledge of what gets people dancing at weddings.

It’s not as if Pyne was the only one on the panel who was unfamiliar with Reed’s work. When the question came to Fitzgibbon, he admitted his ignorance, made no excuses and moved on.
“Well, I’d love to claim to be too young, Tony. I can’t do that. It might be sacrilegious, I don’t have one [a favourite Lou Reed song] and it wouldn’t give much away because my wife always criticises me for not listening to the words.
How simple was that? No need to go carrying on like an over-the-top Chris Lilley character.

You don’t have to listen to Lou Reed, you don’t have to like him or have even heard of him, but if you can’t even express just a little bit of sadness that someone died who meant a lot to people, then you’re a bit of a dick.

Unintended consequences are a funny thing. Last week’s Q and A managed to show us everything about Christopher Pyne in microcosm: ignoramus, crybaby, elitist, buffoon, and in charge of the nation’s schools.
Good luck!

By the way, my favourite Lou Reed songs are Dirty Blvd and What’s Good.


02 November, 2013

Raising the stupidity ceiling

Any politician, economist or commentator who tells you that Australia needs to increase its credit limit in order to avoid a crisis like the one seen in the US last month is either stupid, or thinks you are.

I'll tell you why at AusOpinion.


24 October, 2013

The Rules: evidence and trends

Alright Internet, let’s clear a few things up:

Any given thing that happened is not necessarily evidence of that thing you’ve said is happening. Not necessarily.

So no, one bushfire is not necessarily evidence of dangerous climate change – but it may be, and that’s a discussion worth having. It just has to be had in a sensitive and rational way, not in the language of political soundbytes. The moment you start acting like your opponent is the moment you stop being any better than them.

However, if the only counter-argument you have is, “Oh, you shouldn’t politicise that,” then you don’t have much of a counter argument.

Yes, fire is a part of the Australian experience. In summer. New South Wales RFS standards for fuel reduction burns published in 2006 state that while southern NSW, south of the Illawarra should conduct controlled burns in autumn...
In northern NSW (generally Sydney north, and more particularly north of the Hunter district) bush fire hazard reduction burning is generally conducted in early spring, when fuels have dried out during the usual dry winter. http://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/file_system/attachments/State/Attachment_20060131_C4C3FB83.pdf (page 8)
If you can see massive and catastrophic bushfires occurring a good two months before peak fire season and not at least think to yourself, “Bugger me, self! That’s a bit different,” then how thick are you?

Finally, if you need to look up Wikipedia to learn what the “rest of the world” thinks, then YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG and should immediately stop talking about anything.

For a start, Wikipedia is not Reddit. It’s intended for facts, not opinions, and the moderators of Wikipedia do a pretty good job of flagging articles that are questionable in their objectivity. Secondly, the entire point of Wikipedia is that it is crowd-sourced so there’s a strong likelihood that the article Minister Hunt is referencing in the interview above was written by an Australian. Thirdly, although Wikipedia is pretty good about weeding out non-objective content and general vandalism, that still takes time and if the page Greg Hunt mentioned has not already been edited to blame bushfires on Liberal politicians and bunyips by now, then the spirit of Aussie larrikinism is not what I remember.

Speaking of larrikinism, I can only assume the BBC bleeped out the word ‘crap’ to spare the sensibilities of international listeners, but if you’re an Australian who gets an attack of the vapours about “swearing” on the radio when someone quotes Prime Minister Tony “shit happens” Abbott to you, then you really, really need to get a grip.

16 October, 2013

Some are more equal than others

The law can be very confusing sometimes, so to make things a little bit simpler, here’s the first* part of a beginner’s guide.

Let’s say you’ve been caught stealing money by means of claiming it when you’re not really entitled to it and hoping nobody notices.
What will happen to you?

Well, if you’re a member of the Liberal/National Party, you’ll be quietly asked to pay it back under an arrangement known as the Minchin Protocol, no harm done.

If you’re a member of the Australian Labor Party or an ex-member of the Liberal Party, then the matter will be referred to the Australian Federal Police, which will override the Minchin protocol and your career will be destroyed.

If you’re a member of the Hell’s Angels in Queensland, you’ll get whatever the standard sentence is plus fifteen years.

Look, I have no time for bikie gangs, but if we’re not all equal under the law, then we all should be worried.
*and probably last

15 October, 2013

The Next Small Thing

Last night, the ABC’s Media Watch program ran an excellent segment on the increasing trend of journalists and photographers, including award-winning professionals, being expected to work for free on the promise of “exposure.”

This idea of exposure and recognition as remuneration is a kind of bizarre twist on trickle-down theory. We’re not prepared to pay you for your work but if we’re both really lucky, it just might be seen by someone who is. It’s a novel theory but in a market where even one of the country’s biggest newspapers isn’t prepared to pay for content, one is left wondering where the publishers who are prepared to pay for content really are and if they even exist at all.

We’re all guilty of similar attitudes. How many of us have actually, materially contributed to all the causes we promote? Or do we just retweet them or share them on Facebook in hopeful expectation that a few more people will share and retweet them until it comes to the attention of some influential benefactor who will make enough of a contribution for the rest of us?

If people aren’t paid for their work, then they’re going to find a job that does pay and that will leave a hole in journalism, both written and pictorial, that no amount of enthusiastic amateurs will be able to fill, no matter how good they are. Media Watch does an excellent job of reminding us of how difficult it has become to make a living creating content that is accessed digitally and can so easily be copied.

So isn’t it time we finally admitted that musicians may just have had a point about file sharing?

11 October, 2013

You are 10 days into your trial of
No More Big Government®

Dear Subscriber,

We hope you have enjoyed the first ten days of your trial version of No More Big Government®.

We would like to remind you that you can continue to enjoy the benefits you’ve had over the last ten days by taking out a permanent subscription to No More Big Government®.

Yours Sincerely,
Liberty, Inc.

In other words, if you’re one of those people who thinks the US federal government should only be responsible for national defence and deciding who can and can’t get married, and that everything else should be handled by the states or the private sector, then you should probably reflect on the fact that if you got your way, this is how things would be ALL THE TIME!

So if you’re still of that view and you, or anyone you care about, has been in any way inconvenienced by the government shutdown, then either quit whining and OWN THIS, or admit that your premise is fundamentally flawed.

28 September, 2013

Some free advice for Tony Abbott

There are reports that at least 22 people have drowned and 70 more are still missing after their boat broke up and sank on their way to Australia.

Tony Abbott spent three years campaigning with a relentless mantra of Stop the Boats.
It would be awfully easy to play politics with this and rub the new government’s nose in the fact that their policies have not yet stopped the drownings but I will not do that, partly because a new government deserves time to let its policies (however abhorrent) work, but mainly because it would trivialise the death of children.

However, one aspect of Mr Abbott’s response – or lack thereof – to the tragedy cannot pass without comment:

When asked about the incident when he was leaving an early Grand Final function, Prime Minister Grownup ignored reporters’ questions and just kept walking.

Wrong response.

No fair person should expect the prime minister to be fully briefed on an event as it occurs or have a fully thought out reaction to it. It would also be wrong to say anything before seeing all the relevant information. But to simply ignore questions on the topic looks callous at best.

Here’s how a pro would handle it:
“We are deeply concerned about these reports. We will have more to say when we have all the information to hand. Thank you.”
Would that have been so hard?


20 September, 2013

The Rules of Attraction

This piece is partly prompted by Rhys Muldoon’s lovely column today, and partly something I have been thinking for quite a while on the subject of whether or not we choose our sexual orientation and who to love.

I can’t approach being anywhere near as eloquent as Mr Muldoon on the subject of love so I will be writing about the mechanics of sexual attraction. I am writing from the male perspective because that’s the only perspective I have, but I would love to hear from women on the topic too.

The question of whether people choose who they are attracted to can be answered in one very blunt sentence of five simple words:

You can’t fake an erection.

It’s that simple. You can’t.
Of course, there are many things that can cause an erection that have nothing in particular to do with sexual attraction, especially if you’re a teenager. It could be a whiff of perfume, a cool breeze, a particular underwear fabric, the way the train jiggles, or even something as simple as waking up. This doesn’t mean you want to marry your bed sheets.
I’ll say that again just in case Cory Bernardi is reading:
This. Does. Not. Mean. You. Want. To. Marry. Your. Bed. Sheets. Is that clear?

An erection is by no means an infallible sign of overt sexual attraction but it is the body saying Mmm, I like that! You can’t just make it happen, it’s completely involuntary. The only way to make an erection happen in a situation that you don’t find arousing is to think of something that you do find arousing – whatever that may be.

You also can’t stop an erection. There’s no saying ‘Down boy, we don’t choose to be turned on by that kind of thing.’ If it’s going to happen, then it’s going to happen and you have no choice in the matter whatsoever. You might – and I stress might – be able to control it a little bit by thinking unattractive thoughts but your chances aren’t good. Arousal is like blinking or getting goose bumps. You don’t do it because you choose to, but because it is (pardon the pun) hardwired.

Every man knows this is true. Almost every woman knows this is true of men. I can’t speak for women (and again, I would welcome women to comment), but given that female arousal is generally a more complex process than in males, I strongly suspect it would support my premise that you can’t make it happen if it isn’t happening and you can’t stop it happening if it is. Women are fortunate that they can still be a bit mysterious and dignified in their arousal, but the penis never lies.

So why on earth is anyone still suggesting that a person’s attraction to another person is some kind of lifestyle choice and not basic programming? Is it because it’s a barely plausible excuse to treat people differently?
And why are some who have finally come to accept the fact that it’s simply how someone is built suggesting that it’s okay if they’re built that way so long as they don’t act on it. That’s like saying it’s okay to be hungry so long as you don’t eat.

If you’re still not convinced, do the experiment yourself. Pick something that doesn’t attract or stimulate you, and try to get off on it. You will not be able to do it. If you can, then it only means that it really does attract and stimulate you. And that’s perfectly alright too.

19 September, 2013

The Rules: Charity

If you contribute a lot to charity, either through work or money, that's wonderful.
Well done! We applaud you. Carry on.

If you ever feel the need to boast about it, then it's no longer charity - it's PR.

15 September, 2013

Everyone has their mandate

Let’s be honest and admit that any discussion of mandates, either by a government or an opposition, is always going to be an argument of convenience.

The rest of this piece can be read at AusOpinion.

11 September, 2013

08 September, 2013

Fair’s Fair

I have had many unflattering things to say about Mr Abbott.
However, according to our rules of government and the Westminster system, he will form government and become our 28th prime minister.

Therefore, he deserves all the respect that he afforded previous prime ministers who came to power under exactly the same rules.

Which translates and demanding a redo every day for three years if you didn’t like the outcome.

Go for it!