27 December 2006

Happy new 1 January

A big happy Hogmanay to all of you who regularly read my blog. And everyone else too.

I like to bore the pants off anyone who'll listen at this time of year with my one and only claim to fame - that my great-great-great-great-great-great-grand uncle wrote the words to that old ditty, 'Auld Lang Syne'.

I usually like to award a 'bloke of the year' award at this point, but to be frank, there's really no one who warrants this.

So instead, let me present my own choice of a top ten posts for the year:

10. The 2006 Golden Bull Awards, or, Germaine Greer on the defensive

9. Whatever happened to sportsmanship?

8. Why AMP got busted

7. How, exactly, does prayer work?

6. What the hell is wrong with financial planning? (Part 1)

5. No leads, chief, but I know this medium...

4. Kylie meets Hutch (Kylie the showgirl princess? - Part three)

3. Scrapping Superannuation - An "Argument" For

2. A Slight Case of Overbombing Part 3 – Why people do not choose to be gay.

And, drum roll, number 1 is:

1. Has Israel finally gone too far?

Hope you all have a lovely 2007.

21 December 2006

What is written on page 123?

OK. This is an "internet meme" (I hate this word - it's sooooooooooooooo pretentious) from Beep! Beep! It's Me.

Beep was tagged by Silly Humans, another excellent blog, by the way, but I thought I'd join in.

I think this one has the potential to be quite interesting.

Beep's post is here.

Silly Humans post is here.

The "meme" (someone come up with a different word, please. In-joke is good. Fad is better) goes a little bit like this:

  • The rules:-
  • Find the nearest book.-
  • Name the book and the author.-
  • Turn to page 123.-
  • Go to the fifth sentence on the page.-
  • Copy out the next three sentences and post to your blog.-
  • Tag three more folks.

So how did I do?

Well, the book I had nearest me is one called "One No, Many Yeses" by a guy named Paul Kingsnorth.

"Not alone in their outrage or their resistance. Not alone in the growing realisation that economic, not just political independence is something to be fought for. That fight has begun, and it doesn't look like stopping any time soon."

I'm glad it stops there:

  • A - one more sentence and we would have got to the end of the chapter.
  • B - do you know how frightfully embarrassing it is for a small-a anarcho-capitalist to be quoting an anti-globalisation book?

Anyway, I'm tagging Adam, Einzige and Ted Plonka, next.

Have fun, y'all.

UPDATE: Well, I can't tag Einzige just yet. For some reason, those of us in the "New Blogger" (it's a Beta no longer) can't post comments at those in the "Old Blogger" unless we go anonymous. Thanks Google.

13 December 2006

The 2006 Golden Bull Awards, or, Germaine Greer on the defensive

The Plain English Campaign has released their Golden Bull Awards for 2006.

And among the usual gobbledegook from local councils, legislation, disclaimers and legal fine print, this choice bit of journalism from our good friend, Germaine Greer received a gong:

'The first attribute of the art object is that it creates a discontinuity between itself and the unsynthesised manifold.'

This quote came out of an art crit piece that she wrote for the London newspaper, The Guardian. To be honest, it was an arts review, so I'm inclined to let her have some room to stretch her monumental ego here, if purely for that.

The Guardian, incidentally, won an award for 'crystal-clear' reporting - an award for excellence, in other words. Quite unlike Greer's award.

But Greer herself was most unimpressed by this award, and devoted valuable column space to defending herself. In a nutshell, as she so well put it, '...on the rare occasions when I've been shortlisted for anything, I've been obliged to play the gallant loser. This time I've been granted an award outright...' which naturally seems to give her the right to play a phenomenally ungracious winner.

You just have to read her defence. It's seriously like watching a car crash in slow motion.

She frames it initially as a right of response. But from there, it goes rapidly downhill, as she, at various stages;
  • foolishly criticises the campaign for not using the honorific Doctor or Professor to which she is entitled;
  • explains that her original article constituted valid criticism for readers of The Guardian;
  • justifies her theft of the offending phrase from Immanuel Kant;
  • berates the campaign for their use of the word 'somewhat';
  • shifts the duty of explaining her own words back on to readers with access to the internet; and
  • snobbishly derides anyone who hasn't studied classical philosophy.
The claim she makes that in the intervening years since Kant originally came out with this rubbish no one has been able to better explain it demonstrates the campaign's aims probably better than Greer could have possibly intended.

It's also irrelevant - Greer resorted to quoting someone else's nonsensical jargon in order to illustrate a point that she could not, or would not do.

It smacks of elitism, plagiarism, sour grapes, laziness and (maybe) incompetence and the gall she displays in this article is flabbergasting.

She has the temerity to complete her penultimate paragraph with this sentence:

'It was Kant who explained that the art object exists only as the concept of itself, all its other sensory qualities being associated with pleasure or desire and therefore ulterior.'

Oh really, Germaine? Then why bother painting the sodding things in the first place? The campaign was quite right to call bullshit on you, "Professor" Greer.

Out of 5 stars, I give Greer's response a single 'up yours'.

12 December 2006

Why did you end up agnostic? (Part 1)

I get asked lots about this, so I thought I'd put this one on the table. For some reason, theists and atheists alike can't handle the agnostic point of view.

I don't actually get this myself, because, to me anyway, it's a very easy perspective to grasp.

And, for reasons that I'll explain later, I suspect most people who claim to be atheists are really agnostic anyway.

But I'll get on with it.

My parents brought me up to believe that someone's thoughts on religion or the like were their own business. In other words, you never ask and you certainly don't proselytise.

To this day, I have not the faintest idea whether my parents are even remotely religious - they never made us go to Sunday school, they never went to church. I don't ask, because this little voice in the back of my head reminds me that, "It's none of your business."

My mother's parents never rammed religion down her throat. My father's dad was a Methodist minister who insisted on saying grace before all meals and who never touched a drop of alcohol in his life.

I secretly think my mum is an atheist and my dad is agnostic. But this is me just speculating based on various things they've said over the years. I could be 100% wrong.

Anyway. As a result of all of this, I grew up apatheistic.

Apatheism is another concept that is completely misunderstood by atheists and theists. Wikipedia, for example, considers apatheism to be a subset of atheism. And that is clearly wrong.

Now, apatheism, as I understand it, is where you don't even consider the god(s) question, for one or more of the following reasons:

  1. You don't consider the question to be relevant or important; and/or
  2. You don't even know that such a question exists.

Belief or disbelief doesn't even come into it when the question either is refused to be considered, or doesn't even make it to the interviewee in the first place.

Now this can completely bamboozle your average person. Mainly because most people are prompted at some stage to consider the god(s) question. I was.

But I never directly answered it, as I never believed it to be a question that added value to my life.

Sorry, I never perceived it to add any value. I’ll discuss the “belief” word later.

So I became a happy little apatheist doing my own thing and not really giving a stuff about God, religion, or anything like that.

Oh sure, I was approached by many people along the way to convert me. One of my friends from high school joined a megachurch in the Upper North Shore area of Sydney and managed to get me along to a few shows (services? They always seemed too showy for this word). I went a couple of times out of curiosity, and tried unsuccessfully to pick up one of the girls there.

But after these little fact finding missions – I was the guy with his mouth wide open in the back row as the “congregation” (not sure what you call the parishioners in a megachurch. Not sure if “parishioners” is correct, either) went into the undignified hysteria that is glossolalia – I came out of there with the impression that (a) these guys were nuts and (b) they had no decorum.

So I started at university in Melbourne and continued on as a happy little apatheist.

While I had no ostensible interest in religion, I did have my own thoughts. The overriding ones were that evangelical/charismatic/pentacostal (I’ll call it ECP from now on) Christianity was extremely funny, and traditionalist Christianity was incredibly tedious.

And I continued like that until one day, in about second or third year uni when things changed and I became an agnostic.

And I’ll tell you about that next time.

07 December 2006

Kylie meets Hutch (Kylie the showgirl princess? - Part three)

This is part 3.

Part 2 is here.

Part 1 is here.

Around the turn of the 90's, Kylie Minogue began making greater demands on her producers, Stock, Aitken and Waterman.

One of her demands was to create a more 'adult' sound to go along with her newer, more adult image. She was, understandably, miffed that the kiddies who were buying her records now were going to be completely disowning her in another year or so, just like so many other disposable pop stars.

She had to revise her image and sound, and fast.

SAW did their best - but Minogue wasn't taking any chances. She roped in (then) big-name producers such as Teddy Riley and Stephen Bray to assist with her third album.

In normal circumstances, this all could have sunk like a stone.

But Minogue had an ace up her sleeve. Just prior to the release of her third album, she began a very public and very messy affair with probably the one person no one expected - the then INXS frontman, Michael Hutchence. At the time, INXS were probably the second biggest band on the planet.

Hutchence was a typical lead singer who had had scores of affairs mainly with supermodels, singers and actresses and was rumoured to be into all sorts of nocturnal activities ranging from merely suggestive through to bizarre.

In fact, rumours persist to this day that suggest that his suicide in 1997 (which was what the coroner's finding officially said) was a peculiar accident instead. The day of his death I was told this:

"Apparently, he had a belt around his neck that he had closed in the doorway between the top of the door and the doorjamb. He then had a bit of a thrash and, unfortunately, slipped in a pool of his own semen and accidentally hung himself."

Anyway, the fact that this is even remotely plausible should give you an idea about the quirks of this bloke.

So Minogue started seeing Hutchence, and because INXS' star was at its zenith and Minogue's was in the ascendant, the media went absolutely wild for it.

The media, incidentally, had a picnic painting Hutchence as this lecherous rockstar and Minogue as the innocent ingenue. Hutchence was even quoted once as saying that one of his favourite hobbies was 'corrupting' the young Minogue. It is now obvious, ironically, that the roles were reversed, and it was the ambitious Minogue who chewed the fragile Hutchence up and spat him out.

Needless to say, Minogue's third album was a smash hit and her extreme image makeover worked like a publicist's dream.

(Incidentally, the hit song, Better the devil you know was on this album. Nick Cave once claimed that this song had the saddest song lyrics he knew. The fact that he meant sad-sad and not pathetic is testament to the brain-sapping combination of a lengthy heroin addiction and the pretence of a Byron complex)

Minogue quickly threw her efforts into milking this sudden rush of mature respect by recording a fourth album. It was to be her last with SAW.

It wasn't a hit. Apart from the track Word is out, she just couldn't latch on to the record-buying public with this work.

Unsurprisingly, she sacked SAW, and left PWL - her contractual obligations were over.

She was now a free agent. And she was still a marketable commodity. A wonderful spot for a musician, or 'artist' as Minogue would prefer to be described, to be in.

What she craved, however, was cred. Not just any cred, mind you, it had to come with sales attached.

At about this time, a label called Deconstruction Records had just struck 24 carat gold with two acts - D:Ream and M People.

Minogue's people knew that this wave was breaking and also that new owners BMG were throwing a lot of money at the label.

She hardly needed much more convincing to sign on the dotted line. For a very short window, she had an opportunity to receive both a ridiculously lucrative deal funded by a major label, but with the cred and cachet of a minor label, which just happened to be the hottest dance music label in the world.

Deal out of the way, she proceeded to celebrate this new phase of her life by recording a new eponymously titled album with new songwriters, producers and money and also by dumping Hutchence.

Her first album with Deconstruction was a moderate success. Hutchence and INXS, however, never had the same level of success again.

01 December 2006

Stop Sylvia Browne

Robert S. Lancaster has put together a site devoted to possibly the most evil purveyor of woo ever: Sylvia Browne.

Stop Sylvia Browne is here.

And some information about this abominable woman is here.

Take the time to have a look. She is truly a DISGRACE!!!

While you're looking at this, check out Stop Kaz, too. These are both excellent.

(With thanks to Rockstars' Ramblings)

Edit 04/12/2006:

30 November 2006

Tool: 10,000 Days

It's been a long time since I last did a record review. Who knows, I might just do it again.

But finally I did get around to listening to this, and for the two of you who read my blog who might be interested, I thought I'd reveal my thoughts on it, hopefully without boring you all too much.

For those who don't know, Tool are a prog (metal?) act from Los Angeles. They've been around for years, and their album Ænima is rightly regarded as a classic.

But that's not all. Tool are a full-blown multimedia experience.

Their videos are (mostly) fully illustrated/animated by guitarist Adam Jones and vary from stop-motion animation to straightforward marionation and animation.

Their live show is usually a colourful affair as well.

As Taj wrote in a previous comment, this particular CD has been influenced by the likes of Meshuggah and Fantomas, and certainly, they're excellent places to start if you want to get a feel for where Tool are going with this.

And while I've never really got Meshuggah, I get Fantomas.

(Don't worry, Taj. One day Meshuggah will make sense to me.)

King Crimson are another good reference point.

The first thing you have to notice about this CD is that it is encased in what has to be the greatest packaging for a CD ever. It is a cardboard pack with two lenses that operate in conjunction with the booklet as a fully-functioning stereoscope. Jones and Alex Grey were responsible for this.

(Note - Tool have refused to have this CD go out via iTunes. Not surprised - if you get this CD without the packaging, you are being seriously ripped off)

But where Lateralus caught them going in a "song" direction, 10,000 Days sees them going back in a majorly prog direction.

First track Vicarious is in 5/4 before a few time changes.

Second track Jambi has a talk-box guitar solo - yes, I also mentally envisaged Peter Frampton on The Simpsons.

You have to wonder just how good is the rhythm section of Justin Chancellor and Danny Carey as they are rock solid throughout the whole thing. In fact, Carey's drumming is superb throughout - not a single fill and paradiddle is wasted, and there are a whole stack of them.

Time changes abound all over the place. Not a single song clocks in at under seven minutes - well, a couple do, but they're there to build for actual songs.

It doesn't have the moodiness of Ænima or the Eastern feel of Lateralus, but each song makes sense in the broader context.

The whole thing builds up until the two-parter Lost keys (blame Hofmann)/Rosetta stoned which is the piece de resistance of the whole CD. Rosetta stoned steals the whole show, in fact - the climax to the tune kicks in at the 8.20 mark or thereabouts. What's that I hear - some nice programming?

Oh yes, and vocalist Maynard James Keenan is singing about a bad trip. Did Chancellor (who's British) play the doctor in Lost keys?

Unfortunately they nearly ruin this with a bolt on bit at the end. And after this, they do get moody - a bit like Lateralus' closing moments.

The programming in Intension is a nice touch as well.

You know, if they'd stopped the CD after Rosetta stoned, you'd still have a 54 minute album of amazing music, climaxing with this tune at the end.

But anyway, I'll give it 4 stars. It is a truly bloody amazing package.

21 November 2006

Happy birthday to The Two Percent Company

Happy birthday to The Two Percent Company.

I came across their excellent series on the incredibly questionable Allison Dubois at the start of 2006 and it got me a-blogging again after 8 years off.

Their rants are consistently entertaining, and their turn of phrase is always well chosen and often quite amusing.

If you haven't yet, you must go back and read their series on Allison Dubois from end-to-end.

Then add them to your feeds.

Happy reading. And I promise that it is good. Oh yes, it is that good.

16 November 2006

Tweedledum and Tweedledumber

It's election time again in the State of Victoria, this Saturday. Which means that we have to vote again.

And may I just say that it is heating up.

Now it has, believe it or not, been many years since I voted informally. I have voted properly in at least the last two state elections.

And each time, I went for the little parties - the Greens and the Democrats before my preferences found their way down the ballot paper, first to the ALP, (in most instances) and then the Liberals.

This time around, the politicking has been brutal.

And I for one want to vote informally again.

Allow me to demonstrate my predicament:

1. The Democrats are dead. Doornail dead. So preferencing these guys early on is not so much of a big issue. And the best part about this is that it doesn't matter where you vote, because they are equally dead everywhere. So I'll put them up the list, because I still think that if they got their house in order, they'd be a force again one day.

Ain't gunna be this election, though. And that's the easy one.

2. Prefencing higher up in my vote for a local member of the Legislative Assembly (lower house) is likely to be the Greens again. But this is going to be even more interesting now that the Legislative Council (upper house) is a vote by proportional representation. This time there is a real good chance that the Greens will end up with the balance of power. And I hope that they do.

3. Following on from that is a plug to my good buddy Gurm Sekhon who is running for the seat of Richmond in the lower house. As a Greens candidate. And he stands a damn good chance of geting this, however...

4. In some seats, the ALP and the Libs have done a preference deal. WITH EACH OTHER!!!! How can it be allowed that the two major political parties can freeze out the minor parties like this? It is an outrage.

I'm actually quite disgusted at this act of bastardry. Gurm stands to be humiliated at the ballot box because the major parties fear the Greens in Richmond.

And unfortunately that leads to this...

5. It is more than likely that my preferences on my ballot sheet (cause I live in a pretty safe Labor seat) will trickle down to the majors, no matter how I number the boxes. So I have to think about in which order I'm going to put my lower preferences.

6. It goes without say that Family First, the CEC and the other crazy nutjobs will get my lowest preferences.

So the question is, in what order do I number the boxes next to the Labor and Liberal candidates?

The problem that I have in this particular instance is that I haven't been greatly impressed by the quality of either side. On Liberal's side, there has been references to all sorts of things that happened under the current Bracks government. Some of these have been criticism from the Auditor-General's office. This is particularly hypocritical given that the previous Liberal government under Jeff Kennett sought to close the Auditor-General's office down and replace them via public tender.

Labor aimed a particularly well-aimed shot across the bow of Ted Baillieu as a former director of real estate company Baillieu Knight Frank (now Knight Frank Australia). During his time with Knight Frank, the Kennett government unfortunately used this company as the agent for the sale of land that used to house schools. Which means that Baillieu is an easy target. The one thing that bugs me about Labor's approach in this election is their willingness to attack Baillieu personally at every turn.

And that has me wanting to number Liberal ahead of Labor this election.

It is simply wrong, wrong, wrong to play the wealth card in the quite nasty way that Labor have been doing. Labor ads have played up public information about Ted Baillieu's investments in such a nasty way.

And they do not have clean hands themselves. Labor ministers such as Justin Madden and Mary Delahunty have populated their register of interests with such transparent and honest descriptions such as "Madden Family Super Fund" instead of actually writing the names of the investments themselves.

Baillieu, on the other hand has paid the price for neatly populating his form with all the companies he owns shares in (which is quite a lot).

Conflicts of interest?

Well this won't be sorted out until someone passes a law that forces members to place their investments under administration by a neutral third party in a blind trust as soon as they're elected to parliament.

But I can tell you this much - until Madden, Delahunty and anyone else on Labor's side portray their financial affairs with the same kind of scrupulous openness that Baillieu has, they are in absolutely no position to point the finger.

Until then, this sordid stuff stinks. Just imagine if you had to defend your personal investments when applying for a job.

Thank God for minor parties. (The ones that don't suck, anyway)

This blogger declares an interest of sorts - he will be handing out How-To-Vote cards in the electorate of Richmond where he will be helping Greens candidate Gurm Sekhon get elected to State Parliament this weekend. Even if you plan to vote for one of the major parties, put the Greens First on your ballot paper. What's the worst thing that can happen - one gets elected? More power to democracy, I say.

09 November 2006

Whatever happened to sportsmanship?

Folks, I must be the last guy to notice this, but Australian sportsmanship is amongst the worst I have ever seen.

A series of events has piled up over the past few days to lead me to this sad conclusion.

1. Brendan Fevola

Firstly, and this is best discussed in this excellent post by Greg, is the mental picture that one has of Carlton full-forward Brendan Fevola losing his mind in a pub in Galway, grabbing a barman who refused to serve him any more beer and putting him in a headlock.

Fevola was on the end-of-year junket known formally as the "International rules" series that is used to be played between a team of Irish amateur gaelic footballers and a team of professional Australian rules footballers from Australia.

Fevola then went on to play the race card in his defence - a somewhat bizarre and undignified rant about the Aboriginal members of the team copping a sledging everywhere they went. Never mind that this is no excuse for assault.

The AFL immediately sent him home. At least they did the right thing here. But more on the AFL later.

After doing a runner to Scandinavia, he has since returned to Ireland to be formally given an 'adult warning' by the Garda. But that's not the worst thing. At the end of the home-and-away season, Fevola was talked about as a future skipper of the Blues. Ain't gunna happen now, buddeye.

After Fevola calms down and pulls himself together, the resulting interview titled, 'Why my brain finally walked out the door,' should make ratings history for the network that manages to land it.

2. Willie Mason and rugby league

After Fevola's indiscretions, we then had rugby league forward Willie Mason punch someone on the rugby league field in a test match between Australia and Great Britain.

This was bad enough, however, Mason showed some initiative of sorts by claiming as a defence that this was a pre-emptive strike, and that had he not punched, he would have been punched. Fortunately, he was disciplined by whoever the tribunal/judiciary body is that deals with international rugby league matches and given a ban. For 1 game.

Mind you, rugby league is not a good example. Punching is routinely overlooked in rugby league, leading to lenient sentences being handed out and cries of inconsistency. Also, the administrators of this particular sport seem to take some misanthropic delight in playing up this gladiatorial aspect of the game.

Australian coach Ricky Stuart put it best when he said this:

"I see this is a part of football. The media promote it. Our marketing promote this. Tell me you won't see Willie Mason on the TV again dropping this bloke. We're talking about tribal war here . . . that's what gives our game the X-factor.

"That's Test-match football. That's what makes our game so different to every other footy code and every other sport. I don't condone violence but don't put it in the papers, don't put it on TV. Don't promote it."

When rugby league's hypocrisy can be laid so starkly bare, it's no surprise that players such as Mason get so ridiculously out of control.

3. The second "International rules" "football" "test match"

And on the subject of thuggery, getting back to "International rules" for a moment, the events of the second test match on the weekend in Dublin between Ireland and Australia had to be seen to be believed.

During the week, the media played up comments by Australian players that the match was to be a "square up" after one of the Irish players was suspended for kneeing. That's right. They were getting "square" with a player who wouldn't even be taking to the field.

The Irish coach has called for future series to be scrapped, calling the Australian players "thugs" in the process. Irish administrators have referred to "thuggery". About the only people who appear to think that there is no issue here are the Australians who do not seem to understand what the fuss is all about.

The odd thing is that Australian coach Kevin Sheedy appears to think that (a) the Irish were the aggressors in the first and second test match, and (b) this sort of "physicality" is actually part of the game.

Now, I'm not sure what planet Kevin Sheedy thinks that the rest of the world is these days, but he was certainly watching a different game to the rest of us.

The object of the game is to get the ball from one end of the ground to the other and score goals. Sheedy appears to think nothing of what seemed to be the unstated aim of the Australian players to knock as many Irishmen unconscious as they could.

To further hammer home the disconnect that appears to exist between the GAA and the AFL, we have representatives of the GAA, none more strident than Sean Boylan the coach who has said that he nearly didn't take to the field after half time, and that the series will not continue on his guard.

The GAA's president Nicky Brennan agrees and has called for the series to be axed.

On the other hand, the AFL's Mike Fitzpatrick seemed blissfully unaware that anything untoward had actually happened, although he admitted to being "uneasy" about the events that took place in the first quarter.

If uneasy was all he felt, queasy is how I feel.

4. Champions trophy presentation

The Australian cricket team have had this happening for some time.

Whether it's Glenn McGrath picking out his "bunny" for the series, Shane Warne doing his bit for the reputation of straight white males everywhere or whoever else getting sent home a bit of nocturnal silliness with alcohol.

The Australian cricket team have relished their "arrogant" reputation for some time. In fact, one (I forget who) seemed to think that this was a good thing: "It shows that they fear us."

Great. What it shows, dickhead, is that they don't think of you as a bunch of good blokes.

After winning the final, the trophy was presented to them by a local politician and senior national cricket administrator. OK.

What happened next was astoundingly stupid, even for this team of geniuses. As they shook hands with the VIP, one of them apparently said, "Hiya buddy!" before they physically shuffled him off the podium so they could showboat with the trophy in front of the camera.

The Indian media went berzerk. The Indian cricketers, even the softly spoken Sachin Tendulkar were amazingly critical, and the Australian players themselves didn't seem to know what they even did wrong.

In a sign that this kind of disrespect is not thought of terribly highly on the sub-continent, one of the locals painted their goat green and gold and wrote the name Damien Martyn on the side, after the cricketer who did the shoving of the official. Ricky Ponting, Australian captain is also said to have manhandled the official.

So what has caused this epidemic of poor sportsmanship?

It appears that you haven't made it in the world of Australian sport unless you are acting like the world's worst moron.

Is it insecurity? These guys have all left school and found that the nerds that they beat up at school are truly running the world.

Personally, I blame Lleyton Hewitt and Anthony Mundine. They were the first of this current wave, and they deserve to be carpeted for it. Mundine at leats gets away with it because boxers are at least, thank you Muhammed Ali, are supposed to act like complete tools.

Lleyton Hewitt, on the other hand, just don't get me started.

Listen. John McEnroe was a complete dill. He might have been a phenomenal tennis player, but he acted like a tosspot. And yeah we loved it, but we weren't looking at the tennis. We were looking at him acting the goat. And the crowd egged him on, too. People still wander up to him in the street and yell at him, "You cannot be serious!!"

And so it will be with this lot. And we won't remember them as the great sportsmen that they might be. We'll remember as this bunch of idiot frat boys, instead.

27 October 2006

Stock, Aitken and Waterman (Kylie the showgirl princess? - Part two)

This is part 2.

Part 1 is here.

"In the beginning there was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God."

Makes perfect sense if you think about it, and yet this particular phrase has confounded scholars for millenia. Personally, I wonder myself why people don't just call it a punctuation error and move on once and for all.

Kylie Minogue moved on from Stock, Aitken and Waterman many years ago. But it is important to note the disgraceful role that these miscreants played in shaping, not only Minogue's career, but also modern popular music.

SAW got their name by producing a Hi-NRG disco style that they rapidly got a reputation for, initially by producing acts like Divine and Hazel Dean. They soon hit the big time with serious hits from the likes of Banananarama and Dead or Alive.

At this point, SAW had complete control over the music that they made - writing, playing and producing. The singer soon became an afterthought.

They developed a sausage-machine method where they could pretty much write whatever they liked and then get in anyone off the street to sing over it. One of their toys was a microphone that allowed them to do all sorts of playing around with singers' voices to ensure that dud notes never came out. (Minogue had this used on her a bit)

Hits followed from a bunch of insipid and vacuous popstars who were pretty much never heard from again - Rick Astley, Mel and Kim, Sinitta the list went on and on and on.

At one stage, SAW had every position in the UK top 5 singles chart nailed down. Oh my poor ears!!

It was at this point that - and there seems to be no consensus as to who approached whom - but Minogue signed a deal with PWL (SAW's record label) and proceeded to get them to give her the once over.

The most likely version is this: Minogue wanted in to the music industry. Minogue's management would supposedly have sold her first born in order to get her there. If she wasn't successful first go, her career was cactus (she'd already given notice to Neighbours). It necessarily follows that SAW were more important to her than she to them.

At any rate, if SAW weren't big before, this pushed them over the edge. Minogue was a chain of smash hits and, theoretically at least, SAW should never have needed to work ever again.

This was the period that she perpetrated "the Loco-motion", "I (we all) should be so lucky", "Got to be certain" and more on us.

By this stage, a certain sameyness had crept in. SAW were lampooned for this mercilessly for this by comedian Tony Hawks with his band Morris Minor and the Majors who released the satirical "This is the chorus" which, I felt, did a reasonable job of imitating SAW's style.

There were several reasons for this sameyness - most notably, SAW's refusal to deviate from their tried and tested formula of a Fairlight CMI sampler-synthesiser, Linn LM1 drum machine (cutely credited on all their releases as "Drums - A. Linn") and Hi-NRG disco.

Actually, I have this theory that SAW owe the Fairlight Corporation lots of money. Most of their "tunes" were allegedly written by feeding a couple of chords into their CMI and using the auto-arpeggiator button to churn out a random tune. At the very least, Fairlight should have had a co-write credit on every tune that these cloth-eared nincompoops churned out. But I digress.

Putting two and two together, their luck would have to run out eventually, so SAW tried other possible avenues, just so that they'd be ready if and when this eventuated.

Firstly - they recorded a few ballads. What they recorded with Rick Astley and Jason Donovan were successful enough initially. They even did something approaching pop-rock with Donovan.

Then they did a big charity single - "Ferry cross the mersey" with a number of musicians including Paul McCartney, Holly Johnson and others.

Lastly, they had a go at moving well outside their comfort zone and produced a Judas Priest album. Fortunately for all concerned, this never got a release. I understand that bootlegs exist and are spectacularly funny.

However, none of these moves worked consistently well for them, and they were back to the disco that worked for them. Their overall preferred style moved gradually away from Hi-NRG disco towards plinky-plonk piano house. And this was reflected best in their work with Minogue, by this stage, pretty much the only one left on their roster.

And then she left too.

The three producers stopped working together. They did other stuff. Matt Aitken got into motor racing. Pete Waterman ran a rail vehicle maintenance business. No idea what Mike Stock did. Any efforts they've made to get back into music have been largely unsuccessful.

Do you know how good that makes me feel?

Meanwhile, Minogue's career just sauntered on...

Stay tuned for part 3.

16 October 2006

Kylie the showgirl princess? - Part one

Jack Marx's blog in The Age is required reading.

And today, he has had a very much needed shot at Kylie Minogue.

Have a gander:

The Age Blogs: The Daily Truth / Kylie The Showgirl Princess Archives

Now, after this kind of bagging, I couldn't let this one rest. Because Minogue needs to be bagged, and here's where it continues.

Kylie Minogue's career started off, not in singing, but in an annoying, yet inoffensive Australian soap opera called Neighbours. Neighbours is a lightweight family drama that has more in common with the great soap operas of Britain (think EastEnders or Coronation Street) rather than those of the USA.

She was only young when she worked on Neighbours, but already, at the age of about 16 or seventeen, she was easily one of the most popular people on the TV show. This was in about the late 80's.

Actually, she was easily the most popular TV star in Australia (with the kiddies anyway) full stop. She won something called a Gold Logie - which would deserve kudos, if it actually was something, but instead, it's the award for the Most Popular Personality on Australian Television. Although it greatly pains me that the most prestigious award you can win in the Australian TV industry is a popularity award, I found Minogue relatively innocuous up until this point.

Minogue had her eyes set on bigger things than just TV. And as a middling actor who wasn't a classic Hollywood beauty, she really was not going to set the acting world alight.

So she launched herself along the career path that the world now knows her for. Singing.

This is where she started to annoy me. The critics were similarly annoyed, because they completely went to town on her. They've long since lightened up.

Incorrectly so, in this blogger's humble opinion, because, with the exception of one period where she actually churned out something interesting, the bulk of her career has been unrelenting claptrap, out-bubblegumming all other bubble-gummers along the way.

And boy, were there some when she started. Remember Tiffany? Debbie Gibson? The entire Stock, Aitken and Waterman stable?

Minogue outlasted all of them.

One of my friends has, incidentally, this theory that suggests that Minogue is the only Australian artist to have never "sold out".

That word "artist". I'm going to come back to it later on. Maybe not necessarily in this post, though. Sorry.

Also, the term "sold out" is a loathsome term originated by mindless cucumber impersonators who think it's admirable to have suffered for one's art. Not to mention highly subjective.

But getting back to his theory. And to stop my blood pressure creeping over the scary level, we'll replace the offending word "artist" with "musical act." I did think for a moment of using the word "musician", you know. Oh yes, I will be self-flagellating for this.

Anyway the theory. Have any Australian musical acts been successful without having "sold out"? I can only think of two:

  • AC/DC - they never caved in to record company pressure and recorded the power ballad that The Man so desperately wanted from them. Kudos; and
  • The Wiggles - these guys couldn't possibly sell out their core demographic. In fact, we often hear about acts growing with their audience - the Wiggles seem only too happy to say a big metaphorical, "f2ck you," if their audience was to collectively say, "The Wiggles are too juvenile for me - I'm into Ashlee Simpson, now."

But Minogue?

I can think of at least 4 points in her career, where didn't just slightly sell out. Oh no, Kylie went into full on artistic whore mode.

So why is it that I believe that Minogue needs to be literarily keel-hauled?

Firstly, Minogue is an unrelenting sadist who perpetrates some horrible crap on us. I work in an office where Melbourne's most annoying teenybop station NOVA is on high rotation on several desks. I get to hear Sandi Thom's "I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker (With Flowers in My Hair)" several hundred times a day.

Minogue has made a career out of such sh!te, only in Minogue's case, hers comes with a delightfully camp dancy rhythm.


Secondly, Minogue has demonstrated more than amply that she is a morally bankrupt capitalist swine. Normally, I'd defend arch-capitalism as a quality to my dying day. However, Minogue isn't just any kind of capitalist: Just like tobacco and alcohol companies, Minogue has both barrels of her marketing 12 gauge aimed squarely at the kids of this world.

This is getting kinda long, so I'm gunna have a go at stopping here.

Stay tuned, though. This woman is bad!!

03 October 2006

Sleep deprivation

Amnesty International says sleep deprivation is torture.

Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock says it is not.

Ruddock does not agree that sleep deprivation is one of the cruelest and inhumane punishments there is. That's because Ruddock is one of the nastiest pieces of work to ever get a job in a federal government ministry.

You can read some more of his fucked and wrong opinions on what constitutes torture here:

Sleep deprivation is torture: Amnesty - Yahoo!7 News

Honestly, why Amnesty doesn't post his membership fee back to him is beyond me.

Not long after that, Amnesty came out with this. Major General Bill Crews - not this Bill Crews - who is the national president of the RSL - represents quite a few members who received precisely this torture at the hands of the Japanese in World War II.

I bet they're thrilled to hear the comments that their membership subs have bought them. Read them here:

Amnesty rejects Ruddock's view of sleep deprivation - Yahoo!7 News

26 September 2006

And why not?

I have a platform, so I can let rip with full impunity.

As a completely unrepentant Swans fan, I couldn't let this go.

Congratulations to Adam Goodes for winning the 2006 Brownlow Medal (pictured left).

It comes at the start of a momentous week, which, I hope, will result in the mightly Swans lifting the silverware in what promises to be a huge 2006 AFL Grand Final.

Sadly, I will not be able to watch it. My sister is getting married that afternoon, and I will be required to attend the wedding.

Which is good, of course. But it doesn't make me feel any less disappointed that I won't be able to see the moment of glory as the Swans take away their second premiership in a row.

So we're taping it and watching it on Sunday. If anyone tells me the result before the end of Sunday, they can consider themselves cactus.

Go Swans!

31 August 2006

A lack of activity explained...

Those of you who read this blog regularly will notice that my output has slowed to a crawl over the past few weeks.

I would like to reassure the pair of you that it is not because I'm dead. Or lazy. Well, maybe the last point can be reviewed.

It's simply impossible for me to post anything at the moment, because I'm getting married on Sunday, and there is still a hell of a lot left to do.

So this will be my last word for a couple of weeks. The next two weeks will see me cooling my toes on a beach in Malaysia.

In the meantime have a look at Crikey - it's got a great new look, and it's now way easier to navigate around.

Happy hunting.

18 August 2006

RRR Radiothon now on

We're rather fortunate in Melbourne. We have a very strong community radio network that few other Australian cities have.

We're fortunate enough to have 3RRR and 3PBS, two of the most eclectic radio stations you could ever listen to.

My good buddy Mohair Slim has a show on Sundays, Blue Juice on PBS where he just plays music that he's extremely passionate about, being soul, R&B (the real stuff), blues, jazz, ska and reggae from the 40's through to the 60's.

And this is fantastic stuff. It's not music that I'm 100% into, but the fact that he can play it is 100% excellent.

On other parts of the dial there is 3CR, which concentrates less on music and more on discussion and LOTEs, and 3MBS which is fully devoted to classical music.

There are other stations in Melbourne that are local to only a few suburbs, too.

These stations only exist through public subscription, and RRR has its annual radiothon on at the moment.

If you subscribe now, you go into prize draws where you can win tonnes of stuff.

Please support your community radio stations - if you don't, who will?

Live streams can be found here:

13 August 2006

The state of my blog is a mess

Please excuse the state of Dikkii's Diatribe at the moment.

I decided to do some surgery on it to fixup the layout and clean it up a little, and it seems to have decided to have a spazz attack in several areas, mostly the advertising content provided by Google.

I am hoping to have the problem rectified soon, but in the meantime, please pretend that my blog is a little better organised.

10 August 2006

40th Skeptics' Circle

Some excellent reading here, this fortnight.

There are interesting things to being a bloke.

One of these things is that mention of "colon" is guaranteed to raise a smirk.

That's why my favourite this time around has been Orac's Your Friday Dose of Woo: Would you like a liver flush with that colon cleanse?

Brilliant stuff.

As always, tonnes of stuff for everyone.

Read it here:

Daylight Atheism » The 40th Skeptics' Circle

01 August 2006

Hate mail to Bobby Henderson (updated)

I wrote this post on 27 July.

Since then, Bobby has updated his site to include spots for commenting on each of the hate mails.

So, so much more quality reading. And so many comments in the space of 24 to 48 hours.

This is going to be a rip-roaring success.


(13/08/2006) Since I wrote this, I've realised that I didn't put the new link to the comments page, as I thought that Bobby hadn't changed it. Seems that I made an erroneous assumption, but anyway, the new comments page is here.

You must check it out.

31 July 2006

Why AMP got busted

This is something that I didn’t think that I’d re-visit for a little while, however, the whole situation that blew up last week requires some reflection.

For those who don’t know, AMP Financial Planning was pinged in a big way by ASIC for an large ongoing amount of inappropriate advice being given out.

Basically, what was happening was that advisers were recommending that their clients roll over their superannuation to another fund, which was, more often than not, administered by AMP.

This isn't bad in itself.

But they were doing it enough to warrant a second look by the corporate regulator. And they were giving inadequate reasons for such recommendations whenever they did it. Finally, they weren't discussing what it was going to cost clients to roll over.

Now it’s the worst kept secret in the industry that advisers are under pressure to do exactly that – sell the products provided by the company that you represent.

And why not? It’s bleeding obvious to even the most financially illiterate observer that an AMP-branded adviser, or anyone else for that matter, is going to be told to push the products of the hand that feeds them.

But from the other perspective, how many mug investors know that Godfrey Pembroke, for example, is a member of the National Australia Bank group of companies, which also includes MLC? How many investors know that RetireInvest is part of the global ING group?

This blogger was formerly employed by and represented another financial institution which also just happened to have funds management, life and general insurance and banking operations.

Yes. We were told in no uncertain terms that, although we had various products from various providers on our approved product lists, we were to make sure that our first choice was from the providers in our group of companies.

This, when it was painted in such stark language, caused me to re-think my career in financial services.

Now I left the advice business in 2003 when it became clear to me that working for the same company as the product provider caused all sorts of dodgy situations.

My personal experience went something like these:

Story 1:

Boss-man: (at a meeting of advisers in the area/region/zone/district) We need sales to improve. So we’d like you to “churn”.

Adviser 1: Isn’t that unethical?

Boss-man: Other areas/regions/zones/districts are doing it.

Adviser 2: Surely that doesn’t mean that we should.

Boss-man: Look. All you have to do is find some good reasons to get your clients to do it.

Adviser 3: Could you provide us with some written guidelines that illustrate how we can do this ethically?

Boss-man: No. This is simple, straightforward stuff. You should be able to work out how to do this. Or maybe you think that a job here is not for you?

Note that “churning” is a particularly smelly practice that involves swapping existing clients from one product to another for no reason at all other than to collect another fee on the way through.

Story 2:

Boss-man: (at a sales seminar) I’ve brought in a “BDM” to explain to you why you should consider moving your clients in product X to product Y.

BDM: Thank you, Boss-man. Folks, your clients are currently in the equivalent of a Mitsubishi Magna (large-medium family sedan, for those outside Australia). How good would it be if you could move them to a Rolls-Royce?

Adviser 4: Sticking with your car analogy for a moment, what if what they really need is not a Magna or a Rolls Royce, but a Toyota Corolla?

BDM: Who wants one of those, really?

Adviser 4: Isn’t that between us and our clients?

Note that a BDM (Business Development Manager) is a representative of the product provider who liaises with the advisers similar to how a drug company sales representative might liaise with a doctor.

Doctors don’t get sales commissions, though.

But let’s put that aside and look at the argument.

Financial institutions such as life companies, fund managers and banks all rely on a dealership network of sorts to market their products.

“So what?” they say, “Doesn’t Ford and Toyota rely on a network of dealerships to sell their cars? Don’t Telstra and Vodafone relay on a network of dealers to sell their mobile phones?”

This is a valid argument.

If an investor goes into the office of a financial adviser from AMP or anyone else who also manufactures financial products, he should expect to receive advice that products from AMP are the best for him.

And, in some way, shape or form, he will receive a Statement of Advice to that effect. It will say that the product that the adviser is recommending is most appropriate for him for reasons A, B and/or C.

It’s at this point that the uninitiated usually ask “Hang on. If they’re providing advice, shouldn’t they be considering all products equally?”

Well, they should at least be considering a broad spread of products, yes.

Certainly, that spread should be a lot broader than what would be on your typical Approved Product List (APL) for your adviser from the particular dealership that that adviser works for.

Where a financial institution’s argument about being a dealership for in-house products comes unstuck is in the question asked above. And if you muttered "Conflict of Interest" under your breath, give yourself a point.

Does a car salesman for Toyota consider that they are an “auto-adviser”?

Should a mobile phone salesman at a Vodafone branch be considered an adviser?

The answer is a no-brainer. Product advice of any sort requires products from a variety of providers to be considered. At least, if you would like objective advice to be provided, anyway.

The dealership argument is a sound one. However, it is rendered null and void by the fact that the dealers themselves are simply not advisers – they are salespeople.

A financial institution, at this point, will jump up and down and scream, “How, then, do we get our product out there, for Joe Public to invest in/buy/use?”

The answers to this are pretty easy, actually:

  1. Produce stuff that is worth it to consumers to use. Concentrate on old-fashioned values like high returns, low fees, simplicity and ease of use and easy to read documentation. There are companies out there who are doing this now, and who do not rely on a network of financial advisers to sell their product.
  2. Cut out the middle man and advertise directly to clients. Clearly, you’re uninterested in providing a service that’s worth anything to anyone if your advice network is merely an expensive rubber stamp. Why would, or should, clients accept bits being sliced off here or there if there is no value being provided?
  3. Call your network of advisers, “salespeople”. This is just telling it how it is. Why mislead clients further by creating the expectation that they are getting something objective?
  4. Put advisers’ APLs into a client friendly brochure. Why continue to be bashful about the fact that advisers are tied to a particular provider? What is it that you’re really ashamed of?
The fact is that AMP got busted. But it could have been anyone.

AMP are to get an enforceable undertaking from ASIC and this will probably last for the next few years at least.

Bravo to ASIC for targetting the dealerships.

It should, of course, be remembered that the advisers are every bit as complicit as the dealership that they represent. Yes, I know it's hard saying no, but if soldiers can be found guilty at war crimes trials for merely following orders, then advisers should, most certainly, not get off lightly in the least.

But it is clear to even the most disinterested of observers that it was AMPFP's internal policies in the first place which has lead to ASIC's action.

Having an interest in the industry, the very important piece of wishful thinking is that the progressive move away from commissions towards fees-for-service should prevent this sort of thing from happening in the future.

Sadly, I'm not positive that this will be the case. AMP will still require sales. So too will other institutions that produce their own products. And thus there will always be some kind of pressure on advisers to tow the line.

But the four points I've outlined above would, at least, make the whole thing a lot more honest.

Disclosure: This blogger owns shares in National Australia Bank Limited.

Standard but necessary disclaimer: This is not advice. Only a complete idiot would think that any of this constituted advice. It's not even vaguely reasonable to consider this to be advice. If you are in any doubt as to the content of this, see a good, independent financial adviser immediately. They do exist.