27 August 2007

Where the hell has Jack Marx gone?

Both of you who regularly read my blog will know that my blogging role model (hee hee) is a gentleman that writes a blog for The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald online by the name of Jack Marx.

But he's gone!

You can see here that he hasn't posted since Friday 17 August.

A quick look at Blog Central at The Age online shows that his blog, The Daily Truth, is not even appearing anymore. I couldn't believe this so I did a double take and checked out Blog Central at the Sydney Morning Herald online as well.

Nope. Not there. So where has he gone? Will he return? And how do you complain?

Why I don't buy the "sportspeople are role models" argument

The "sportspeople as role models" argument is one that has long grated with me.

And it's not just because the sporting prowess of wet cement together with a lack of motivation and interest led to me putting my sporting career on hold until the next life. Sure, I would have loved to have had a career at centre half-forward for the Swans, but for my innate uncoordination and getting into things like music and finance instead.

The worst part of the argument for me is that the whole discussion about this appears to have been engineered for the benefit of entities other than concerned parents, sportspeople themselves, sporting administrators and politicians.

Step forward sporting goods companies.

The inherent phoniness of the argument is made manifest when one considers that there are kids out there who do not have their favourite sportsman or woman on the wall. Apart from a brief period in the mid-eighties when I read surfing magazines, I was one of those kids.

I don't actually remember the surfers who graced my walls. Barton Lynch might have been one. I would be surprised if the the great Mark "Occy" Occhilupo and Tom Carroll weren't others.

I might have had the odd poster of the Australian Cricket Team up on my wall when I was even younger.

But my fling with professional sportsmen on my wall was a brief one.

After this, I stopped with the sportsmen outright, and started putting rock and rollers on my wall. I would have been about 12 or 13 years old.

Favourites that I recall were INXS and U2 in the early days, Hunters & Collectors and Midnight Oil a little later on, and then finally outfits like The Stems, the Hoodoo Gurus, the Violent Femmes and The Stone Roses through my final years of high school.

I always wanted an Iron Maiden poster - their album cover artwork was considered a holy grail throughout my dorm at school. I particularly loved the cover of their Powerslave album, but I digress.

If we're to accept that sporting heroes are role models, the best place to start appears to be what or who kids put on their walls. Around the dorm where I lived in my final years of high school, there were quite a few footballers - maybe on a third of the walls. I remember one guy had a prized poster of Robert DiPierdomenico and another of Leigh Matthews.

One guy had his own shrine to Stephen Silvagni with a few of Stephen Kernahan as well.

How then did my posters of rock and rollers fit in? Well, I don't for one second accept that I thought of them as role models and a quick search of the news at Google doesn't even mention musicians at all.

But the thought has crossed my mind about half a dozen times that posters for sportspeople are suspiciously plugged as appropriate for kids all too frequently, and a quick look at the ones in the stores that stock posters seems to have the answer:

Much like the posters of surfers that I put up in my early high school years, it appears to be impossible to get a poster of a sportsperson that doesn't contain a prominent logo of a sporting goods company in the corner.

Nike is the worst offender. In the early nineties, the promoted the bejesus out of Michael Jordan to the point that many Australian kids wore Nike sporting apparel with his image on them. But if you asked any Australian kids about Jordan specifically, or basketball generally, you would draw a blank. Basketball is simply a fringe game outside of North America, and Jordan happened to be photogenic.

It wasn't long before Nike discovered that the best way to sell to the rest of the world was to go for local sporting celebrities.

The face of Nike in Australia was Shane Warne - quite possibly the greatest spin bowler that world cricket has ever seen, or at least until Muttiah Muralitharan came along. Nike didn't stop there.

They hit serious paydirt when they sponsored Ronaldo and the rest of the Brazilian national football (soccer) team in a year when Brazil were unstoppable in winning a fourth world cup and they then managed to re-create this in 2002 when Brazil did it again.

And the posters of surfers always had their sponsors figuring promptly as well. Show me a poster of a surfer without a Billabong or Rip Curl logo in the corner and I'll show you a magazine logo instead.

But the whole argument that sportspeople are role models appears to be somewhat contrived, particularly when no one takes the notion seriously that musicians gracing other kids walls might also be.

I put it to you that sporting goods manufacturers drive the debate around this. If not then why don't musicians ever get a look in?

For the record, my role model, if I had one when I was growing up, was my dad. I don't think I ever had a poster of him on the wall. And I don't think that I'm different to many others.

21 August 2007

Pure, teeth-clenching evil

I cried tonight. Not just a tear or two, but a full-blown Niagara Falls of tears.

I wasn't sobbing. I haven't done that for years, but my cheeks are still wet as I type, and I feel like if I go to bed right now, I'm going to have nightmares.

So I'm going to blog about it.

SBS has rapidly become my favourite Australian free-to-air TV network. The show a series called Hot Docs where they put up a different documentary each week, and tonight, it was Jonestown: The Life And Death Of People's Temple.

This documentary is not for the faint of heart. Here's the blurb for the show, courtesy of SBS' website:

Neighbours recall a kid from the wrong side of the tracks who, on the one hand, was fervently committed to social justice but, on the other, was wont to stab cats to death before solemnly burying them. Jones founded an interracial ministry in 1961 in Indianapolis. In exchange for a 20% tithe, which eventually evolved into the surrender of all of one's possessions, members were assured of clothing, food, shelter and care. In 1971, Jones moved to San Francisco, where his followers grew into a force for political activism. Two of the few survivors of the enforced drinking of cyanide-laced Kool-Aid recount those events, discreetly accompanied by photographs of the sprawled bodies of more than 900 victims. (From the US, in English) (Documentary) M (A,L) CC WS

Now that's pretty accurate. But it assumes that viewers already know how the story pans out. I know how the story pans out, but SBS' blurb contains some gaps, which I'll fill in for you.

The Rev. Jim Jones (pictured) was regarded as a weird kid. He did indeed stab cats and conduct funerals for them. And when he grew up, he became the pastor of a church.

He embraced pentecostal Christianity, which at that stage would have been a fringe movement - remember this was in the sixties.

And it is also worth remembering that he was more than happy to conduct services with congregations of mixed races. This was not popular in Indianapolis where the first of his "Peoples' Temples" were opened for business, but appears to be the norm for the Disciples of Christ church, into whom he was ordained.

He must have been copping some heat in Indiana, because the next thing that happens is that the whole church uprooted itself and moved to California. We're not just talking the pastor himself, we're talking the entire congregation.

Although fleeing persecution appears to be the motivation here, this is the first hint that we have a cult that is a little out there on our hands.

The first of the church's little agricultural communities is set up here in California, and it's gradually looking more and more life-occupying for some. We hear reports about people working 20 hour days for the church, and wearing it like a badge of honour.

It's at this point, too, where Jones suggests to his followers that why should they bother tithing, when they could turn the whole church community into a commune?

As you do.

Jones and his followers appear to have an enormous amount of fun in their church services, and Jones himself is lauded as a great civil rights pioneer. Indeed his work in uniting black and white America seems to have hit a purple patch in the late sixties and early seventies, and not only that, hot on the heels of the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, he appears to have gained traction where it took their deaths to do so.

Loads of video of Jones and his congregation abound, and throughout the whole thing, Jones appears like a smiling good guy.

Indeed, he's heard to compare himself to King and X later in the doco. Which is well after the point where he proclaims himself a bit of a messiah, or even a God-like figure.

Anyway, he's already got weird shit happening, his congregation is growing at an unsustainable rate, and he uproots suddenly with his by now megachurch-sized congregation and moves again. To Guyana.

He's clearly drug-addicted and ferociously paranoid by this point in time, and it appears that even though life in Jonestown, Guyana is alright for some, others want out, and Jones makes things difficult for them.

Jones is broadcasting day and night out of loudspeakers Pol Pot style, and even has taken a liking to the kind of safari suit favoured by Kim Jong-Il.

Anyway, the whole thing culminates in the suicide, and get this:

The whole thing was actually audio taped as Jones invites, first the children, and then the adults up to drink the Kool-Aid. This sequence builds and builds, until we're left with a scene of bodies everywhere.

How the fuckity fuck fuck fucky did 909 people willingly suicide in this fashion?

It seems willing mostly, from the doco, although some mention is made of the armed security guards.

I'm so fucking angry after seeing this. If Richard Dawkins' Root of all Evil documentary series isn't the final nail in the coffin of religious idiots everywhere then this documentary should do the job comprehensively. This is absolutely harrowing viewing.

5 of the biggest stars that you can find. And do not watch this documentary late at night on your own. You have been warned.

73rd Carnival of the Godless

Now up at In Defence of Reason.

And I'm there too for Pascal's diversified portfolio.

Get amongst it - I'm reading it tomorrow.

Click here to read it.

19 August 2007

Total carnage

July and August 2007 is proving to be one serious downer for investors, and this blogger, if he didn't exactly tip it, certainly knew that fall-out was imminent.

So far, in Australia, as we speak, markets are down about 12%, and it looks like it's going to continue for some time. The story is similar around the world.

So what's causing it this time?

When the markets had their last major quiver, back in March, this blogger tipped that it would pass and that things would soon be back to normal again, soon.

The reason for the volatility in March was a slide in the Shanghai Stock Exchange, and, as tipped by this blogger, there was absolutely no reason why this should have been seen to have had the major impact on markets that it did.

This time around, I'm tipping that markets around the world will have more lasting problems, and the impact from these will be a little more heavily felt.

Allow me to demonstrate.

The first thing that should be realised, is that this little bit of mayhem is being caused by problems in the US housing sector created by too much money being lent to people who shouldn't have been allowed to borrow in the first place. In delightful understatement, these are called, 'sub-prime' mortgages.

Lenders in the US were bundling up their loan books and then on-selling them on to the market in securitised packages. This had the double impact of raising further money for lenders to continue their risky activities, and re-locating the credit risk on the money lent to the new owners of the loans in question. The most common arrangement was called a collateralised debt obligation, or CDO.

This is not a new practice. Lenders have been doing this for some time. And not just lenders of 'sub-prime' mortgages.

A lender in Australia, RAMS, recently floated on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX). RAMS floated at a share price of about AUD $2.50 back in July. RAMS' share price is now around AUD 89c and there is nothing that their management can do about it.

RAMS is not really exposed to 'sub-prime' activity (which is called 'non-conforming' in Australia). However, RAMS needs to be able to on-sell it's current mortgage book, otherwise, it will not be able to continue to lend money out to people.

And if no one is willing to buy RAMS' current crop of mortgages from them, then RAMS is going to have to discount the whole package until they can find a buyer. Hence the fall in RAMS' share price.

RAMS will have trouble selling the current lot of mortgages because the institutions that buy this kind of security from them are now reconsidering if this sort of security is worth the risk. And that is regardless of the quality of RAMS mortgage book - mortgages of any type, hell, fixed interest of any type is now being re-assessed across the board and investors are now expecting higher returns for the risk that they're taking on.

Anyway, RAMS investors really have to ask themselves could they have foreseen this? I don't believe that they could.

But this whole meltdown doesn't just end with the lenders, folks.

The debt securities sold by the lenders have been traditionally bought by fund managers for their mortgage and fixed interest portfolios. Normally, these are considered defensive assets - all other things remaining equal, mortgage and fixed interest funds are recommended as short to medium term investments within a portfolio, and form the defensive part of most Australians' superannuation funds.

But investment in CDOs is crystallising risks far riskier than what would normally be considered prudent.

So mortgage funds and fixed interest funds are going to take a hit. This is bearable. At least I would have thought.

But it turns out that quite a lot of buyers of these investments are a different type of fund manager again.

Hello, hedge funds. Fancy seeing you here?

Hedge funds, in their never-ending quest to satisfy investors seeking lower risks and greater returns for their investment whilst at the same time kicking a shitload of fees in the direction of fund managers have had their snouts in the trough for some time.

This was apparently a no-brainer for your average inscrutable hedge fund manager. Borrow at standard rates and invest in a fixed interest security paying well more than your standard mortgage or fixed interest rate of return. And then do it again. And again.

The end result of this was that some hedge funds, in their search for endless returns were geared several times over mainly as a result of idiotic risk assessments that had these sub-prime mortgages being seen as relatively low-risk, when the reality is substantially different.

So much money was whizzing round the economy and inflating asset prices that when the housing price crunch set in in the US last year, there was going to be problems. Bear Stearns was the first company to feel the heat and have advised that the investors in two of their hedge funds are unlikely to get anything back.

In Australia, we heard problems initially from Basis Capital, a fund manager whose products were actually rated AAA from Standard and Poors. Not long after this, Macquarie Bank have advised that some of their hedge funds are suspending new investment and redemptions, because they are having a hard time valuing their portfolios.

So what for the broader market?

Well a lot of the sell-off that we are seeing has to be driven by hedge fund activity. Hedge funds own other assets and it makes sense that they simply have to liquidate large sections of their portfolios just in order to ensure that their offerings are sufficiently liquid when the investors come a calling.

On top of that, because hedge funds are so opaque in their operation, investors in the broader market simply don't know the level of exposure of other businesses.

One municipal council in Sydney is facing losses of up to AUD 60c in the dollar due to some unwise investment in CDOs directly.

And all this is contributing to an environment where borrowing is going to be so much harder in the months ahead - which stymies investment by you, me and businesses. About the only people who should be rubbing their hands together with glee are going to be the banks - their main lending operations come from quality mortgages, and they don't relay on sourcing cheap funds by way of securitisation to do it.

This is going to be nasty, folks. For me, what makes matters worse is that all my money is currently invested and I don't have any more to plough into what appears to be a corrected market. And for most Australians, superannuation returns will be the worst this year that they have been in quite some time - probably about 7 years.

On the plus side, it does appear that that Australian stock market has fixed up the serious over-valuation that has been identified for some time by financial journalists. It means that some rationality has returned to the table.

But things may actually get worse before they get better. This is not like March, folks.

Disclosure: This blogger owns shares in Macquarie 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.

67th Skeptics' Circle

Over at the Bronze Blog, Bronze Dog has put together what could possibly be the best Skeptics' Circle ever. And it comes with an excellent mech theme.

Holding my attention from the outset were two excellent posts by Orac at his blog, Respectful Insolence:

What a lot of it boils down to when it comes to antiscience; and

Your Friday Dose of Woo: A soothing footbath of woo

I love Orac's Friday Dose of Woo series.

I've plugged Infophilia in the past, and this post caught my attention mainly due to the fact that I've recently posted about the idiotic concept that is Pascal's Wager.

Infophile puts a new spin on this ridiculous concept in this great post, and tells a riveting story at the same time. It can truthfully be called a parable:

The Greater Good

Anyway, as always there is tonnes of excellent reading for all the family.

Click here.

14 August 2007

Rock epic of the month: "A Forest" (The Cure) 1980

This is post number 150 for Dikkii's Diatribe, which is a big event. Another big event is the grand launch of another series of posts where I'll look back on classic examples of what I think is the greatest excess of rock and roll - the rock epic.

The rock epic is something that loads of rock bands try to pull off - sometimes well, and sometimes not so well. There are no hard and fast rules for what a rock epic actually is, but the general agreement is that it needs to go for more than 6 minutes and has long bits where there are no vocals.

In a trifecta of big events, The Cure are in town. So to celebrate, I'm going to profile a tune that is really lucky to be here in this post, given that its length on The Cure's second album, Seventeen Seconds, comes up just short of six minutes by a measly five seconds.

In concert, however, the band stretches this one out to unbelievable lengths.

The Cure managed to nail all their trademarks by their second album, which is a fairly good effort. And the best examples of these were all contained within this tune. Loping basslines courtesy of Simon Gallup who had just joined the band. Robert Smith's heavily chorused guitars and anguished vocals - he really does do a wonderful impression of a cat in heat. Laurence "Lol" Tolhurst was the drummer in the band at this point in time, and he actually did provide a reasonable military-style beat, even if the snare on this is heavily treated. And the keyboards, courtesy of Matthieu Hartley, who was only a member of the band for Seventeen Seconds. Oh, I crack me up.

The song itself only has one real chord progression the whole way through, with a couple of middle 8s just to break it up. The middle 8s see Smith switching to what sounds like a flanger for a remarkable shimmering effect, but for most of the rest of the tune, Smith is happy to solo away to his heart's content.

I'm not going to show the actual video - it's a hand-held camera going through a forest - but I will show this scorching version performed in Japan in 1984. You'll get the idea.

If I get time later this week, I may do a bit of a retrospective of this band.

Seminal stuff.

12 August 2007

RRR Radiothon 2007

Once again folks, it's time for you all to pledge your allegiance to the RRRs.

Triple R has to be one of the coolest radio stations in the world. Not only do they sound like that expression that pirates make but they have an incredibly interesting schedule to boot.

In addition to that, 3RRR is not funded by advertising.

That's right. There's none of this rubbish where announcers are carpeted for saying something that disagrees with a sponsor's message, or where an advertiser gets light treatment from the news desk just because they pay for advertising frequently.

No that's right. 3RRR is owned and paid for by its listeners. And there are arguments that suggest that it might possibly be the most successful public radio station in the world, however we'll never know, given that 3RRR doesn't subscribe to any ratings monitors.

Anyway, don't take my word for it, listen in here.

You can subscribe here.

And if 3RRR is not your cup of tea, we're fortunate in my town of Melbourne to have a veritable cornucopia of public radio stations to choose from. Here are but some:


Pascal's diversified portfolio

I have to let you in on a secret - I don't read that many blogs. But I have a select group that I read as much as humanly possible. Which is why I get immensely pleased when I come across a blog post that I like.

This is one. And, as always, Bronze Dog does a smashing job. Which he referred to a post at PZ Myers' excellent blog (which I read less regularly), Pharyngula.

These posts are about something written by the increasingly unbalanced Scott Adams who created the Dilbert cartoon. I normally like Dilbert. Not passionately or anything like that, hell, give me Ernie/Piranha Club any day. But I find it better than some of the cartoons out there. Fred Basset, anyone?

Adams has been writing all sorts of weird shit in his blog lately, and given his comic timing (I love bad puns) in the strip, you would have to say that he is most definitely not taking the piss.

I mention this because if there is one thing that is guaranteed to make me angry, it's mention of this stupid concept.

Pascal's Wager has always been something that has annoyed me. The first tine that I heard it was at school when my roommate - who was previously an atheist from an atheist family - suddenly found religion in a big way. And this was one of the fastest transformations I ever saw - it all took place over a two week period.

Anyway, he ran Pascal's Wager by me. For those who need their memory refreshed, Pascal's Wager goes like this:

If I believe in God, and I find out that He doesn't exist, then I have lost nothing.

If I don't believe in God, and I find out that He exists, then I have lost everything.

Pascal had formulated a lot of what became known as Game Theory, and his reasoning was sound, except that he didn't realise one thing - he had made the assumption that only the Judeo-Christian-Islamic god existed.

Or, to put that another way, if God promises annihilation for non-believers, than what about non-believers in Shiva, the Destroyer?

Anyway, Dog suggests the following alternate probabilities to Pascal's Wager about a deity of which we know no details:

1. What if the deity punishes people for doing evil deeds and rewards them for doing good deeds, with no regard for beliefs?

2. What if the deity punishes people for blindly believing in him and rewards them for thinking critically and thus doubting him?

3. What if the deity rewards everyone, regardless of what they do or believe?

4. What if the deity rewards people on a random basis?

5. What if the deity only punishes those who step on cracks in a sidewalk?

6. What if the deity doesn't care at all about human beings and only thinks about them as a meaningless, uninteresting by-product of a brane/string experiment he conducted 13.7 billion years ago?

7. What if the deity just throws everyone's souls up on the roof, where they get stuck?

And so on and so forth. I thought of another possible outcome:

8. What if the deity is a liar?

Oh, the confusion that one would cause. And of course, this is before consideration of competing deities, to whom all the outcomes above might also apply.

Being the financial nerd that I am, I thought at that I'd take a view of this through the window that is Portfolio Theory. Portfolio theory says a variety of things, but the one most important thing that comes out of portfolio theory is this: for a set level of risk, you can increase your return by diversifying your portfolio.

Or to put that another way, "Don't put all your eggs in the one basket."

So let's take a diversified approach to investment in a god as proposed by Pascal:

Option 1 - Belief in god A but he doesn't exist.

Believing in a god would appear to have a rather high risk/return trade-off - the potential return is eternal life, however, your potential risk for this return is also infinite and given that there are quite a few gods out there, who knows if you've picked the right one?

Normally, you can't say that infinity A is greater than infinity B, so there is no way of knowing if the risks outweigh the potential returns, but you can say this: the chance of you picking the wrong god is enormous from the outset.

So for us to load all our belief credits into the one slot machine is obviously a high risk investment.

Option B - Belief in a portfolio of gods.

This would appear to satisfy a prudent approach to investing in a high risk asset class, which is what theistic belief clearly is. The problem with this is that there are many more gods that we can read about before we can profess a belief in them.

I should clarify from the outset that my problem with the word "belief" is another thing that Dog expressed frustration with in his post. Is it enough to just say that you believe in a deity?

Most theists would say yes to this. After all, quite a lot of them will say they believe, however they may actually believe something completely different. However, this is not what most of the rest of us understand by the word belief. The problem with this perspective is that a token statement of belief is clearly not belief, if the person who says it believes something completely different.

Most of us understand belief to be what we predominantly think is the case about something, when we do not know the answer. For example, if we're holding an apple, and we drop it, we know it's going to hit the ground. This is called "knowledge". However, if we drop the apple, and we think that a magic invisible hand is going to catch it before it hits the ground, this is called "belief".

There is nothing that could cause us to "know" that this magic invisible hand will catch it - you would have to be pretty darn sure to say that you knew that a hand or other such appendage would catch it.

So obviously, while belief implies some level of disbelief, it is an outright lie to say that you believe in something when you don't.

Which means that for us to have a meaningful definition of belief for the purpose of this post, we'll have to eliminate those who only pay lip service to believing in something.

In other words, we'll define belief as being that where we've studied the deity in question a little bit and decided that we have more than just a token level of faith that they'll be there to greet us at the other end.

So it is possible to believe in a portfolio of gods based on this approach. How do we construct this portfolio?

Those who understand portfolio theory know that there are many ways to construct this portfolio. In investment, there are active methods that look at various different criteria, all of which involve chopping and changing between different assets in order to reduce risk and maximise return.

There are also passive methods where assets are bought and held for a long time based on a number of criteria, though normally, the criterion is a popularity measure, such as a major index. These are all designed to get a return that matches the index or some other benchmark.

I propose that we appeal to popularity and create a passively managed index portfolio based on popularity. This makes it easy.

Our Judeo/Christian/Islamic god gets in first.
The Taoist pantheon is next - the Jade Emperor is a particular favourite of mine - followed by Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva. The remaining spots in the core portfolio would be filled by the remaining major deities out there.

Now on to creating a satellite investments sub-portfolio with lesser deities. I've always had a thing for Huitzilopochtli and Quetzalcoatl, so they're in. And just because I'm Australian, the Rainbow Serpent gets the nod, too. Flying Spaghetti Monster and Invisible Pink Unicorn? They're in.

How much of an investment do we make in all these deities?

Reading the holy books of each and professing a belief should be enough I think. We don't want to make this too onerous.

And this is where our diversified approach cleans up - you get as many bets into different deities as possible.

It also minimises the downside of the other possibility that Pascal overlooked:

What if all the deities exist, and they have to fight amongst each other to see who gets to punish unbelievers?

What better way to do this, than to reduce those deities who are out to get you?

Of course, prudent investing also says to wait until the evidence is in before committing. For me, Pascal's Diversified Portfolio is just going to have to wait until I have enough evidence to start putting my portfolio together. I don't want to find the religious version of Enron in my portfolio.

My advice?

Theistic belief is the kind of high risk/high return investment that makes derivatives appear positively safe by comparison.

This is for ultra-ultra-ultra-aggressive investors only, folks.

09 August 2007

Vale Lee Hazlewood

It's the end of the line for Lee Hazlewood.

Best known for his work with Nancy Sinatra, Hazlewood was a musical pioneer who worked with the likes of Duane Eddy, Phil Spector and a band formed by the sons of Dean Martin and Desi Arnaz, Dino, Desi and Billy.

Hazlewood's work with Eddy introduced the world to reverb as Eddy's guitar became known as the twangiest ever. Not sure how, but somehow Eddy managed to avoid riding the short-lived surf instrumental wave that was around not long after.

Later, he did some work with Sanford Clark, preceding Gram Parsons by a good ten years or so - which I guess makes Hazlewood the real godfather of alt-country.

But his best known work was with Nancy Sinatra.

On These Boots Were Made For Walkin', Hazlewood got Sinatra to sing down an octave, and as a result, her career boomed. Hazlewood produced most of Sinatra's work, and even recorded two albums with her. Seen as ├╝ber-kitsch for a long time, Hazlewood and Sinatra's work is seen as visionary by the cool crowd these days and is name-checked regularly the likes of Jarvis Cocker from Pulp, Beck and Steve Shelley from Sonic Youth. Some Velvet Morning, possibly up there with Macarthur Park as one of the most out-there songs ever written, was a big hit for the pair, and was recently covered by Primal Scream.

Hazlewood also produced a duet between Sinatra and her father, Frank called Somethin' Stupid which was a huge hit.

Hazlewood's death will probably not be noticed by many people. But he will be missed.


07 August 2007

Where Dikkii cracks the sads with "Generation Y"

Like an infection oozing pus at the back of my already horribly diseased brain, this has been festering for quite some time. And rather than just go in to see a neuro-surgeon about having it lanced, I'm going to blow it all out the back of my head, in the vain hope that someone reads this and cleans the whole sodding mess up.

Yes, folks. It's time I handed out a flogging to all you young shits who identify with the stereotype known as Generation Y.

Now the best part about media stereotypes, is that we all get a good laugh. They're relatively harmless. Remember "Metrosexuals"? They were, if you can't remember them, a trumped up generalisation of blokes who were supposedly so into themselves that they masturbated in front of mirrors.

Nothing was too outrageous for this bunch. Hair product? Check. Manicures? Check. More sensitivity than your average emo? You got that right.

This lot were so low that they masqueraded as your stereotypical mincing inner-suburban queen just so that chicks saw that they were "comfortable with their sexuality" and slept with them.

And pretentious? My fucking FSM, were they? If I was born in a different era, I would have called them a bunch of poofs who were repressing, and I wouldn't be far wrong.

And in case you're reading this and thinking, Dikkii, you've really gone and lost it now... Actually, I've probably lost a good portion of my normal readership. They're currently looking up for the "Flag" button that Blogger conveniently provides for this sort of objectionably homophobic copy to get noticed by some killjoy whose job is to come down on me like a tonne of bricks.

Who knows? They'll probably suspend me, or worse, kick me off?

Anyway, the joke's on you, o politically correct thought police.

Metrosexuals never existed. Never did. Never will.

Some newspaper columnist thought up this term as a joke, and the best part of ten years (and countless millions of dollars) were spent by marketers trying to sell stuff to this "demographic".

And so too on to Generation Y.

Originally, this term chose itself, after the loathsome blanket generalisation of my generation which became known as Generation X after Douglas Coupland's novel. But where Coupland applied this term to Americans born between 1960 and 1965, I was born in 1972 and am not American.

Generation Y has become an umbrella term for whatever epithet you can throw at the under 30 crowd, and this blogger for one, is getting sick and tired of it.

Supposedly, these are hallmarks of your average Generation Y'er:

  • A combination of SMS-speak, "1337" or leetspeak, spell-checkers on computers and school teachers who consider spelling and punctuation to be the realm of English teachers only has allegedly rendered Gen Y'ers as illiterate as your average doughnut.
  • Innumeracy has been blamed on the use of calculators from an early age, combined with a "what, me worry?" attitude to even basic arithmetic. Critically, this has led many to the conclusion that the credit crunch we are now seeing across the US requires Gen Y as the logical scapegoats.
  • Gen Y'ers apparently want your job. Hire one, and they'll (supposedly) straightaway tell you that their aim is to be in your position in six months time. They're ambitious.
  • But not only that, they're lazy too. By all accounts. They want your job, but will not lift a finger in the process.
  • Lastly, in the process of moving from being a hiree to moving up the corporate ladder, your average Gen Y'er is supposed to be the kind of wonderful human being who would knife his or her own mother in the back to get there. Treacherous souls, aren't they?

Now forgive me if all of this sounds just a little too far-fetched, but just like metrosexuals, this is the picture that we are being sold. I didn't buy it at first, and I thought that if ignored it, it might just go away. Unfortunately, however, just like Myers-Briggs tests, "emotional intelligence" and what I hope to God is not NLP ("Neuro-Linguistic Programming"), the willingness to embrace this unctious stereotype has pervaded my workplace to an even greater extent than the stream of management consulting bullshit that is so fashionable at the moment.

"Succinct" as a verb, anyone?

Back to the job at hand, though. The first time that I noticed that this was an issue was when someone reviewing one of my communications asked me if I could tailor my language to be more "Gen Y". After telling them to get stuffed, I was treated to a half hour lecture on why we needed to pander to a workforce that was illiterate, innumerate and had the attention span of a diseased carp.

And you know, I think that this is the reason why service standards have slipped. When I joined the workforce, all those years ago, we were expected to lift our standards to those of our employer, and those around us.

Now, employers - in the interest of supposedly being flexible - dumb stuff down and pander to what must surely be the lowest common denominator. And our staff think that this is what the employer expects from them.

Witness what this half-wit wrote in response to a routine query from a customer.

But that is not the end of it. By lowering standards to a perceived level that we deem appropriate for our audience, we have suggested that even mediocrity is too high a standard for the new young workforce. We give them stuff that is so bereft of intelligence that they must feel that it an employer's duty to be as condescending as hell.

No one benefits from this.

But to make matters worse, go back and look at my bullet points again. Notice anything?

Yep. You guessed right. These are the exact same prejudices that were foisted upon us previous generations by the ones who came before us. Except in this case, we're treating this kind of behaviour as though it's a good thing.

Is this a power thing? A numbers thing? Are we seeing the start of the dumbing down of society just so that we can satisfy a bunch of lazy, belligerent, ambitious young hooligans that may not even exist? Is our market research so subject to confirmation bias that we can't even smell the coffee on this?

I've had enough. You can all go and get stuffed.

02 August 2007

Introducing Reverend Dikkii

I've been reading a lot about titles and the like. And it's interesting to know that only some titles have set rules governing their use.

For example, doctor. I have had lots of conversations over the years with various friends of mine who hold or are studying for doctorates at university. The consensus amongst these guys is that if you have a PhD (or equivalent), you are allowed to use the title "Dr" in place of "Mr" or "Ms".

Honorary doctorates do not count.

You may also do so if you are a practising doctor, dentist or veterinarian. Note the word practising.

In Australia, you generally may become one of these without a doctorate - normally to be a doctor, you need to have a double bachelor degree in medicine and surgery, or MB, BS. A vet requires a Bachelor of Veterinary Science (BVSc) and a dentist requires a Bachelor of Dental Science (BDSc). This may change in the future if the University of Melbourne's new model gains traction.

"Proper" doctors with PhDs get a bit flustered about this, and consider that "Dr" is a professional title only for doctors, dentists and vets. Consequently, once your average doctor gets into his BMW X5 and drives out of the surgery for the day, their right to use the "Dr" title in place of "Mr" or "Ms" vanishes in a cloud of exhaust fumes as they rush off to Huntingdale for nine holes before the light disappears for the day.

It then becomes somewhat frustrating when federal Minister of Defence Brendan Nelson, (whose highest degrees are his MB and BS) insists on calling himself "Dr Nelson", even though he's a proud, practising politician who hasn't been near a surgery in over ten years.

The law itself is actually quite grey on this, however, it is interesting that if you're a citizen of note and you use the title "Doctor" without being a doctor, dentist or vet, or you don't have a PhD (or equivalent) from an accredited university or other institution, you are going to get the shit-canning of a lifetime by the media when they find out.

Happily, doctors of chiropractic and naturopathy are viewed with some suspicion by the media as well, despite the fact that chiropractors and naturopaths quite often have "doctorates" from accredited institutions.

Anyway, looking at other titles, the rules are often a little more cut and dried.

Reverend is not a "title".

It is what is referred to as a "style".

Ministers of religion amongst Christian churches (mostly protestant) may be referred to as "The Reverend" this or that, and this appears to be universal.

Other styles include:

  • "The Honourable..." - in Australia, this is reserved for Justices of the High, Federal and Family Courts, as well as the Supreme Courts of the states. It also may be used by some Members of Parliament, provided that they have sat on an Executive Council at some stage.
  • "The Right Honourable..." - this is reserved in Australia for Lord Mayors only. Normal mayors only get the style "His/Her Worship..."
  • "His/Her Excellency..." - this is reserved for the current Governor-General. Past Governors-General don't appear to get squat.
  • "His/Her Worship..." - mayors, magistrates, some councillors, and Justices of the Peace.

Others exist.

But "Reverend" is an interesting one. It generally appears to be used as a title these days, thanks to misuse in the States and the far-reaching influence of The Simpsons. It's as pompous as hell to boot - insisting that people use this title when addressing you formally is like saying, "Revere me! I demand your adulation!"

Having just received my certificate of ordination from the Universal Life Church of Modesto, California, I wish to point out that this blogger is not above this kind of pomposity.

The Universal Life Church is a "religious" organisation that just offers ordination. Anyone can do it - all you need to do is to enter your details into a form on their website, and after "checking by a human" you're in. Theists are accepted. Agnostics and atheists, too.

Happily, this also means that I can officiate at funerals, naming ceremonies and "commitment ceremonies". Apparently in some states of the USA, I can even do weddings. I can't in Australia, though. Only celebrants registered with the federal Attorney-General's office may do these here, and this includes clergy.

"Rev. Dikkii?"

You betcha. I'm ringing everyone tomorrow and getting my title changed on all my incoming correspondence from everywhere. I am, after all, a pompous hypocrite.

Special thanks to the Rev Jenner J Hull of the most excellent Church of the Everlasting Groove for putting me on to this.