The Credlin Problem

Poor old Tony, he can’t seem to win a trick. Now Rupert Murdoch is weighing into the debate, suggesting Abbott should sack Peta Credlin or she should do her patriotic duty and resign.

 Sack me! You wouldn't f*#*ing well dare

Sack me! You wouldn’t f*#*ing well dare

The first thing to do is to see Murdoch’s criticism of Credlin in prospective. He thinks she’s behind the Knighthood awarded to Prince Phil and is miffed that he didn’t get one.

(Not Sir)  Rupert Murdoch

(Not Sir) Rupert Murdoch

The second is that his intervention has now made it extremely difficult for Tony Abbott to get rid of Credlin. Abbott is dammed if he does and dammed if he doesn’t. Sacking her will leave him open to accusations that he is simply a puppet of Rupert Murdoch. Not getting rid of her will continue the mutinous rumblings in the Liberal party ranks and the continued erosion of his standing and authority.

For all her perceived faults, Credlin must be feeling pretty pissed off that she is copping the blame for most of Abbott’s missteps, including the disastrous knighthood fiasco.  She is becoming the lightning rod for  much of the discontent that should really be focused on Abbott.

Her critics seem to have lost sight of the fact that she is Tony Abbott’s Chief of Staff and is responsible to him. It’s pretty reasonable to assume that she does his bidding. No doubt she provides a pretty powerful line of advice to him but in the long run, Abbott must take responsibility for the conduct of the Prime Minister’s Office.

It is an irony that the self-appointed Minister for the Betterment and Improvement of Women is likely to have to sack one of the highest profile female political appointees in Australia to save his own skin.

Knighthoods: Spare a thought for John Winston Howard

There must be some plate throwing, albeit behind closed doors, going on in the Howard household. Jeanette will be crouching behind the couch in fear of her life.

JWH must be mightly miffed at missing out on a big gong. After all, Big Phil has enough titles to last a life time and JWH only has a miserable Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) and a Member of the Order of Merit (OM).

John Howard keeping a stiff upper lip over Knighthood.

John Howard keeping a stiff upper lip over Knighthood.

Whereas Phil can be Prince Phil, Admiral Phil, Duke Phil, Baron Phil, Earl Phil, Air Commodore, Field Marshall, General Phil, Captain General Phil and now Sir Phil. JWH, for all his service to Australia and loyalty to the monarchy, is still plain Mister John.

Poor old Tone, can’t seem to win a trick.

The Feet of Winton Jack Haslett

Most mornings of my life, I am greeted by this particular sight:

Feet

It is the perfectly formed feet of Winton Jack Haslett attached temporally, physically and causally to the similarly perfectly formed Winton Jack Haslett himself and, most importantly, occupying their own unique place in the universe.

What is of great pleasure to me is that the unique place in the universe of the feet of Winton Jack Haslett overlaps the similarly unique position that I enjoy.

Now if you take the short view of history, which we mostly do, this is not particularly remarkable. He lives around the corner with his parents and comes to visit most days.

But if you take a longer view of history, which I’m increasingly inclined to do,  then there is a direct connection, temporally, physically and causally between the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago and perfectly formed feet of Winton Jack  Haslett.

The Big Bang: directly connected to the feet of Winton Jack Haslett

The Big Bang: directly connected to the feet of Winton Jack Haslett

So from a cosmic perspective, the chances of the perfectly formed feet of Winton Jack Haslett appearing at my front door  in 2015 (some 13.8 billion years after the Big Bang) are so small as to make winning Tattslotto an everyday event.

If I were of a religious bent, I would describe it as miraculous.

But I’m not and it isn’t.

A miracle is an extraordinary and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore attributed to a divine agency.

In fact, it’s amazing that it’s not miraculous. There was no God, no first cause, no guiding hand.

Just the immense randomness and variation in the universe.  One of an almost infinite number of possibilities. Amazing!

And this is one of the reasons why I wake up each morning not grateful, but glad.

T and w

Does Treasurer Joe Hockey understand his portfolio?

 Hockey: income tax burden to an increase of Labor keeps blocking savings measures

“We have been warning about bracket creep and we want to deliver tax cuts” said the Treasurer.

Joe Hockey:  Finding people to blame is becoming increasingly difficult

Joe Hockey: Finding people to blame is becoming increasingly difficult

It’s understandable that Joe is feeling frustrated about his failure to get his budget through the Senate. But he’s got a stop blaming everybody else except himself. The budget was ill-conceived and inequitable and the Senate called him on it.

Linking the Labor opposition’s failure to pass the budget through the Senate to incremental bracket creep in the taxation system is just nonsense. They are two quite separate issues. And as Treasurer, Joe Hockey should know that.

Bracket creep is the way that Australians end up paying extra tax when their incomes are adjusted upwards for inflation and they move to a higher tax bracket.  It is an inevitability of a tax system where higher income earners pay a higher proportion of their income in tax. Eventually everybody’s tax rate is going to go up.

The benefits to the government are quite significant. Bracket creep increases the proportion of their income said Australians paying taxation. It is taxation increase by stealth. But it is gradual and it only comes at a time when people’s incomes are increasing either through inflation or through promotions and higher salaries.  Most people probably don’t notice it but now Joe has managed to make it an issue.

There are two ways to get around the problem o bracket creep.  The first is to have a flat tax rate and the second is to adjust the rates upwards as wages rise. Passing the budget through the Senate is not one of the ways of getting around this particular problem.

With the budget stalled in the Senate, Hockey may not be able to provide tax cuts  for Australians. It is becoming increasingly clear that tax revenue is not equalling expenditure and that Australia is poised at the top of a rather nasty slippery slope.

The difficulty that Hockey and Chris Pyne have had in the Senate indicates that the people’s representatives are not prepared to cut social service delivery particularly in the area of health and education.

But by now, most Australians have realised that if they wish to maintain their level of social services, they will have to pay more tax in some form or other, be it through increases in the GST or increases in taxation rates on both business and individuals.

What Hockey should be arguing is that in the light the position taken by the Senate, it will be necessary to increase revenue through taxation.

Or to look at the concessions that are provided to some favoured members of our society.

What we can have then is a debate on things like negative gearing, the concessions to the mining industry and superannuation concessions.

Another cringe-worthy of the moment from Tony Abbott

The self appointed Minister for National Embarrassment, Tony Abbott, has done himself proud on Australia Day. He has awarded a a Knighthood of the Order of Australia to Prince Philip.

Sir Phil: in need of a few more imperial honours

Sir Phil: in need of a few more imperial honours

That’s right that Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, member of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich husband of Betty, Royal Chief of the Order of Logohu, Admiral of the Sea Cadet Corps, Colonel-in-Chief of the British Army Cadet Force,  Air Commodore-in-Chief of the Air Training Corps,  Admiral of the Fleet, Captain General Royal Marines, Field Marshal, and Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord High Admiral of the Royal Navy .

And now Sir Phil KOA is for services to Australia during the Queen’s 62 year reign.

So here’s a question for all Australians to think about: What what has Sir Phil done for Australia?  At least Tony Abbott should have had the decency to list some of the achievements.

It’s bad enough that the Prime Minister does not have sufficient confidence in the Australian honours and has to resort to the bygone relic of imperial honours.

But awarding one to the Queens consort! It’s so bad it’s almost difficult to start explaining how he’s managed to get this wrong.

Apparently, Malcolm Turnbull is a Republican.

Post script from The Age untitled Not a popular decision it would appear.

Job Hockey: greatly injured, shunned and avoided

Treasurer Joe Hockey is suing Fairfax media for defamation over a series of articles in which Fairfax is alleged to have suggested that the Tresurer was “for sale” and that donations to the North Sydney Forum would provide privileged access to the Treasurer

Mr Hockey is claiming that as a result of articles, he has been “greatly injured, shunned and avoided and his reputation has been and will be brought into disrepute, odium, ridicule and contempt”.

He obviously wasn’t too concerned when his boss listed the top five ministers in the Federal Cabinet and omitted to mention the treasurer.  That looks like a fairly high grade shun.

The difficulty for poor Joe is demonstrating that the disrepute, odium, ridicule and contempt was brought about by the articles and not by the his failed efforts to get his first budget through Parliament, comments about poor people not driving cars, cigar smoking  and a vigourous exploitation of Parliamentary  entitlements.

Joe is not happy about being  shunned, injured and greatly avoided

Joe is not happy about being shunned, injured and greatly avoided

One is reminded of the Pogo quote “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Birdman or Men in Underpants

In the opening scene of Birdman,  the hero Riggan Thomson is meditating. He is also levitating, listening to a voice in his head and in his underpants.

Not a superhero, just a man in his underpants

Not a superhero, just a man in his underpants

In a series of deft strokes, director Alejandro González Iñárritu establishes some of the main motifs and themes of the film.

One of these themes is the role of underpants in defining a hero. Riggan has played action hero Birdman in a series of Hollywood blockbusters. Birdman comes from a long line of action heroes who were distinguished by wearing their underpants on the outside.

Superman: the greatest underpants  superhero of all time

Superman: the greatest underpants superhero of all time

Although, fair to say,  Birdman is more of a codpiece kind of guy.

 Codpiece Man

Codpiece Man

According to Julius Schwartz (famed editor of DC Comics from 1944-1986 who edited the most famous of all external-underwear superheroes, Superman), the underpants thing was modelled on the garb of aerial circus performers and wrestlers of the era in which the first superheroes proudly donned their underpants over their tights. There is no doubt that Riggan wants to become an aerial performer.

In real life and in his underpants, Riggan is no superhero. But he is striving to achieve the popularity and relevance that the Birdman role brought him.  But he is trapped with remnants of his former glory draped about him.

In one hilarious scene, he is caught outside the theatre, you’ve guessed it, in his underpants, and has to negotiate Times Square to re-enter the theatre by the front door.

The underpants non-hero

The underpants non-hero

Despite his efforts to achieve recognition through writing, directing and acting in a Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”, it is this incident, which goes viral on You-tube with 300,000 hits in one day, that provides him with his 15 minutes of fame and recognition. Fame and recognition come in the strangest ways and it may not be the kind you want.

But this is one of the many ironies that permeate the film. In the film,  Riggan  has starred as Birdman and in a quirky parallel, three of the film’s main actors have also taken part in blockbuster action hero movies in real life. Keaton was once Batman, Edward Norton who plays Mike Shiner, played the Incredible Hulk, and Emma Stone, who portrays Thomson’s troubled daughter, is Spiderman’s Gwen Stacy.

It is these wry observations that are at once one of the more entertaining but also frustrating elements of this wonderful film. The casting of the actors is clearly no accident but the viewer is left wandering what the point is.

While Riggan’s role as Birdman is central and integral part of the film, the fact that three of the main actors have played in action hero blockbusters is outside the reference of the film itself.  Is the film itself meant to be a commentary on the nature of acting both in films and in the theatre? If it is, then it is not particularly explicit.

Is Iñárritu drawing connections between the real lives of his actors and the lives of the characters in his films? It’s a reasonable question but one which the film does not answer.

In the film, Riggan is seeking both to emulate his success as an action hero and to re-establish himself as a serious actor independent of that role. The film explores the relationship between his action hero role and his role as a serious director, writer and actor. It also explores the difficulty he has in breaking free from the constraints of those early successes. This is shown in a wonderful scene where he reprises part of his life as a superhero, flying around Manhattan, exploding cars and shooting mythical birdlike creatures.

Another one bites the dust. Riggan Reprisals his role as a superhero

Another one bites the dust. Riggan Reprisals his role as a superhero

Riggan’s frequent conversations with his alter ego indicate how deeply ingrained the fictional character has become in his conception of himself.

After a disastrous preview season, Riggan’s play is greeted with box office success but it comes for the strangest of reasons. Mike Shiner, who has supplanted Riggan as the star of the show and now appears to be seducing Riggan’s daughter, goads Riggan into making the final scene of the play more realistic by using a real gun.

In final scene of the play, Riggan’s character commits suicide by blowing his brains out. The film audience is not certain whether Riggan’s character will stick to the script or shoot Mike Shiner.  He sticks to the script and in one of the few times in the film which is not part of a continuous shoot, we are left with him lying on stage in a pool of blood.

Cut to a hospital room.

Riggan  In hospital bandaged like bird man.

Riggan In hospital bandaged like bird man.

He has (inadvertently) shot his nose off and now looks like a bandaged version of Birdman.  The reviews of the first night of the play have been rapturous “Tonight blood was spilt for the theatre” writes Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan) the acid-tongued critic who had earlier threatened to destroy both Riggan and his  play.

Riggan gets  up from his hospital bed and goes into the bathroom where Birdman is sitting dejectedly on the toilet. Riggan peals the bandages off his face, symbolically shedding his Birdman persona. He walks to the window of his room and climbs out on to the window sill. And jumps.

Cut to his daughter returning to find the bed empty and the window open. She goes to the window and looks down but sees nothing. She looks up and we know that she can see her father soaring above the skyline of Manhattan, having achieved superhero status in his own right.

Clive Palmer works so hard he only needs to turn up half the time

Clive Palmer has defended himself as the hardest working MP in Parliament after he attended barely more than half of the parliamentary sitting days in spring. Figures published in The Age  seem to indicate that the Fairfax MP has missed 44 of the 100 sitting days since being elected to Parliament.  The report did not indicate how often he was awake on the days he was present.

Clive Palmer hard at work on one of his sitting days

Clive Palmer hard at work on one of his sitting days

There is no doubt that the electors of Fairfax will throw him out at the next general election. But Palmer will skip off to the Senate where he will probably get elected under the hopelessly corruptible voting system for our federal parliament. The electors of Fairfax deserve better than this but the facts of life are that a very wealthy man can buy himself a seat in Parliament and treat the voters with contempt by not turning up to do a fair days work. Stephanie Pealting wrote in The Age: Politics is failing us, but we can fix it I’m not so certain. I think we’re going to need change of requiring visionary leadership and there is little chance of this coming from these two men

Our political leaders are beginning  to look increasingly like Tweedledum and Tweedledee

Our political leaders are beginning to look increasingly like Tweedledum and Tweedledee

Tony Abbott starts the year on the wrong foot. Episode three

Tony Abbott is facing growing backbench anger over his government’s mishandling of the GP co-payment and university funding changes from last year’s budget.

 Not much to smile about for Prime Minister Tony  Abbott

This comes after Liberal party voters gave Tony Abbott a rough time on talk-back radio, with one of labelling him “the worst salesman ever.” In fairness, Abbott is not meant to be a salesman. He’s meant to be the prime minister. But clearly voters, even liberal voters, don’t think  he is very good at either.

It also comes as Christopher Pyne’s attempts to force the tertiary education reforms through the Senate have been rebuffed yet again. The government is preparing to spend nearly $15 million on a campaign advertising the reforms.

Advertising to whom? To the Senate? The  opposition and cross-ench senators have made it quite clear that they are not going to pass these measures. But Pyne keeps trying to push them through.  it would be better to spend the $15 million schmoozing  Clive Palmer expensive Canberra restaurants.

Pyne must be a great fan of the the Frank Sinatra song High Hopes whose lyrics run

Once there was a silly old ram
Thought he’d punch a hole in a dam
No one could make that ram, scram
He kept buttin’ that dam

‘Cause he had high hopes, he had high hopes
He had high apple pie, in the sky hopes.

But, whereas in the song the ram was successful, for Pyne  getting his legislation through the Senate looks very like high apple pie, in the sky hopes

Education Minister Christopher Pyne: on the way out?

One of  Abbott’s colleagues said that the Prime Minister   “had “just months” to turn things around or his position was terminal.”

Abbott’s defence of his position was that his colleagues should be aware of the fate that befell the Labour Party when it changed leaders in mid-term.

It is now a case of “dammed if you do, and dammed if you don’t.”

If the polls are any indication, the Liberal party will lose the next election if Tony Abbott continues as Prime Minister. But they know, as Abbott knows, that  there will be massive electoral backlash if they depose a current and elected prime minister.

It is profoundly ironic that Abbott, who ran a vicious and destructive campaign against Julia Gillard, may be facing a similar threat but from within the ranks of his own party.

I called this the phenomenon The turning of the personal worm in a blog I wrote on 

Still a very long way to go on gay marriage

Pope Francis has said “the family is threatened” by the efforts of those seeking to “redefine the very institution of marriage”, in a reference to same-sex marriage campaigners. “The family is threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage. These realities are increasingly under attack from powerful forces which threaten to disfigure God’s plan for creation,” the Pope said.

 Pope Francis is probably the most enlightened Pope to date.

Pope Francis is probably the most enlightened Pope to date.

It is very difficult to understand the argument that the marriage of a gay couple somehow has a negative impact on the institution of  heterosexual marriage. What on earth can be the argument for the causal connection underlying the statement? It can only be the idea that if you let one couple get away with it, then everybody will want to do it. And this is clearly nonsense.

It’s ironic that one of the great defenders of the state of holy matrimony has chosen to be celibate. What a vote of confidence! The other interesting part of the statement is  “God’s plan for creation”. Pope Francis should watch the wonderful series by Brian Cox entitled Human Universe  to get a good idea of how much of it was actually planned.

Popstar Professor and Physicist  Brian Cox

Popstar Professor and Physicist Brian Cox

Cox introduces the idea of imperfection and randomness following the Big Bang. It is this imperfection that has led to the creation of life on Earth as well as the almost infinite number of planetary systems in the universe.

1414410072-tumblr-static-universe-big-bang

The idea that the universe developed in a random way does not mean that there is not a direct causal link between the big bang and life on Earth. The most important thing about the concept of randomness is that it is unpredictable and unplanned. Even by God.

It is probably too much to hope that somebody who has a creationist view of the universe will have an enlightened view on gay marriage