So Sean Spicer is gone but wait the new guy is….

A smooth-talking, Long Island-bred former hedge fund manager with no experience whatsoever in the role reports New York Times

Anthony Scaramucci, a New York financier,  Trump’s new communications director

So he is likely to be just as much fun as Sean.

Here are some of the more endearing quotes about his appointment.

“I think there’s been, at times, a disconnect between the way we see the president and how much we love the president and the way some of you perhaps see the president,” Mr. Scaramucci said. “I certainly see the American people probably see the president the way I do,” he added, contradicting a raft of recent polls showing Mr. Trump’s approval rating below 40 percent nationally.

Mr. Trump said, “Anthony is a person I have great respect for,” and went on to describe the problem he hopes he will solve. “We have accomplished so much, and we are being given credit for so little,” he said. “The good news is the people get it, even if the media doesn’t.”

Mr. Trump expressed gratitude for Mr. Spicer’s service: “Just look at his great television ratings,” he said.

Mr. Scaramucci is known in Trump’s circle as “The Mooch”

Problem is  on a lot of TV comedians will have to start rejigging their shows now that Sean was gone.

Our soldiers keep Australia safe, but who keeps our soldiers safe

Last night on the ABC, 7.30 reported that Jesse Bird, 32, took his own life last month, just weeks after losing a claim for permanent impairment he had been pursuing for almost two years.

The decision came despite DVA accepting initial liability, in August 2016, for Mr Bird’s post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder and alcohol abuse.

Between 2001 and 2015 there were 325 confirmed suicides involving people with at least one day of Defence Force service.

How long will it be until the Department of Veterans Affairs fixes this problem which keeps coming up again and again and again.

Do we need some public campaign to expose the people who have put in place the processes that make it so difficult for people like Jesse Bird to get the help and support he needs. Who are the bureaucrats who have designed these processes? What is the rationale for making it so difficult?

Successive of prime ministers have been only too happy to be photographed with the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It’s time that they all stood up and said, “This has to stop.  Our veterans deserve better.”

It’s a bitter irony that these young men should face the possibility of being killed when they go to work each day when on active duty and find that life holds more perils when they return to Australia.

The processes of the  Department of Different Affairs should not place the onus of proof so heavily on these young soldiers but should make the assumption that they will be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder as a result of active service in places like Afghanistan and work on that assumption until it is proved otherwise.

This will mean that the psychological, emotional and, in particular, financial help will be in place for these deeply scarred young men.

We spend billions of dollars buying aircraft and submarines. We should be prepared to spend more money on the men keep Australia safe.

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (Guercino): Raising of Lazarus

Tim Haslett's Blog

This wonderful painting is an interesting contradiction between the spiritual and philosophical views of the artist and what appears on the canvas. He was a profoundly religious man who believed the Jesuit argument – that all the senses should be engaged in empathy with the events of martyrdom and ecstasy. He refused a court appointment from English king Charles I, partly because the climate of the court but also because he didn’t wish to mix with heretics. Yet this marvellous painting emphasises the physical and human nature of the raising of Lazarus while the composition and the texture downplays the role of Christ. The raising of Lazarus is a significant miracle as it foreshadows the resurrection of Christ himself, yet there is no hint of this in the painting.

The Raising of Lazarus is taken from John 11:38-53 and is one of Christ’s 37 miracles.

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When we look at the…

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Housing vacancies indicative of a broader issue of societal investment priorities

Recently, an article appeared in the Australian media. It discussed the issue of housing availability and affordability in Australia where a significant portion of the  population do not have access to the housing market. There are many reasons for this and the article in the Fairfax press highlighted one of them.

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Australia has 200,000 more homes sitting empty than it had a decade ago, new figures show The figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show up to 11.2 per cent of properties are now unoccupied, up from 9.8 per cent in 2006.

Separate analysis by the Grattan Institute, released on Monday, found the number of Australian home owners has been falling for three decades, with the spike in home ownership restricted to baby boomers.

Presumably these houses are owned by investors who 1) do not live in them and 2) are simply holding on them as they increase in capital value. This means that they are denying someone access to a liveable house (not necessary that one) somewhere in the marketplace.

The implications of the article are that there should be some intervention, presumably on the part of government, to ensure that liveable dwellings are not left vacant. Logic  suggests that the market is not working efficiently when many young families are denied access to housing market because of the activities of investors.

There are two elements to this particular phenomenon. The first is that potential renters are denied access to these dwellings. The second is that these dwellings are removed from the homebuyer market as well.

But this raises an interesting question. Should the activities of investors be curtailed for the greater good?

In this case, the argument is that the investment and speculation in the housing market  gains carries an unacceptable social and economic cost to the community as a whole. Underlying this argument is the assumption that it is a fundamental right of all Australians who wish to, to own their own house.

It is becoming increasingly clear that a small proportion of the population holds a disproportionate amount of global wealth and assets. Perhaps we should rethink the assumption that one person has the right to extract rent from another for providing them with shelter by dint of their superior economic power.

But this raises a much broader issue.

Is there a list of fundamental community services that should not be available for rent taking?  The Fairfax article is, by implication, suggesting that housing may be one of them.

It is the provision of fresh water another?

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Should investors be free to invest in companies that provide medical insurance where a proportion of medical premiums provide profits for investors, effectively forcing up price of healthcare?

Many of these  “community services” are particularly expensive and are made more expensive by private ownership and the need to extract profits.

The fundamental issue is whether this expense is carried by the individual or by the community is a whole.

As the distribution of wealth becomes more unequal, it becomes harder for many individuals within the community to carry these costs and consequently have access to the benefits.

The current debate over health care in America indicates that, in the US at least, there appears to be little appetite for the community to bear the cost of healthcare.  In many European countries, exactly the opposite is the case.

In Australia,  it makes little sense for the rational investor not to invest in real estate given the legislation around negative gearing and capital gains tax.  Stock market gains  by the big superannuation funds this year have hit double digits for the first time in four years.

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Whereas real estate continues going gangbusters.

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The housing market in Australia is crystallising the issues around the nature of private rent taking and investment, the nature of community rights and the provision of community services.

To date, the Turnbull government has shown little interest in tackling this particular problem.

Emily Dickinson’s Metaphysical Poetry: Because I could not stop for Death

First some definitions.

Helen Gardner noted the dramatic quality of (Metaphysical) poetry as a personal address of argument and persuasion, whether talking to a physical lover, to God, to Christ’s mother Mary, or to a congregation of believers. Gardner, Helen (1957). Metaphysical Poets. Oxford University Press, London. p22-24)

Metaphysical poetry is characterised by what is known as the conceit. 

The metaphysical conceit, associated with the Metaphysical poets of the 17th century, is a more intricate and intellectual device. It usually sets up an analogy between one entity’s spiritual qualities and an object in the physical world and sometimes controls the whole structure of the poem.

By these definitions, Dickinson’s beautiful Because I could not stop for Death qualifies as a metaphysical poem as much as Donne’s A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning or Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress 

The central conceit or metaphor of the poem is the idea of a friend stopping to offer someone a ride in a carriage. This image is beautifully captured in the final scene of the film A Quiet Passion were the poem is read during Dickinson’s funeral procession.

Because I could not stop for Death —
He kindly stopped for me —
The Carriage held but just Ourselves —
And Immortality.

We slowly drove — He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility —

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess — in the Ring —
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain —
We passed the Setting Sun —

Or rather — He passed Us —
The Dews drew quivering and Chill —
For only Gossamer, my Gown —
My Tippet — only Tulle —

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground —
The Roof was scarcely visible —
The Cornice — in the Ground —

Since then — ’tis Centuries — and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity —

The central image of the of a friend offering a ride is expanded through the poem. The friend is Death and his offer is “kindly”.  There is a sense of acceptance and ” civility” that suffuses the poem coupled with a sense of unhurried preparedness.

And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility —

In the next stanza, the carriage passes “the School, where Children strove”, the Fields of Gazing Grain”, “the Setting Sun”, it is almost as if Dickinson watches her life passing away in a few fleeting and poignant images.

Finally, her journey ends at her grave

a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground —
The Roof was scarcely visible —
The Cornice — in the Ground

The final stanza, is a voice from Eternity which is proving

shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity

Is this an echo of Marvell’s

But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.

Certainly, Dickinson’s image contains none of the urgency of Marvell’s and the two poems have quite different concerns.  However, the central conceit, of the horses drawing the chariot or the carriage towards eternity is the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More reading

Emily Dickinson and Metaphysical Poetry

A Quiet Passion and The Importance of being Emily

Director Terence Davies’ brilliant portrayal of Emily Dickinson is an immensely important film. It will shape the perceptions of Dickinson’s life for every undergraduate reader of her poetry from now on.

The film is all the more brilliant because it is the story of a young woman who leaves  represses school, returns to the family home where she lives and writes poetry for the rest of her life. And that’s the plot.

The rest of the film is held together by two incredible actors Cynthia Nixon and Jennifer Ehle.  But predominantly by an absolutely outstanding performance by Nixon.

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For the most part, it’s a reflective and contemplative film, a film about a poet whose ill-health and disillusionment increasingly isolated to from the world and all around her.

The first half of the film, which features Emily’s friendship with Vryling Wilder Buffum (Catherine Bailey) sparkles with Wildean wit.

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The two discuss marriage often, not as a romantic option but as a practical one. The friendship ends, as it must, when Vryling marries and moves away. There is a poignant little scene in the church when Vryling walks down the aisle with her new husband and turns to Emily and says, “No tears, Emily.”

There are some marvellous exchanges between Emily and her brother and sister on one hand and her aunt Elizabeth Dickinson Currier (Annette Badland) which could have come straight out of Oscar Wilde.

But the mood darkens in the second half of the film. People for whom Emily has and deep emotional attachment, including the married Reverend Charles Wadsworth, move away and Emily’s parents both die.  Some, but not much, of her poetry is begrudgingly published by male editors.

Emily dresses in white and increasingly rejects all contact from potential suitors and even editors.

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Dickinson reads her poetry throughout the film. The final poem is the beautiful Because I could not stop for Death which is read as Dickenson’s funeral  cortege takes her to the graveyard.

Because I could not stop for Death —
He kindly stopped for me —
The Carriage held but just Ourselves —
And Immortality.

We slowly drove — He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility —

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess — in the Ring —
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain —
We passed the Setting Sun —

Or rather — He passed Us —
The Dews drew quivering and Chill —
For only Gossamer, my Gown —
My Tippet — only Tulle —

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground —
The Roof was scarcely visible —
The Cornice — in the Ground —

Since then — ’tis Centuries — and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity —

 

 

 

Craig Kelly demonstrates his concern about electricity prices

The Age reports: ‘People will die due to renewables’: Turnbull government MP Craig Kelly the chair of the Coalition’s climate committee is warning. The Liberal backbencher believes some people cannot afford to heat their homes this winter. Mr Kelly put his warning down to government policies that push up the price of electricity. “There [is] $3 billion this year being paid in subsidies for renewable energy,” he said.

Yet informed opinion disagrees .

High gas prices, not high renewable energy prices, are responsible for the latest outsized increase in electricity prices, the second-largest on record, according to a new analysis by one of Australia’s leading experts, Australian National University specialist Dr Hugh Saddler who argues that renewables have not caused increases because the price paid for gas which is used to supplement shortages in coal-fired electricity is responsible for driving up the price of electricity.  Remember that Australians pay world parity prices for the gas because no one bothered to make sure that the big mining companies left enough in Australia for local consumers before they shipped everything off overseas. Funny that.