Francis Vierboom's Blog

A blog about things. Mostly news, ideas, and Sydney

Archive for March 2010

Fwdworthy on Friday

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Link goes to drawing tool siteHitler played cricket once, but thought it needed to be made more ‘manly’ by playing without any padding, and replacing the ball with a rock or something. I guess this means that backyard cricket is actually Nazi cricket.

– The extraordinary Flame online drawing tool. My own quick effort produced lots of stylish squiggles and some galaxies, pictured. Some stunning examples – flaming dragons, flowers, etc.

– Matt Yglesias shows off by using nothing more than a Miley Cyrus song to write a rather amusing takedown of some typical right-wing ‘American exceptionalism’ article.

– The new Michael Lewis book on the financial crisis I mentioned on Tuesday thanks “A.K. Barnett-Hart, a Harvard undergraduate who had just written a thesis about the market for subprime mortgage-backed CDOs that remains more interesting than any single piece of Wall Street research on the subject.” This young, apparently genius and rather attractive 24 year old banker is getting a lot of attention for the thesis, which looks at exactly which mortgages caused the meltdown, and what other features were relevant. (Nobody seems to come off well.)

– Do you puke in your mouth a little bit every time you see the Lara Bingle/Michael Clarke story on the news? Then please enjoy Clarke and Dawe in top form.


Written by Francis

March 19, 2010 at 4:08 pm

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The inevitable Gillard

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Someone has put a few thousand dollars on Gillard leading the Labor party at the next election, shortening Centrebet’s odds to $4. This is a crazy bet, because if there is one tenet of Ruddist government that has to date been widely viewed as successful, it’s ‘be as predictable and boring as possible’. There is no chance of a spill before the next election. It just doesn’t fit with the philosophy of ‘government under the radar’. Rudd won the election in 2007 by saying sensible centrist things, which was extremely refreshing at the time, and desperately avoiding Howard wedgies by simply copying his policies. Howard lost the election because policies like WorkChoices showed that the Coalition had become too restless to be trusted. The action-men image of the Howard and co suddenly looked threatening and destabilising; suddenly they were bored old men with nothing better to do after ten years in government than implement their weird ideological policies.

This ‘reassuring’ posture has started to work a little too well. Despite the massive economic stimulus package, there seems to be a general feeling that Labor, at least until recently, has generally not appeared to do much of anything in the last three years. This is partly because on a lot of Rudd’s rhetorical centrepieces – climate change, Aboriginal rights, homelessness, health – there really hasn’t been that much progress.

I have a suspicion that the Government’s political advisers had a good look at Lateline on Feb 16th, when Ticky Fullerton visited the ‘weathervane’ seat of Lindsay to check up on the ‘Western Sydney Bogans Battlers’ theory of Howard’s victories. Fullerton found a woman, Kathy, who had switched to vote for Rudd in 2007, but having been primed by that morning’s Alan Jones show or something, she had stinging words for the government: “Mr Rudd was going to take over the hospitals if they didn’t improve, which they haven’t. He was gonna do grocery watch, fuel watch. They’re non-existent now. Interest rates: they’re going up again.”

Labor strategists would have looked into Kathy’s eyes and felt a deep and unsettling fear that what she was saying rings very true. Rudd did promise to take over hospitals, keep interest rates down, and make groceries and petrol all but free. It’s only a week or two later, at the end of February, that the hospitals plan was released, and a frenzy of activity based on ‘doing things’ has since fired up.

Peter Brent regards the Western Sydney swing voters theory as bogus, given how few swing seats are in Western Sydney, but there is probably something to it. This is if you allow that ‘Western Sydney’ is simply being used as a euphemism for ‘low-information bogans’. The theory goes that, unlike well-off religious North Shore voters, socially conservative old people, farmers, or yuppie city dwellers, these are the elusive ‘persuadables’ who don’t fall neatly into any political party, and are actually relatively easy to pick off. These voters, although particularly distilled in Western Sydney regions, are to be found all over the country.

In the Lateline story, Kathy went on to refer to ‘the tax’ (the ETS) being a key issue, and other vox populi mentioned boat people, and the fact they had only switched in 2007 because of WorkChoices. People who complain about the ETS ‘great big tax’ and boat people seem like they are really natural Liberal voters anyway. But it’s the ‘but what have they actually done?’ critique that feels more likely to stick for the ‘persuadables’ at morning tea with the chelsea bun.

And on the ‘doing things’ front, there is one person in Government who has definitely been in charge of doing things, and that’s been Gillard, the mega-minister for Education and Workplace Relations. There are stories all over the shop now about the waste in the schools program, but as long as nobody gets electrocuted or catches on fire, the coverage is really good news for the Government. People expect cost overruns, and it’s cost overruns on school halls and classrooms etc. It’s activity. It’s what a Labor-led Education Revolution would probably like if you could put one on TV.

Even more importantly, for anyone with a vague recollection of politics in 2008, Gillard was the one who plunged the stake through the heart of WorkChoices (as well as the WorkChoices mousepads).

Rudd plays it too safe to lose the next election, and Abbott plays a little too loose with a little too much baggage. But I think Rudd is likely to return with a reduced majority. [Recall that Howard barely survived 1998 against Beazley, even losing the popular vote.] Gillard has shown herself a far superior communicator, and will play a big role in winning the upcoming election for Labor. If anyone can point me to a $3 bet on a Gillard leading Labor to the 2013 election, let me know. I’ve got $100 ready to go.

(I’d even be tempted by a Gillard/Tanner quinella at $6 in 2013 – even though that’s two members of the Left, apparently it’s worth $6.50 for the coming election.)

Written by Francis

March 19, 2010 at 1:16 pm

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Stop punching yourself

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Viacom is a major media producer in the US, and has launched a major copyright lawsuit against YouTube and its owner, Google.

However, it turns out that Viacom is kind of attempting the legal equivalent of grabbing Google by the arm and screaming “oh look you’re hitting yourself in the face hahaha”. According to allegations in Google’s initial filing in the case, Viacom employees and subcontractors have been uploading clips to YouTube for ages. From the YouTube blog:

For years, Viacom continuously and secretly uploaded its content to YouTube, even while publicly complaining about its presence there. It hired no fewer than 18 different marketing agencies to upload its content to the site. It deliberately “roughed up” the videos to make them look stolen or leaked. It opened YouTube accounts using phony email addresses. It even sent employees to Kinko’s to upload clips from computers that couldn’t be traced to Viacom. And in an effort to promote its own shows, as a matter of company policy Viacom routinely left up clips from shows that had been uploaded to YouTube by ordinary users. Executives as high up as the president of Comedy Central and the head of MTV Networks felt “very strongly” that clips from shows like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report should remain on YouTube.

Viacom’s efforts to disguise its promotional use of YouTube worked so well that even its own employees could not keep track of everything it was posting or leaving up on the site. As a result, on countless occasions Viacom demanded the removal of clips that it had uploaded to YouTube, only to return later to sheepishly ask for their reinstatement. In fact, some of the very clips that Viacom is suing us over were actually uploaded by Viacom itself.

Given Viacom’s own actions, there is no way YouTube could ever have known which Viacom content was and was not authorized to be on the site. But Viacom thinks YouTube should somehow have figured it out. The legal rule that Viacom seeks would require YouTube — and every Web platform — to investigate and police all content users upload, and would subject those web sites to crushing liability if they get it wrong.

Of course it’s behaviour that would completely make sense from a commercial standpoint. The Daily Show is popular all over the world and has just started running here on ABC2. Plenty of locals here are already excited about it because clips are frequently (legally) embedded on popular news and blogs. (Not to mention that it is a good show.)

Really, these types of lawsuits just seem like a way for the company’s legal department to make itself look worthwhile. And, of course, when in-house counsel presents a potential lawsuit opportunity to an executive with a simple legal explanation and a payout in billions, it’s always going to seem tempting. But it’s very shortsighted. If Google can actually prove these allegations, Viacom might decide to settle this one quickly rather than get laughed out of court.

Written by Francis

March 19, 2010 at 11:53 am

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Fwdworthy on Tuesday: end of the elites edition

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Chris Hayes has a vague thesis about the fall from grace of the world’s great institutions in a short but thought-provoking piece, Twilight of the Elites.

In 2008 nearly every single institution was at an all-time low. Banks were trusted by just 32% of the populace, down from more than 50% in 2004. Newspapers were down to 24%, from slightly below 40% at the start of the decade. And Congress was the least trusted institution of all, with only 12% of Americans expressing confidence in it.

– Vanity Fair has a lengthy excerpt from Michael Lewis’ new book, The Big Short, looking at the GFC and the weird crazy guy who first started betting against the delusional masses in Wall Street. Lewis wrote the phenomenal Moneyball and the best article in the aftermath of the GFC, The End of Wall Street’s Boom, which obviously led to the current book.

Stephen Fry goes for the jugular in the i^2 debate on ‘Is the Catholic Church a force for good?’ – with some interesting facts about Thomas More that I was not previously aware of.

– Apparently in 1951 the CIA drove a whole French village horrifyingly bonkers with LSD-spiked bread.

– This guy serenades people on Chat Roulette on the piano. Somehow this is subversive.

– One of the longest running failures of institutions, the US government’s unflinching support of Israel in the Israel-Palestine conflict, may just be showing signs of movement – apparently a military briefing, and not just Israel’s ‘up yours’ settlement announcement, is behind the recent strong condemnations coming from DC.

– Shock of the year: Glenn Beck rehearses crying, is disliked by ‘real’ journalists at Fox News.

Written by Francis

March 16, 2010 at 6:07 pm

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On Glenn Beck in 5, 4, 3…

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Robert F. Kennedy, SatanistA great catch at Club Troppo: who knew that Bobby Kennedy was actually quoting Satan (as serpent in the Garden of Eden) as he trapsed around the country puffing about ‘poverty’ and ‘social justice‘ and so on?? The quote is from George Bernard Shaw’s play Back to Methuselah:

The first play is set in the Garden of Eden where Adam and Even discover death and the serpent tells Eve how to overcome it. The Kennedy quote comes from the first play where the Serpent says to Eve:

“I tell you I am very subtle. When you and Adam talk, I hear you say ‘Why?’ Always ‘Why?’ You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’”

It turns out that social democrats are actually Satanists! The left-leaning Wikipedia credits Bobby with the phrase, because he added the significant ‘as they are’, and the slightly modified version of the phrase is the one that will always be remembered from Ted’s eulogy of his brother:

As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him:

“Some men see things as they are and say why.
I dream things that never were and say why not.”

The serpent has always had interesting things to say, but I had not been aware of any politician explicitly adopting a quote from the lord of darkness himself before.

Written by Francis

March 15, 2010 at 10:56 am

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Mysterious ways

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My conspiracy theory about healthcare reform in the US is slowly coming true… kind of. Obama and the Democrats are trying to pass some progressive reforms of the USA’s ridiculously expensive and not-that-good healthcare system. The process has been jammed up by Republicans who have decided that they can repeat their huge success in the 1994 elections, two years into Clinton’s presidency, by running a year-long fear campaign of a government takeover of healthcare. And Democrats have had to deal with the malevolent forces in their own caucus. In December it looked like they would just pass a slightly emasculated (no government-run public insurance option) but nevertheless significant reform bill.

I tried to make a bold prediction that they would then pivot around and pass a more progressive public option with a ‘reconciliation’ vote, which only requires a simple majority. Which, frankly, was always a pure fantasy. There is no way that, having actually passed something, they would have dived back in to the political ‘hurt locker’ of debating healthcare reform.

But the legislative gods work in mysterious ways. The original plan got derailed by the defeat in the Massachusetts senate election, leaving the Democrats with ‘only’ 59 senators in the 100 seat Senate. The House of Representatives is demanding changes to the Senate bill. (And so is the Senate, after some buyer’s remorse on special state deals that were cut.) But without 60 senators, the Democrats can’t afford to put the bill before the Senate again, because it will get filibustered by Republicans.

So the House has to pass the Senate bill as-is, and then use a reconciliation vote to modify the legislation. Weird. But since reconciliation only required 50 votes in the senate, the theoretical limits of the healthcare bill’s ‘progressivism’ lie at the 216th most liberal member of the House, rather than the 60th most liberal Senator. Which is at least slightly more liberal.

And it looks like it’s going to happenPossibly even with a public option.

Written by Francis

March 12, 2010 at 10:27 am

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Fwdworthy on Thursday

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Tim Noble and Sue Webster - Metal Fucking RatsBatman to be played by Billy Corgan?

Template trailer for the Oscar-winning cheesy American movie. Also has anyone seen The Blind Side? I keep hearing people say it’s good, which annoys me after seeing the trailer. David Stratten’s review seems to sum up the exact movie I expect to see.

– On right now: the Twitter version of The Empire Strikes Back, The Empire Tweets Back. Related: a review of Return of the Jedi as directed by David Lynch – something that apparently almost really happened. (Another story says that Christopher Walken was Lucas’ original choice to play Han Solo.)

– Incredible shadow art (pictured).

– The excellent news came through last week that The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report are now showing every night on ABC2 from 7.15. I guess I could have watched full episodes on the web any time if I wanted, but I’m quite old-fashioned about wanting to watch TV shows on an actual TV. On Wednesday evening he performed a particularly enjoyable takedown of torture apologist/enthusiast Marc Theissen.

Why Americans are fat, best-chart-ever edition. Unfortunately for the ‘subsidies hypothesis’ of the chart, it doesn’t really explain why Australians are even fatter. But Australians should probably not point that out, because it would be good for our farmers if the US, EU and Japan stopped giving their farmers such huge subsidies. At any rate as a big fan of Michael Pollan I am pretty sure diet is key.

Written by Francis

March 11, 2010 at 5:27 pm

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