Author Archives: AJ

Solar – US input to the grid exceeds Germany for first time

So last week an ostensibly minor (but arguably major) event occurred to little fanfare – the US, for the first time, put more solar energy into the grid than Germany.

Germany, as you may know, has been a world leader in green energy (specifically solar – in July they added 5.1 terawatt hours of electricity from solar energy) but the US getting to this point is significant due the country’s famous reliance on fossil fuels. Admittedly, the US has a larger population and larger surface area so on a per capita basis it may not beat the Germans but let’s not take away from this event.

Solar is not a perfect means of generating energy on the one hand, but that ignores its multitude of benefits. Your average solar panel is only about 20-40% efficient, meaning you have 60-80% “wastage” due to reflection and other factors. To compensate for lost volume you often need substantial solar farms comprised of expensive and delicate receptors. Once you overcome this obstacle, then you have to deal with the limitations in battery technology. But, this ignores that Solar as a source is free; and that is has no harmful biproducts. There is no noxious pollutant produced from the conversion into energy of solar radiation; nor are you left with a substance that’s lethal to all life for decades, even centuries to come, after the fuel is spent.

Australia’s long been known for its sun-drenched landscape; poet Dorothy McKellar referred to it as a “sun-burnt country; a land of sweeping plains.” Yet progress on solar research here, despite a thriving start up industry, continues to lag behind where it arguably should be. This is an area where the government can show real leadership – and why I argued for the Clean Energy Finance Commission to be retained. The government claims to be a friend of innovation and capital; letting capital innovate and take on environmental policy gives jobs, GDP growth, and easy political points. Sadly it looks that despite no tangible economic benefit, the Fund (long known as “Bob Brown Bank”, which is a frankly churlish title) looks to be shut down.

Progress on solar is tied really to developments in super conductors and battery technology. Our latitude, and exposure to the sun, provides a fertile (pun intended) environment to become a leader in this field. Imagine having proprietary technology to export to energy intense neighbours to our north – and what advantages we could eke out being a leader here.

Quantum of Solace – how’s it looking 5 years later (or this just became my favourite…)

OK, so in the interests of full disclosure upfront;

1) I am a James Bond fan. Moreover, I’m a James Bond purist in the sense that I will always defer to the character created by Ian Fleming as the reference point, and not the cinematic Bond.

2) As a result of #1, my tastes are somewhat different to others. My favourite Bond film is the 1969 On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (which seems to be the official fanclub’s favourite too), followed by 1989’s Licence to Kill (I don’t understand how Daniel Craig’s Bond gets so much praise and this film, which is a proto-Craig film, gets so much scorn). Previously the third placed film was Casino Royale, but this has changed.

3) As a result of #1, pt II – my favourite Bonds tend to be Timothy Dalton or Daniel Craig, depending on the mood. I can’t stand Roger Moore; Sean Connery was great in the first two films but started to increasingly dial it in; I wish Pierce Brosnan had been able to play the Bond he wanted to play, and Lazenby could have been great had he not resigned after one film.

4) Yes, ok, fine, so I’m basically a 007 hipster. Whatever.

I recently discovered Nerdist.com’s James Bonding podcast. So tragic is my fandom that I’ve tweeted once and resisted the urge to tweet a dozen times over factual errors in the trivia they quote. Help. Anyway, I had a soft spot for Quantum of Solace despite not really liking it on first viewing (subsequent viewings softened my opinion) and their podcast on that film made me go back and review it.

(I will write up some of the podcasts I listen to shortly; I’ve neglected this blog so very horribly. It’ll grow up to hate me, I’m sure. But since I can’t read on my journey to work podcasts have become a life saver)

Quantum of Solace has overtaken Casino Royale to be my favourite Daniel Craig Bond film. Skyfall is pretty and all but the plot is astonishingly stupid as is the villain’s omniscient timing.

So why QoS? It’s regarded as dour and too serious, missing the light hearted quips that other films had. OK, let’s touch on this. The quips are a cinematic invention, used to soften the blow of what was, in 1962-65, very violent cinema. Case in point – Goldfinger (1964). Bond electrocutes a man in a bathtub (to be fair, it wasn’t just Bond being a dick; the guy did try and kill him) and leaves the room muttering “shocking. Positively shocking”. The quip is designed to mitigate the impact of what you just saw; you let our a sigh of relief, laugh, and don’t dwell. Easy.

Later, when it was clear Roger Moore wasn’t able to carry off Bond’s menace (watch him try in The Man With the Golden Gun; it’s pitiful) they made the quips and one-liners part of his character. It’s not really a 007 thing; it’s something Connery did out of necessity and with regards to the cultural norms of the time, and Moore carried over because it suited him.

For those who forgot the plot of QoS, it begins maybe 2 hrs after Bond shot Mr White in the leg at his Lake Como home on the edge of Lake Garda. Bond’s slate grey Aston Martin DBS V12 (goddam the car sounds sexy in this scene) is pursued by two Alfa Romeo 159s. Bond dispatches them, and arrived in Siena (which I think it what, 3hrs drive from Garda?) to get Mr White out of the boot. White is a member of Quantum, a SPECTRE-like organisation who were responsible for the death of Vesper Lynd from Casino Royale. Bond tracks Quantum to Dominic Greene, played with the kind of jealous, petty insecurity one loves to hate by French actor Matthieu Almaric (who was also with Daniel Craig in Munich). Greene’s utilities company is a front for a plan to monopolise Bolivia’s water supply and give Quantum increased control over the world.

Quantum works well as a new SPECTRE (the SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence,  Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion). SPECTRE was dropped from the films following a lawsuit stemming from Thunderball and Kevin McClory’s input to a storyline; Wikipedia has a good article on this. But the idea of an organisation who use economic power over physical power to control matters is compelling, very modern and very Bond-esque.

The title, however, comes from a short story in the For Your Eyes Only collection. Bond attends a dinner in Nassau, where he remarks to his host that if he ever were to marry, it would have to be to an air hostess (this is before he married Tracy in OHMSS). The governor tells him of the story of a civil servant, Philip Masters, who also married an air hostess. They lived in Bermuda and she embarked on an open affair with the eldest son of a rich Bermudan family. Incensed and hurt, Masters work goes to hell and so does his health. Given an assignment in Washington to distract him, he returns to the Bahamas later and segregates the house into two portions where they bot reside, free of interference from the other. Eventually Masters returns to London, leaving his wife stranded and with unpaid debts; an act he couldn’t have performed months earlier. The Governor explains to Bond that when the quantum of solace in a relationship drops to zero,  “When all kindness has gone, when one person obviously and sincerely doesn’t care if the other is alive or dead, then it’s just no good”.

This is adapted to the film in the sense that Bond lost that quantum of solace. Vesper died and Bond, finding out he’d been betrayed, lost any respect for her and in effect, any caring if he lived or died. He felt Vesper, more crucially, didn’t respect him. It takes Mathis’ death, and the confession Bond extracts from Yusef Kabira at the end, for Bond to realise Vesper did love and respect him.

It’s true that this is a grimmer film. It’s true that it’s less fantastical than the others, and that Craig spends a lot of the film just getting through things. In that, he’s acting the shit out of this role, playing a Bond whose attempts to cover up the extend of his depression and fragility go further to extremes the more he’s pushed, and become paper thin before he figures out how to achieve that quantum of solace. Craig is at his best here, playing Bond like nobody has done before, even Tim Dalton.

Tosca opera scene.

There are other elements to love; the Tosca set in Bregenz is an amazing, astonishing sight to behold. The four major action set pieces are tied thematically to the four elements; the car chase at the beginning is earth (arguably so is the chase across the rooftops of Siena, with their terra cotta tiles and earth tones on display). The boat chase in Haiti is water; the fight with the DC3 is air. And finally, the assault on the hotel in the Bolivian desert is fire.

The song is astonishingly fucking awful. But the score? Excellent. David Arnold should have remained the composer – Thomas Newman might have done those magical piano queues in American Beauty (sampled by Jakkata in the song “American Dream”) but he didn’t capture the story as well as David Arnold does.

Hell, Olga Kurylenko’s Camille is a much more progressive Bond girl than we’re used to. Unlike the rest, who go to bed with Bond in the film, she never does. Her quest for revenge mirrors Bonds, but it drives a mentoring and protective side out in him. Bond counsels Camille on how to kill someone:

The training will tell you that when the adrenaline kicks in, you should compensate. But part of you’d not going to believe the training, because this kill is personal. Take a deep breath. You only need one shot. Make it count.”

You get the sense he knows she’ll get closure before he does. Camille does, and the beauty of their relationship is shown when she is paralysed with fear and Bond prepares to end their lives before they burn to death. She quotes his lines back to him (“Take a deep breath. You only need one shot. Make it count”) before a section of wall collapses and exposes their way out. Freed, after Greene is dealt with, Bond and Camille share a kiss. She says she wants to help him, but he’s battling demons and she can’t. This to me was a turning point – Bond realises he’s nothing to anybody until he closes that chapter, properly.

So rather than being a helpless serving of sexy cake for Bond, the “Bond Girl” is an equal of sorts. Not as used to killing as Bond, but still quite capable and more emotionally adjusted. She walks away from it all without looking back.

As I think about it… I’m more convinced that this film will age as OHMSS did, finding love from fans over time. It’s biggest sin on release, being a sequel to Casino Royale, is the expectation it’ll be Casino Royale Take 2.

Watch it again, tell me if I’m wrong…

Mark Webber’s last race – reflections

Just a few hours ago, Mark Alan Webber finished his final ever Formula 1 race, taking his Red Bull Racing RB9 to a second place finish at a circuit where he had twice won in 2009 and 2011. As a fan who has closely watched Webber’s career from 2009 to now (a late comer, I know!) it was sad to consider that his unique perspective would be out of the sport.

Webber, however, showed no such sentimentality but that’s to be expected. He’s always been driven of purpose and intent, and as he explained this weekend there’s a point at which age conspires to slow drivers down. Better to leave on a high than wallow at the back of the field, which Webber has done (he will join Porsche for the 2014 World Endurance Championship, driving LMP series cars at races like Le Mans 24hrs).

Webber was the first Australian since Alan Jones to score points in Formula 1, which also made him the first Australian to get on the podium (which he would do 42 times in total); take pole position (he would go on to take 13 poles in total, breaking Jones’ record), and win races (he won 9 in total in the 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons). He lead the 2010 championship for a time and that was realistically the only shot he had at winning it – sadly for him, he’s been paired with Sebastian Vettel who is frankly in a class of his own in terms of raw speed, pace, and ability.

Much has been said and speculated about that partnership and I don’t think I can add anything here. I’d probably say that the perceptions of bias have some basis in reality but only a little – the rest of it is simply rivalry between fans of two competitive camps (“team Webber” and “team Vettel”). Suffice to say that for the perennially unlucky Mark Webber, reaching the peak of his form at the same time Vettel came into the sport and dominated is simply business as usual. Vettel is a generational talent.

For Webber, though, he seems to have recognised at least that Vettel is simply in a world of his own and beating him is a task nobody on the grid could have done. People say they want to see Alonso, Kimi or Hamilton in that car but the reality is Webber’s no slouch and he’s not been able to match that pace. It’s a fantasy that suggest the RB-chassis cars are somehow the main driver for results; they’re not. The drivers are.

In his last race, Webber stood on the podium along side what he called the best driving talent of his generation – Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Vettel. To end your F1 career in that company is nothing to be ashamed of. Looking back at 215 races, 40+ podium and wins at Monaco, Silverstone, the Nurburgring and Interlagos – you could only be proud. Look at your career as an ambassador for Australia in a sport that’s difficult for Australians to break into? That’s something more entirely. 

One thing is assured; I’ll be watching a lot more endurance racing next year.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s coverage of the Indonesia spying affair managed to run the gamut from laughable to naive without getting near accurate

Ah, the Sydney Morning Herald. There’s nothing quite like reading an overgrown and angry student newspaper, written with the same worldliness only a late teen can muster. The Herald is on a crusade right now, and the only appropriate adjective for this improvised windmill tilt is “Quixotic”.

If you are interested in insightful analysis, objective news or simply a modest tally of bullshit at best, you would do well to avoid the Herald at all costs.

The Herald’s main objective, fixated on its demands with myopic determination, is to undermine or harm the government of the day. They work very hard at making sure the least experienced or most idealistic commentators get time to write gibberish on the topic – witness Jacqueline Maley’s callous theft of time and bandwidth here: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-opinion/shurley-not-yudhoyono-musters-superior-forces-for-twitter-stoush-20131119-2xteo.html. Maley is apparently the Parliamentary sketch writer for the Herald, so I’d call into question what deep reserves of experience in diplomacy are being drawn upon here?

Similarly we have Philip Dorling saying Abbott must apologise to Indonesia. He stops short of saying he should apologise for a Rudd/Smith decision taken because Rudd and Smith fucked up the bilateral relationship in the first place. Dorling, it should be noted, was an adviser to ALP MP Laurie Brereton, and in 2000 was accused by the Australian Federal Police of leaking information about Australian plans regarding East Timor to Indonesia. No charges were laid. It would be nice to note your partisan and other loyalties, Mr Dorling?

It should be noted, since none of this hacks will do so, that the relationship goes through these brinksmanship dances every so often. In 2006 the Indonesian ambassador was recalled over Australia’s decision to grant asylum to 42 West Papuans. Yet, the Bali Process – which, in addition to being a crucial diplomatic victory for the Howard government, was instrumental in making Indonesia a partner of Australia and in making people smuggling a regional issue – continued in 2006 and 2007 unaffected (see also: http://www.baliprocess.net/workshops#twenty-six).

So, what am I getting at? Despite the “experts” at the Herald bleeding their idiotic commentary all over the place and generally making bigger assholes of themselves, there’s a pattern to this. A dance with choreographed moves. And so long as the relationship continues at the operational level, out of the public eye (i.e. Ambassador Moriaty can be recalled too, or expelled but Imigrasi and DIAC continue to cooperate on people smuggling) then it’s just politics. Posturing. It’s only when the practical collaboration stops that you have an issue. Calling on the PM to apologise for his predecessor’s actions (which I should note, I don’t disagree with) or trying to damn his refusal to apology belies an infantile understanding of diplomacy and history. This is nothing new, so making it more than it is serves no purpose.

A real journalist would know this. 

Hence the quality of the Herald’s coverage.

Violent, broiling storms in teacups – spying allegations and wounded pride

By now the damage done by self-aggrandizing narcissist whistle-blower Edward Snowden is not news. Angela Merkel has already been in our papers and on our TV, translators telling us of her views that allies don’t spy on one another. And now, courtesy of the ego of Mr Snowden, we have revelations that Australian intelligence – likely ASIS at the behest of DSD – attempted to bug the phones of Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife.

In response, and with adroitly feigned indignation, Indonesia has recalled its ambassador to Canberra and noted that ‘the damage is done’. All sorts of diplomatic fallout is threatened.

In response, I’d like to firstly accuse Indonesia of hypocrisy and bullshit martyrdom, then suggest they invest less in histrionics and more in moving on from the incident. Every nation collects intelligence on other nations. Even their leaders! That’s right, as we speak you can bet money that intelligence is being collect from HUMINT and SIGINT sources on both Tony Abbott and 1920’s union hero Bill Shorten. American, Russian, Chinese, even Indonesian agencies will have a hand in it. As they damn well should, and as we should too.

Remember when ASIO, the agency responsible for maintaining domestic security (comparable to Britain’s security service, MI5), was caught bugging the Chinese embassy in the 90s? And when it emerged that Chinese government hackers had in turn sourced blueprints for ASIO’s new headquarters? Business. As. Usual.

The reaction in Australia has been mixed. Labor, predictably, aren’t owning up to this though the operation would have been made known to the minister by way of a briefing memo before it was undertaken. The Coalition’s trying to downplay it and maintain the relationship – which, under the previous Coalition government, was quite robust. Former ONA analyst and current MP Andrew Wilkie has spoken about it, saying in a perfect world of course such incidents wouldn’t happen (and therefore, implying it’s a regrettable necessity); and Greens leader Christine Milne issued a statement determined to show the Greens are manifestly fucking useless.

Wilkie, unsurprisingly, is the most honest and in my view, most accurate.

“Give the agencies a break. Of course they’re out there spying. Of course they’re out there trying to listen in to conversations of important people in other countries. The issue for Australians is whether their rights are being protected by Australia’s legislative framework. The issue for citizens of the United States is that whether or not their rights are being protected by the US legislative framework.

You know the fact that another country might spy on Australia, we can’t tell the other country to stop. We’re kidding ourselves if we think we can.”

Wilkie, as I mentioned, came from the Office of National Assessments. It may be instructive for me to briefly expand on which agencies are part of the intelligence community in Australia.

ASIS – The Australian Secret Intelligence Service – this is our foreign intelligence collection agency. In that capacity it’s like Britain’s SIS (aka MI6) or the US’ CIA. ASIS does not conduct any analysis of its own.

ASIO – The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation – our domestic security service, comparable to MI5 (as mentioned) or parts of the FBI. This agency is responsible for monitoring domestic threats to Australian security.

ONA – The Office of National Assessments – Australia’s primary agency for analysis of both collected intelligence as well as publicly sourced information. The CIA has a division of analysts (Tom Clancy’s character Jack Ryan started out as one) who perform similar functions.

DSD – The Defence Signals Directorate – This agency collects and analyses all intercepted communications. It’s also responsible for ensuring Commonwealth cybersecurity protocols are current. Comparable to the GCHQ in Britain or NSA in the US.

DIO – Defence Intelligence Organisation – Provides advice and analysis of intelligence related matters to the chiefs of the defence force and the Minister.

DIGO – Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation – DIGO’s mandate is to assess imagery of key strategic areas, ranging from photos to satellite imagery.

This may seem like a lot, but there’s probably counterparts in every other major allied nation (or just nation, full stop) out there. In some instances, functions are combined – both MI6 and CIA analyse their own Product, but in our case this is done by ONA (which makes sense as it removes analysis from organisational politics and bias’). And why do we have these? Because despite what academics tell us (or taught me), all states act purely in their own self interest.

Which, incidentally, was a rude awakening after all those units in international relations theory. Despite studying the liberal, realist, constructivist and Marxist paradigms, it turns out the only true one is realism. Morgenthau nailed it – though  Marxism is a useful tool for critique (see previous post’s reference to Lenin’s essay for an example). Accepting this, whether it’s right or wrong, is what makes this entire event so overblown. Every nation spies; most don’t get caught or dobbed in by assholes like Snowden.

(For the record, I think Snowden and Manning are cowards, not heroes. Snowden is clearly doing this for him and his own sense of worth; and Manning? I’ve seen REFTEL cables live. In not redacting any of it, he and Wikileaks ensured that lives were in danger. It’s not a conservative soundbyte to say it – it’s a fact. People who don’t want their day to day activities spied on have an insight into who is betraying them and you can bet a generous severance package isn’t how they terminate that relationship…)

The reason I called Indonesia a hypocrite is because BIN, Indonesia’s State Intelligence Agency, has undoubtedly sourced intelligence from our government and officials. I haven’t got proof of this, though if I did I wouldn’t be able to tell you either!

But, I’m convinced it’s true. We spy on Indonesia and will continue to do so, as they will continue to spy on us. The US will continue to collect intel on friend and foe alike. To borrow from the Bible, let whichever nation is not collecting, collating, and analysing intel on its friends and enemies, cast the first stone. Indonesia reaction might play well for the domestic market but it’s pretty tiresome from where I’m sitting.

The Festival of Dangerous Ideas (FODI) – thoughts

Sydney plays host to a wonderfully titled “Festival of Dangerous Ideas” on an annual basis, and this year was my first time attending. I love events like this, and need to make more of an effort to go to these things in future.

Below are some of my thoughts on the topics covered over the two days.

Session 1 – New Religion v New Atheism – Peter Rollins and Lawrence Krauss

So, in the interests of full disclosure – I’m an atheist. I’m irreligious and it’s not that I have a war to reconcile some inner conflict with a set of beliefs or anything. It’s just that I have no space where religion would be. Equally, though, I’m not hostile to religion. I think using science to disprove religion is like using apples to disprove chocolate. In my mind there’s no question that evolution and the big band and all that are probably true based on the evidence, but that’s because I don’t trade in faith as a currency. Religious people do, so you need to barter in a currency they recognise. Merely telling them how wrong they are is not discourse, it’s throwing pitch from atop an ivory tower.

So I’ve always felt more aligned with Christopher Hitchens than Richard Dawkins, for example.

This explains why I knew little of Krauss beforehand, and nothing of Peter Rollins. The good news I now know Krauss, as a physicist, has written a book I will likely never fully comprehend. I’m still not sure what Rollins stands for… but I was engaged with his ideas.

In short, from what I can tell from his talk (and Wikipedia), Rollins is to modern Christianity what Jesus was to Judaism – a radical reformer (and equally, you know, not magical). Like most evangelical movements, he seems to (and I could be wrong here, which isn’t my fault – this stuff was incredibly hard to pin down) advocate for a direct connection to God, bypassing church structures entirely. He also seems to employ philosophy, psychological and catharsis as the basis for his dogma, which I guess means he’s a like a Buddhist Christian. Paradoxical, I know!

This session suffered from dual problems of the lack of clarity of Rollins’ argument – though to be fair I found myself wishing more Christians shared his open-mindedness – and Krauss being an arrogant asshole the whole time. I wish I could say something better, but…

Session 2 – The End of Men – Hanna Rosin

I love Hanna Rosin. I want to get that out in the open first and foremost.

I first discovered Hanna Rosin through her contributions to the weekly Slate magazine discussions on Mad Men. I liked her take, which was usually the most refreshing of the three commentators, and clicked through to her other works. You’ll notice i commented on one her articles in this blog, regarding the “77% pay claim”.

Rosin wasn’t served by just an hour to speak and I feel like we could have had a day in exploring the issues she raised. For those who don’t know – in 2010, Rosin noted a tipping point moment had occurred – in the US, women’s participation in the workforce was greater than men’s participation. Expanding on this idea was a question around whether the new work paradigm, with diminishing emphasis on labour, would suit women’s skills better. Rosin expands this in her book (of the same title), which I need to read in its entirety soon.

To be clear, Rosin’s not arguing for the end of men as a species – she rejects the argument that women would be softer and more gentler if men were swept aside, as well as the concept that men could just be harvested for sperm – but rather, that the end of the era in which being male was an automatic leg up, a dominant benefit, is ending. Results support this thesis and I can’t actually bring to mind any issues with this idea.

(The Atlantic – The end of men: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/07/the-end-of-men/308135/)

Panel – The world is not ready for women in power – Hanna Rosin, Arlie Hochschild, Dr Vandana Shiva, and Anne Summers

This panel was wonderful, exploring some great ideas but suffering from some pitiful questions from the floor and inadequate time to really get good discussion going. It was the only panel I saw but I feel like 90mins might be a better time for panels in future.

The takeaway quote from the session had to be, in my mind, Dr Shiva’s when she said “It’s not the end of the era of men, but the dawn of a new era of men”. I like this idea, because rather than calling it feminism – which to some is a dirty word – it’s just accepting a new normal paradigm is emerging and that we should get comfortable with it.

Session 4 – Some are more equal than others – David Simon

David Simon is a writer whose work I’ve enjoyed sadly only in the field of television. I really want to, and need to, get a hold of his books The Corner and Homicide, which were the inspiration for the shows The Wire and Homicide: Life on the Street. In addition to these shows, Simon has penned the adaptation of Evan Wright’s book Generation Kill, about the First Marine Recon division during Operation Iraqi Freedom; and the show Treme, which deals with New Orlean’s slow and steady crawl back from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

The Wire, as a show, is revolutionary in my view. It firstly didn’t so much change the police procedural show as it threw it in the dirt, tore it up, and started again. If you haven’t seen it, start with Season 1 and thank me later.

SImon’s talk, with its title lifting from the allegorical novella Animal Farm (also, actual animal farm – thanks Archer!), focused on the concept of a two tiered America; a land of opportunity and a land of abject poverty within a few blocks on one another. Miles apart, but worlds away (the US is rated the 39th most unequal nation on Earth using the Gini coefficient).

Simon begins his talk with reference back to Marx – Karl, not Richard or Groucho. He will keep touching on the point but really he uses Marx the way I used Lenin’s seminal essay Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism. As you would expect, the writer Simon is more elegant than this guy, and phrases it that Marx was a better diagnostician than he was clinician. He could diagnose the flaws inherent in capitalism but had no workable solutions to it (and there are people who feel that a full and unfettered socialisation of all industry with complete or near complete redistribution of wealth is still viable. They’re wrong, and every example in history right up to and including Venezuela shows this. Socialism fails to provide incentives to risk take or innovate, and cannot overcome this obstacle).

Simon then touches on, though he doesn’t expressly say this, but a period in liberal thinking after James Mill published his work but before John Stuart Mill had finished his input – socialism. Socialism came along and liberals felt that the idea of a social welfare safety net was a good one, and incorporated it into liberalism and liberal writings (albeit a less radical iteration than the one the socialists of the day advocated). Interesting fact: the first instances of the modern welfare state, shaped by this thinking, were implemented by conservative Otto von Bismarck.

Simon argues for a New Deal-esque fusion of socialism’s focus on equality and safety net, and capitalism’s respect for private enterprise and wealth creation. It’s actually, to me, a compelling point and it’s caused me to rethink my attitudes. See, as Simon points out, there’s little left when capitalism wins all the ideological battles, except to go on winning. Again, without expressing it directly, he’s invoking Marx’s argument that capitalism contains the seeds of its own destruction.

Previously I dismissed, say, Russell Brand’s diatribe that did the social media rounds as “the Revolution has begun! (…I don’t have to do anything, do I?)” and had a fairly cynical response to it. Every generation has radical youth, but this current generation was affected by a lifetime of laziness courtesy of PlayStation and MTV (etc etc). It would make some noise, get bored and move on. But Simon’s argument – and if you watch no other video here, watch his – was that in total victory, capitalism would continue without regard to a social compact. The tension between capitalism and socialism made capitalism better, because of the investment of all sectors in the outcome of the economy as a whole. In the unopposed victory of capitalism, the only motive that’s survived has been “I, me, mine.” As a result, the more vulnerable aspects of society get shut out and left behind and we all celebrate a world where, as the misquote actually goes, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good”.

(This argument starts from the 11min mark on the video.)

If history has shown us one thing other than that socialism will fail to work in every situation, it is that sustained economic disenfranchisement often leads to violence and radicalism. And herein lies Simon’s argument – bring back the social compact, scale back the greed, and let capitalism not only engender wealth but also engender a helping hand for those who need it. He doesn’t want me to earn the same as a factory worker, but he wants me to be ok with some of my tax being used to make the life of the factory worker a bit easier but covering some of his or her medical expenses with my tax (As you can imagine, the idiocy of the Republicans and their opposition to the Affordable Care Act – “ObamaCare” – came up as examples of people who forgot this).

If we don’t, it’s not going to end well.

The idea was, as expected, dangerous but I also think paradoxically it actually wasn’t. There is little to lose by ensuring that we don’t end up as unequal as the US, and we don’t need to sacrifice capitalism to do it.

Simon does a much better job articulating this than I do, but I’m going to rewatch the whole thing and take more notes.

Also, I have to say, of all the sessions I went to, this had by far the best question at the end – asking if America was the template for other nations, or a cautionary tale. Recommend you stick around for the answer.

Session 5 – Australian film premiere of ‘The Unbelievers’ – Lawrence Krauss

The Unbelievers calls itself a documentary, but it’s not. It’s more akin to a rock tour film like “The Song Remains The Same” etc. A backslapping celebration of the partnership of Richard Dawkins (the evolutionary biologist) and Lawrence Krauss as they tour the world extolling the virtues of science and making religious arguments look stupid.

Whilst the film did soften my view of Krauss from the previous day, it didn’t assuage my concerns about the Church of Science and Reason or “Sciencism” taking hold. The film uses a raft of celebrities to open it, but having Cameron Diaz “like, you know” an endorsement for the unlimited benefits of science is a poor way to start. Moreover, the film is so one sided that it ends up indulging in the cult of personality for its two mild-mannered scientist leads. They’re rock stars, cry the film makers. Worship them!

There are genuinely funny and interesting moments in the piece, but when the film makers said the film was intended to reach the fence sitter, I have to wonder what it does to the fence sitter? Shame them into compliance? This is a film that preaches (irony! Go me!) to the converted and will do precisely nothing in changing religious people’s minds.

NME’s “Greatest Albums Of All Time” – #500-470

OK so I’m not going to review all of the albums, I’m just going to comment on ones I’m familiar with. If I liked it before it was popular, and happen to have a beard, it doesn’t make me a hipster. Right?

#500 – Outkast, “Stankonia” 

I’m not going to lie to anyone here; this is a good album, an enjoyable album, and a very well written album. But to argue there are only 499 albums better out there? Pffft. This is here because of “Ms Jackson” and you know it.

#499 – Belly, “Star”

Belly are one of those outfits which I associate with a time and place – the early to mid 90s, when I started to really get into music properly – and whilst it’s a band fronted by the well known Tanya Donnelly (also of The Breeders and Throwing Muses), that’s about all I have to offer…

#498 – Lou Reed, “Berlin”

#497 – Daft Punk, “Random Access Memories” 

‘Nuff said?

#496 – Girls, “Album”

#485 – Killers, “Hot Fuss” 

Aaaahhh… really? Don’t get me wrong, Mr Brightside and Somebody Told Me are fantastic, energetic, memorable songs. But I feel like as good as they are, they’re not that dissimilar to a bunch of other bands who released something euphoric that gets sung in bars by every single drunk idiot the second it comes on. Maybe in time, if it still held up, I’d agree but like with Outkast… what, only 484 albums are better than this? Please.

#484 – The Cure, “Head on the Door”

#483 – This Mortal Coil, “Blood”

#482 – These New Puritans, “Hidden”

#481 – Pet Shop Boys, “Actually” 

Yeah, ok, I could see an argument for PSB being included on a list like this, given that what they did, when they did it, was pretty far ahead of the curve.

#480 – MC5, “Back in the USA”

Without MC5, where would we be? Plus, this was the one where they covered Tutti Fruitti.

#479 – The Wedding Present, “George Best”

#478 – Leonard Cohen – “I’m Your Man”

I can’t say I know this one, but he’s released like a billion albums, so…

#477 – The Jam, “Sound Affects”

#476 – Bjork, “Homogenic”

Bjork can’t appear in print anywhere without the word “weird” being used to describe her, her sound, or you know, the whole experience. Regardless, this is actually a brilliant album and you should probably have heard it if not own it.

#475 – Kendrick Lamar, “Good Kid M.A.A.D City”

#474 – Bruce Springsteen, “The River”

Yeah, fair call. Probably about the right place as well.

#473 – Elvis Costello and the Attractions, “Blood and Chocolate” 

#482 – Billie Holiday, “Lady in Satin” 

If you know nothing else about Billie Holiday, you know she can sing. So listen to anything off this record and understand exactly how well she can sing.

#481 – Brian Wilson, “Smile”

#480 – Aretha Franklin, “I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You”

Same comment as Billie Holiday.

#479 – Throwing Muses, “The Real Ramona”

#478 – The National, “Trouble Will Find Me”

I feel like I should have listened to this band by now…

#477 – Crystal Castles, “Crystal Castles”

#476 – Foo Fighers, “Foo Fighters”

I remember when this album came out. Expectation surrounded the release because Kurt Cobain had only so recently ended his life and here was a new David Grohl band. Would it be any good? Would it deliver?

Well, yes, it would. And whilst I feel the Foos only got better, this is a fair inclusion.

#475 – Kurt Vile, “Smoke Ring For My Halo”

#474 – Fuck Buttons, “Tarot Sport” 

Yes! Not just a pretty name, Fuck Buttons are deliriously fun electronica. Now, if Boards of Canada miss out on this list…

#473 – The Verve, “A Storm in Heaven”

#472 – Smashing Pumpkins, “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness”

This one, I feel, should have been higher. No doubt “Siamese Dream” will be up there when the rest of the list comes out, but this is such a beautiful record. It defied expectations at the time, mostly because the first single “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” was more closely aligned with expectations than, say, “1979” or “Tonight, Tonight”. Yet the latter are more broadly in tune with the kind of introspective brilliance of Corgan’s writing. Really should be higher.

#471 – MGMT – “Oracular Spectacular”

Ummm…. really, NME? I love “Electric Feel” – we’ve all had trips like that. “Kids” and “Time to Pretend” are as infectious as smallpox too. But you’re trying to suggest by your list, your reckoning, that only 470 albums surpass this and everything else is inferior?

Wow.

#470 – Kayne West, “Graduation”

Yes. Look, I don’t like the guy, I think he’s an insecure twat with a god complex and a hugely inflated sense of his own creative worth. But, before he became a huge narcissistic cock, he made records like this.

Conclusions so far:

* I don’t know a lot of these albums

* I disagree with most of the selections

* I think it’s a bit early to call any album from 2010 onwards “the best of all time”. Doubly so for a 2013 album. Part of the longevity of a record is not how it made you feel when you first listened to it but how you feel 1, 2, 5, 10 years later when listening to it. If an album can still strike the same emotional chord as it did then, and if it still feels as vital to you… then it’s a classic.