Knowledge Loses

Five-hundred years ago the population of Rapa Nui mysteriously lost their ability to erect Moai. No one knows for sure how this loss occurred, only that it did, and that it happened relatively suddenly. One unfinished statue if completed, would have been seventy feet tall and weighed one-hundred and fifty tons. Something went very wrong and the entire community took a giant leap backwards.

Two incomplete Moai in quarry

Two incomplete Moai in quarry

In the 1950s, the British Museum came into possession an ancient glass chalice called the Lycurgus Cup, so named for the depiction of Dionysus’s triumph over King Lycurgus of Thrace. The object stands apart because it exhibits a strange optical phenomenon. Under normal lighting, the glass appears jade green, but when lit from behind, it turns ruby red. Created during in 4th Century by those unknown the requirements needed to make it remained lost in time until 1990. Scientists using ultramodern lab equipment in a lab were able to deduce effect was created by including gold and silver particles ground up finely to about fifty manometers in diameter, or less than one thousandth the size of a grain of salt.

Lycurgus Cup of unknown origins

Lycurgus Cup of unknown origins

The Hockney–Falco thesis, developed by artist David Hockney and physicist Charles M Falco, claims that advances in realism and accuracy in Western art since the Renaissance were primarily the result of optical instruments like camera obscura, camera lucida, and curved mirrors. And not, as previously thought, solely due to the development of artistic technique and skill. The Old Masters level of accuracy would be impossible simply by ‘eyeballing it’. Not that long after discovering how to paint in such a way Dutch civilisation lost the knowledge.

Arnolfini Portrait  (1434) by Jan van Eyck

Arnolfini Portrait (1434) by Jan van Eyck

Human knowledge is now stored online. But is the hardware that supports the Internet even safe? One-hundred and fifty years ago an expert solar astronomer called Richard Carrington was observing the sun from his private observatory in Surrey, England. As he was sketching a large group of sunspots two extremely bright beads of white light suddenly appeared over the sunspots. Five minutes later the white beads had gone. What became known as the ‘Carrington Event’ wan in fact a solar flare that hurtled a large cloud of charged particles towards earth. The arrival of which resulted in brilliant auroral displays around both north and south poles and even at lower latitudes near the tropics. The magnetic disturbance was also ugly. It destroyed electric telegraph systems all over the world. Wires shorted out, operators received electric shocks, and sparking discharges set fire to the paper in telegraph receivers.

Sunspot in 2014

Sunspot in 2014

Guiding Statues

Partners is a 1993 copper statue by Blaine Gibson depicting Walt Disney holding the hand of the most popular character he created, Mickey Mouse. The statue is 6’ 5”, seven inches taller than Disney himself. It is the central point of attention as people walk past it to enter a few of the Disney parks. Gibson said, “I chose to depict Walt as he was in 1954. I think that was when Walt was in his prime. It was tough trying to match the media image of Walt Disney, the one the public knows, to the real Walt, the one we knew. I think Walt is admiring the park and saying to Mickey, ‘Look what we’ve accomplished together,’ because truly they were very much a team through it all. ‘Look at all the happy people who have come to visit us today.

Partners -  Walt Disney with his creation Mickey Mouse

Partners - Walt Disney with his creation Mickey Mouse

The central feature of the Mansu Hill Grand Monument consists of two 20-meter (66-foot) tall bronze statues of deceased supreme North Korean leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il. Originally dedicated in April 1972 in honor of Kim Il Sung's 60th birthday. At the time, the monument featured only Kim Il-sung. The statue was originally covered in gold leaf, but was later altered to bronze. Following Kim Jong-il's death in 2011, a similar statue of him was added. At the same time, Kim Il-sung's statue was altered to portray him at a later age and smiling. Kim Jong-il was also initially featured in a long coat but it was promptly changed to his signature parka. South Korean sources have estimated the cost of the additional statue at $10 million, with North Korean workers working overseas being ordered to donate $150 each towards the monument. The monument depicts a country created by a father and son.

Mansu Hill Grand Monument  - Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il

Mansu Hill Grand Monument - Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il

Bob Hawke

Bob Hawke’s long list of achievements need not go remarked upon by me, if only because other people are already doing so today. In broad strokes though I can try to describe him from my personal perspective. 

Bob Hawke was a Fabian Socialist - the idea that you could make society fairer by gradually reforming the systems that govern, rather than with revolutionary overthrow. That's actually why Paul Keating and him didn't see eye-to-eye in the end. They wanted the same outcome but Keating felt that Hawke was too slow to reform. In Keating's outlook, incrementalism is the great enemy of a progressive agenda. Keating only bothered to challenge him when Hawke slowed down in the later third of his time in power. But it's important to state that Keating would never have gotten so much done without Hawke leading the country and allowing his cabinet to act independently. He was the most supportive Prime Minister a Treasurer could ask for.  Hawke won four elections in a row, creating all that political capital needed to change the place and for that alone he is a heroic figure.

But Bob Hawke was more than a political giant. He became an Australian cultural icon, not unlike how Paul Hogan did during the same period. Australia was created in part as a rejection of the English class system. Which is why we have the tall poppy syndrome. Australians are encouraged to be successful but you are under no circumstances allowed to act as if you're better than other people.  It's anathema to 'being Australian'.  When he arrived in 1983 he abolished the knight and dame grades. Australian citizens are the same in class terms because there is no class, it's a class free zone, that's the aspiration. 

People are saying that they don't make politicians like him anymore. In reality they hadn’t existed until he arrived. A true one off. His train pulled into the station, everyone climbed aboard, and he took the country off in a big new exciting imaginative direction. As a sidebar, Hawke couldn't exist in 2019, if he ran now he'd of been #MeToo'd and taken off the ballot. Then again if he was around now he'd be a different person. Like all great individuals he was both a product of his time and the time became a product of him. Hawke made people laugh but he was actually even better at laughing. I like this photo of him play jousting with Andrew Peacock at a ribbon cutting event. 


Hardest Button to Button

China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States are considered nuclear states with demonstrable abilities to assault other nations with nuclear weapons. India, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan could probably do it to, albeit it with limited arsenals. But just how hard is it to push the figurative red button.

Stanislav Petrov was duty commander for the USSR rocket forces. His job was to monitor the satellites launches from American ICBM forces. On September 26th 1983 one was detected, then there were four more.

‘An alarm at the command and control post went off with red lights blinking on the terminal. It was a nasty shock. Everyone jumped from their seats, looking at me. What could I do? There was an operations procedure that I had written myself. We did what we had to do. We checked the operation of all systems – on 30 levels, one after another. Reports kept coming in: All is correct.’

Petrov's duty was to warn Soviet high command. If an ICBM had been launched from a US ground launch site, it would take about 30 minutes to reach the USSR. The Soviet commanders would trust his launch recommendation. Petrov was skeptical of the system readings though. He also knew that logically the US would never launch just five missiles against the USSR and await retaliation. First strike doctrine was that you fired everything you could at the enemy in hopes of blunting the response. So Petrov refrained from letting his superiors know until he could correlate his information against other sources. It was found that, due to computer faults, what he had been detecting were actually flashes of sunshine on the tops of heavy clouds.

Two years earlier in the United States, Harvard law professor Roger Fisher published a thought experiment. ‘My suggestion was quite simple: Put that needed code number in a little capsule, and then implant that capsule right next to the heart of a volunteer. The volunteer would carry with him a big, heavy butcher knife as he accompanied the President. If ever the President wanted to fire nuclear weapons, the only way he could do so would be for him first, with his own hands, to kill one human being. The President says, “George, I’m sorry but tens of millions must die.” He has to look at someone and realize what death is—what an innocent death is. Blood on the White House carpet. It’s reality brought home.’


Requiem for Films in Cinemas

Films aren’t shown in cinemas like they once were. Prominent directors have accepted that shooting on film has become a less realistic goal. Should you actually go the cinema attendees are often glancing at their phones, scrolling through Instagram, and replying to texts. The big screen up front has been losing to the smaller one in your pocket. And to other screens in our homes also.

Quentin Tarantino still films exclusively for the cinema. ‘I actually feel that I’m getting jipped when I go to a movie when I realise that it’s either being shot on digital or being projected in digital. Because everyone thinks, you can’t help but think, that when you’re filming something on film that you’re recording movement. You’re not recording movement. You’re just taking a series of still pictures. There’s no movement in the movies at all. They are still pictures. But when shown at twenty-four frames a second through a lightbulb it creates the illusion of movement. So thus, as opposed to a recording device, when you’re watching a movie, a film print, you are watching an illusion. And to me that illusion is connected to the magic of movies.’

Woody Allen has made more than sixty motion pictures. ‘To me there’s no big deal about making it on film. If you take the time to make it well and have a superb camera man. The film looks beautiful if it’s shot digitally or it’s shot on celluloid. If some people feel that they’re traditionalists and they want to work scrupulously on celluloid but how far do you carry that thing. Do you then just make films in black and white because that was the original tradition? Do you just make silent film? I mean, how far back do you want to go with that? So I don’t really care. However I can tell my story effectively is fine.’

Cary Fukunaga shot True Detective on film for cable distribution on HBO. He also shot Beast of No Nation digitally before releasing it simultaneously in theatres and on Netflix. ‘It’s definitely one hundred percent blended now. The way in which people consume stories now is from so many different devices and platforms, it’s like what is cinema, what is television, what is streaming? It’s really difficult to apply. Just because something is screened first in the cinema does that make it a movie? You definitely have old guard people trying to hold on to labels that don’t really apply anymore.’

Martin Scorsese’s newest movie The Irishman was given a giant budget of $140 million by Netflix. ‘It can all be summed up in the word that’s being used now: content. All movie images are lumped together. You’ve got a picture, you’ve got a TV episode, a new trailer, you’ve got a how-to video on a coffee-maker, you’ve got a Super Bowl commercial, you’ve got ‘Lawrence of Arabia,’ it’s all the same. They can also turn a picture off and go straight to the next piece of content. If there’s no sense of value tied to a given movie, of course, it can be sampled in bits and pieces and just forgotten. The horrible idea they reinforce that every picture, every image is there to be instantly judged and dismissed without giving audiences time to see it. Time to see it, maybe ruminate and maybe make a decision for themselves. So the great 20th-century art form, the American art form, is reduced to content. You know the difference between a YouTube video and the great American art form. You react against the devaluation of cinema and movies by showing up.’

Tastes change. People don’t see plays much anymore and no one has a court jester. Yet there is a feeling that a lot of complicated art has been replaced, replaced by the basic sensation of simple distraction. Maybe audiences are getting what they want. But the job of the artist isn’t to give the audience what they want, it’s to give them what they need.


Fearing First Responders

Super Bowl LIII was on today and the pundits mentioned several times how grateful they were for the 'First Responders'. First Responders have nothing to do with the NFL, obviously. But the lip service is part of the overall messaging that somehow permeates though contemporary American culture. When you say that you thank the First Responders you're also reminding everyone that they're actually in a state of emergency. You remind people that they are on the precipice of imminent danger. In that one simple sentence you scare people but you also sooth them. It's code for saying you, as a citizen, are in danger but the system can protect you, if your only repeat the lines. Everyone from the same hymn sheet.

In the Power of Nightmares Adam Curtis said, ‘In the past politicians promised to create a better world. They had different ways of achieving this but their power and authority came from the optimistic visions they offered their people. Those dreams failed and today people have lost faith in ideologies. Increasingly politicians are seen as managers of public life. But now they have discovered a new role that restores their power and authority. Instead of delivering dreams, politicians now promise to protect us from nightmares.’

Officially the US has been under a State of Emergency since 9/11, with it being renewed every year. The danger is partly real but it’s also very much imagined, taken to levels of fantasy by Hollywood. Endless films and TV shows are made where the White House is blown up, the President is taken hostage, the deep state has been infiltrated by shadows. These stories make billions of dollars because they plug into some deeper psychological aspect of the audience, something inside the emotional soul of the nation. Americans possibly like the feeling of being under threat because it allows them to justify doing bad things. They don't actually want to be under threat but they want to feel like they are. It’s animal instinct to do whatever you need to do to make emotional fear go away. You’d climb up a tree to escape a lion wouldn’t you? Actually you’d shoot the lion if you had had to. It would be the lion or it would be you. Feeling afraid gives permission.

The only times in living memory that the US has been attacked meaningfully by outside forces was Pearl Harbour and 9/11. Those two incidents get mentioned all the time in casual American discourse. A lot of people don't actually know that much about the events but they do like to remind themselves of them happening. What people do know, what they know that the feel, is that Pearl Harbour and 9/11 terrified them and justified massive acts of warfare. From boring history to epic mythology. The US has been invading other countries for decades. And the only way to justify all that unjust death and destruction in places like Vietnam and Iraq, to sooth yourself psychologically, is to first feel afraid. Be afraid by thanking the First Responders. If people really wanted to show their gratitude for First Responders they could give them a pay raise. The average salary in the US is $59,0039. The median annual salary of a paramedic is $33,380.

Magic Words

Promoting one of his films in 2010 Woody Allen said to a journalist, ‘You start to think when you’re younger how important everything is. And how things have to go right. Your job, your career, your life, your choices and all of that. And then after a while you start to realise that eventually you die and eventually the sun burns out and the earth is gone and eventually all the stars and all the planets and the entire universe goes, disappears. And nothing is left at all, nothing of Shakespeare or Beethoven, Michelangelo gone. It is a lot of noise and sound and fury, and where’s it going? Not going any place. Now you can’t actually live your life like that. Because if you do you just sit there. So I think it’s the job of the artist to try and figure out why, given this terrible fact, why you want to go on living. Knowing that it’s true, not giving yourself a fake heaven and hell and nonsense. But knowing the worst why it’s still worthwhile. That’s a tough assignment explaining to someone why it’s terrible and why it’s still important to go on. And this is a challenge for artists all the time.’

In the 2003 documentary The Mindscape of Alan Moore addressing the camera Moore says, ‘Writers and people who had command of words were respected and feared as people who manipulated magic. In latter times I think that artists and writers have allowed themselves to be sold down the river. They have accepted the prevailing belief that art, that writing are merely forms of entertainment. They’re not seen as transformative forces that can change a human being, that can change society. There’s some confusion as to what magic actually is. I think this can be cleared up. If you just look at the very earliest descriptions of magic. Magic in it’s earliest forms is often referred to as “the art”. I believe that this is completely literal. I believe that magic is art and that art, whether that’d be writing, music, sculpture or any other for is literally magic. Art is, like magic, the science of manipulating symbols, words, or images to achieve changes in consciousness. The very language of magic seems to be talking as much about writing or art as it is about supernatural events. A grimmoir for example, the book of spells, is simply a fancy way of saying grammar. Indeed, to cast a spell is simply to spell, to manipulate words, to change people’s consciousness. And I believe this is why an artist or writer is the closest thing in the contemporary world that you are likely to see to a shaman.’

The most contemporary type magic is be Chaos Magic. People write their desires down one paper, then through various systems they aesthetically transform these sentences to look more like how you’d imagine magical symbols to look. What they’re left with are sigils. If these sigils are then ‘charged’ in the correct way they will manifest in reality. Chaos Magic is real in the minds of some people, which may, strangely, by it’s own definition, be enough.

Trend forecasting group K-Hole wrote in their their 2015 publication A Report on Doubt. ‘On a bargain basement level Chaos Magic lives in the same realm as the cult of positive thinking. But it goes beyond making mood boards of high-end luxury apartments you’d like to will into your possession. Belief becomes a technology that creates change. Chaos Magic isn’t a tool for changing others - it’s a tool for changing yourself. Chaos Magic is what happens after will. It’s the antidote to the try hard problems that come with overthinking everything. If you really want to change you have to go deeper. It’s radical DIY that uses reality as the only necessary operating system. Like branding, Chaos Magic is mostly concerned with inception. But where branding is about implanting ideas in the brains of an audience, Chaos Magic is about implanting ideas into your own.’

Another time in 2013 on BBC Radio 4 Woody Allen said, ‘Magic fascinates me. If I’m tuning through the television channels in search of something and I happen to hit a magician by accident, no matter how bad the magician is, I always stop and I’m riveted for however long he’s on, whether it for two minutes or another hour. I just love to watch magic and always did. And I’ve always felt the solution to the deepest problems the the human spirit has can only come from magic. That no amount of government, no amount of psycho analysis, no amount of social interaction, no intensity of love relationship, there’s nothing in the world that can really save us from the cruel fate of existence except some kind of act of magic. Short of that we’re really doomed to what you down deep know life is, quite an arduous and painful experience. So I would hope that there is some kind of magic somewhere that we’re not aware of that in some way does intervene at some station in the human experience. But, you know, being scientific I’m very doubtful.’

Woody Allen overlaid with a shoal of chaos magic sigils.

Woody Allen overlaid with a shoal of chaos magic sigils.

Tasmania by Drone

Pictures are all around us: on laptops, desktops, iPhones, iPads, in magazines, newspapers, books, and even – still – hanging on walls of buildings. It is through pictures just as much as words that we think, imagine, and try to understand the world. Photographs are the most common type of picture because technology has made them so simple to capture and easy to distribute. The latest leap in picture creation given to us by technology is drone photography. Any picture (photography or otherwise) is an account of looking at something. It’s not just the thing inside the image, it’s the perception of that thing also. And drones present us with angles previously unavailable. To get a bird’s eye view we need not hire a helicopter and have access to developing lab. In the morning anyone can buy a drone, by late afternoon they might be flying and capturing images, then in the evening they can be posted online for everyone to view. Tasmania is a good place to fly drones because there’s a lot of wide open space to do it safely without annoying too many people. If the photos themselves are interesting it’s 90% because the locations are interesting and 10% because of the photographer. As with all photos tacit credit goes to the inventor of device.


What Comes After Dopey?

People with disabilities have not typically decided how they would be portrayed in art. Instead, artists and storytellers have tended to use various disabilities to convey strangely unfair stereotypes about physical challenges. Dwarfism is the obvious one, it continues to be seen by some people as the funny disability.  People with the genetic condition not only look different but they they also walk differently and move differently. And for whatever cruel reasons it's that difference that makes some people laugh. The cheap gag that keeps on giving. 

But this has not always been so, perhaps. The first dwarf to be depicted in art was Seneb, a real person who served as a high-ranking court official in the Old Kingdom of Ancient Egypt, around 2520 BC. A painted limestone sculpture of him and with his family was rediscovered in 1926 and now resides in the museum at Cairo.  Irregardless of his body Seneb was a person of considerable power, wealth, and religious title. This and other texts indicate that Egyptian society advocated the acceptance and integration of those with physical and mental disabilities.

Fast forward to 20th Century Western culture and the most famous depiction of dwarfism comes from Walt Disney.  In the first full length animated motion picture Snow White and Seven Dwarfs the dwarfs are mostly comic entertainment, each named after their personality type - Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, and Dopey.  The other big depiction from that period came from JRR Tolkien. Dwarfs, or as he called them 'dwarves' are even more so mythical creatures, completely apart from humans, like orcs, elves, and hobbits. Both these depictions have their roots in German folklore.

In 2017 the most successful story in the world is the A Song of Ice and Fire series created by George RR Martin and adapted for television as Game of Thrones by David Benioff and DB Weiss at HBO. The books themselves are sold in the fantasy section but the reason why they've sold so well is, in part, because Martin subverts the genre. Martin writes about dragons, and magic, and also about dwarfs. But George RR Martin's dwarfs are not merely human shaped entities dwelling inside mountains smithing away and hoarding gold. Martin's dwarfs are humans with the physical disability called dwarfism. Tyrion Lannister is a member of the wealthiest and most powerful family in Westeros (not dissimilar to Egypt's Seneb).  Martin's gets meta in A Storm of Swords, addressing the usual tropes about dwarfs in entertainment. At his own wedding King Joffrey introduces a mock play. All the players are dwarfs. Joffrey mockingly tries to coerce his uncle Tyrion into joining them. Tyrion carefully evades this demand, but at the same time insults Joffrey, which draws more genuine laughter from from the crowd.

The task of art is to uncover things that are not payed attention to and to then provoke responses that are outside of everyday experiences. Historically art has been exceptionally mean to people with dwarfism, categorising their genetic condition into something as both mythological and comical.  The A Song of Ice and Fire saga is one of the finest efforts in art to re-humanise a part of society that has previously been so successfully ridiculed by the same genre. This coupled with Peter Dinklage's screen portrayal of Tyrion has successfully shifted the way that millions of people think, at least superficially, about people who just happen to be dwarfs. 

Tyrion is not a fantasy dwarf, he's a regular person with dwarfism inside a fantasy story. He suffers the same way many people facing physical challenges do. He is referred to by others as the 'imp' or the 'halfman'. Because of his body he is seen by everyone, including his own father, as being less than everyone else. Martin conceived the character as being both the most ugly person in the story but also the most intelligent. And in that way there is the deepest tragedy. Because, through his smartness, he is acutely aware of how others see him and why they dislike him and how no matter what he does he'll still be just a dwarf to them. But not to the reader of the novels nor to the TV viewers. Those people see him for his mind and his actions. And to them he is a heroic figure in the most human sense.

Egyptian civilization, Old Kingdom, Dynasty XXI. Statue of dwarf Seneb with his wife Sentiotes and children, from Giza.

Egyptian civilization, Old Kingdom, Dynasty XXI. Statue of dwarf Seneb with his wife Sentiotes and children, from Giza.

Jester Bears the Crown

Donald Trump isn't dumb. He's just not your idea of what a smart person is. Wanting to win in 2016 he implied very heavily that he could make working Americans more like him, that is luxuriously wealthy. But he abandoned that tacit mission statement the moment he was inaugurated. President Trump's first year has seen a style of corruption usually reserved for Third World Africa. The most generous way of describing the 45th's behaviour is that it's not actually malicious, it's just clan based thinking. The $1.5 trillion Trump tax cut is a victory for the widely discredited theory of trickle-down economics. It's also a win for Trump personally. He should save $15 million annually. Son-in-Law Jared Kushner will save $12 million a year. Should the President die his children could save as much as $1 billion due to the adjustments inheritance code. If Trump believed in science he could donate his body to it. Those doing the autopsy would find that his once beating heart sounded like a cash register.

Donny still isn't a politician, he's a performer. Even his signature is performative. He uses the biggest pen available and then turns the paper around to show the camera what he's done. Whenever in public he is 'on'.  He's always in costume. He’s transferred US politics into pantomime, transgressing the norms of the executive branch. The Democrats still can’t get their head around him. Which is a problem because you can’t defeat what you don’t understand. Beyond praying that Trump somehow gets impeached they’d given up. That was until the Golden Globe awards. If you can’t beat them, join them.

Oprah Winfrey was presented with the Cecil B. DeMille trophy for outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment. She took the opportunity to entertain the emotions of the crowd, giving a rousing speech. So well performed that within ten minutes of it going to air the Internet reviewed that she must be running for President in 2020. Her political resume is scant but meaningful. From 2006 to 2008, Oprah's endorsement of Obama, by one estimate, delivered over a million votes in the super close 2008 Democratic primary race. She's not run for office before, nothing at all. Same as Trump though. Maybe Oprah could win. The left say that want serious progressive change. But maybe all they want is someone more agreeable back in the news cycle.

Oprah's antidote preaches the need to reform the individual in order to better fit in with rotten conditions of contemporary Western life. The power of positive affirmations will allow you to survives against the larger forces acting upon you. Collective action is dead, the individual is all there is. She's the exact opposite of what politics is meant to be about. In her world there is nothing bigger to give yourself up to for the greater good, so all you can do is concentrate on you 'living your truth'. Oprah is clever and warm and charming and soulful. But she's also been a baleful influence on millions, demonstrably so. She heavily promoted self-help bunkum like Rhonda Byrne's The Secret as well as profited off fraudulent quackery like Doctor Oz. 

Oprah is more like Trump than anyone else alive. Trump himself understood this intuitively in 1999 when he told Larry King that she would be his ideal running mate. Each have made fortunes, by doing whatever it takes, to create personality cults around themselves for business purposes. Trump puts his name on buildings, Oprah puts hers on a TV network and her face on the cover of every single issue of O Magazine. His brand promises wealth and winning, her brand promises self improvement and spirituality. There is an idea of a Trump or and Oprah, some kind of abstraction. Neither of them are politicians but celebrity culture has now reached a point were it permeates every aspect of contemporary Western culture. Democracies function best when they elect fair representation of the population at large. Celebrities are by definition anti-representive. Trump and Oprah aren't reflections of communities. They are self-created icons of aspiration, holograms - dazzling but intangible - projected into the luminiferous aether. 

Recent history has seen the US electorate radically overcorrect from what they just had and get kind of the opposite of what they just had. The gloom of Nixon was replaced by the sunniness of Carter, when Jimmy's Samaritan thing wore thin they went with Reagan, after him and old man Bush got long in the tooth they went for saxophonist Bill, who was replaced with cowboy George W, and the opposite of him was smart cool Obama, and the reaction to him was Donald. If that pattern holds true then the next President should be a boring technocrat. If that pattern hold then Oprah is out. But maybe all bets are off. Perhaps Trump's presidency is a rapture that will begin a new era, in which thrones belong to jesters. 


Turnbull's Inflatable Fiduciary Democracy

Spending money to win votes is part of the democratic process, demonstrably so. Which is why it makes sense that the 29th Prime Minister of Australia should be on the BRW 200 Rich List. When he wrestled leadership from Tony Abbott in September 2015 the polls suggested a landslide win was coming his way. But he had to wait and as each month rolled by his favourability diminished. When an election was finally announced for July 2016 things got even worse. Bill Shorten, a man who Turnbull doesn't really rate, was about to make a loser out of him. That could not happen. So he reached into his hip pocket and pulled out a rabbit. Abracadabra and they won - if only just. Magic Turnbull had sprinkled $1.75M of donation glitter dust on the party to secure The Lodge. But like all magician's tricks this was just another dazzling illusion. A victory from the electorate had been achieved but Turnbull had done so without creating any real authority for himself. Because political capital can only be earned by persuading the public with your big ideas. He simply had no overarching narrative to begin with.

During the 2013 election cycle the LNP strongly criticised Clive Palmer for buying PUP seats. Who the hell did this dove pie munching tycoon think he was? Yet it worked. He got up and so did two other candidates he bankrolled. Yet it did not really work. The party of three swiftly collapsed midterm with none of them seeking a seat in 2016 under the PUP banner. Turnbull himself has a prior history of self-donation, back in 1999 he coughed up $3M as part of the Yes case to make Australia a Republic. That investment did not pay off but he came to appreciate how cash can buy votes through the medium of marketing. Win or lose it all feels crook. In a fair democracy one person equals one vote. But the notion is corrupted when one person can use their personal treasure to unevenly alter the outcome. The curdling experienced right now churns in the guts extra hard as the PM himself has more gold than Coolangatta. A democracy ceases to be a competition of ideas when one person can simply buy a taller platform and purchase a louder megaphone. In the US Donald Trump became President by spending a lot his own money. He would not have won without that plane of his. Perhaps Michael Bloomberg should have run, he’s even wealthier. In the UK they have stricter rules on spending and their current PM Teresa May has a more modest net worth. If the system allows large sums to be spent, quickly enough spending large amounts becomes compulsory. And in turn the people who do get elected will, by necessity, be the wealthier types. The net result can only be an unrepresentative government. 

Having the Aussie PM spend $1.75M to push his own party over the line feels like cheating. And cheating winners are really just pimped out losers. On a subconscious level that is why it feels like he is not actually PM at all. He's more like a random no-name minister that you've seen on the tele a few times saying something unremarkable. The member for Wentworth performs the self-deprecating grins of a pleasant old man twisting on his heels as he stands beside the fireplace spinning yarns. But his stories go nowhere. He doesn't have the capital to say anything meaningful to anyone anywhere about anything at all. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was meant to be someone for whom the nation would erect posthumous statues to. But he ain’t. Instead he's twirling in an eddy, hollowed out with entropy, too exhausted to paddle further. If he died today he'd be lucky, lucky if we put up a wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing fluorescent tube man.

Subversive Charm of Classic Sesame Street

Jim Henson was a towering pillar of American popular culture and the pinnacle of his output was Sesame Street. After his death in 1990 the show slowly became less and less alive. After the show debuted in 1969 it had 21 years with him and has since had 27 years without. And the division between the two periods is clear. The franchise now makes more money than ever before but in doing so it's been reduced to a slick overly moderated safe space. It's what can happen to the band when the lead singer/songwriter dies. The classic muppet monsters on the show were interesting because they tended to have the same kind of big problems and character flaws that one might associate with grown adult humans. Snuffy was sort of depressed. Oscar was very angry all the time. Tele had crippling nervousness. Ernie bullied Bert all day but because he was so funny he got away with it. Big Bird was an orphan relying on the kindness of strangers. Grover was a pathetic lunatic. Count von Count was this sort of eccentric European freak. And Cookie Monster had an eating disorder, obviously. All of these classic characters are still on the program but they've been adjusted downwards, the edges have been polished away. It probably began with the massive success of Elmo. He joined the show before Jim Henson's death and afterwards went on to produce millions and millions of dollars in merchandising revenue for the production company. The newer characters such as Abby Cadabby, Zoe, and Rosita are really just newer variations of Elmo. They're all highly functional wunderkinds designed to charm the viewer rather then inspire pathos. The classic version of the show was so revolutionary that it took almost 30 years for other children's programs to catch up. But at some point during the later half of the now nearly 4,500 episodes Sesame Street began to feel a lot like all the other things made for kids on TV. And it was not just that the new programs caught up, Sesame Street also slowed down. With Jim Henson gone the characters stopped sprinting and began jogging, losing much of the humour. The undeniably reality is that Sesame Street used to be every kid's favourite show but today it's just another one of the things that parents use to babysit their offspring. 


George Jetson Welfare Recipient

George Jetson lived in a mansion that floated in the sky.  He had a hot wife, two cool kids, a loveable dog, and a robot housekeeper. He drove a flying car across Orbit City to an office job at Spacely Space Sprockets where his workweek was typical of the era: one hour a day, two days a week. In 1962 when The Jetsons premiered the cartoon envisaged the 21st Century as a time when scientific advancements had made the economy so efficient that one bloke working a 2 hour work week could support a family and own most things.

In the real future (right now) efficient technologies have changed everything. But in unplanned ways. The US lost 5.6m manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2010 and according to a study by the Center for Business and Economic Research, 85 per cent of those jobs losses can be attributable to technological changes in automation. The Boston Consulting Group has estimated that while a human welder earns $25 per hour the equivalent cost per hour for a robot is around $8. And the extra cost of maintaining a robotics system (installation, maintenance, and the operating cost) could be amortised in the first five years. Although there has been a steep decline in factory jobs, the manufacturing sector has become more productive and industrial output has been growing. In short, more stuff is being made by less people. The process is underway and irreversible. But unlike on The Jetsons people haven't started working less while getting paid the same. The efficiency dividends have instead been paid to companies rather than workers. The workers themselves have either started working not at all or all started working somewhere else.

In the future we might all be on the dole. Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a form of social security in which all citizens of a country receive an unconditional sum of money from the government, in addition to any income received from elsewhere. Switzerland considered introducing a UBI of 2,500 Swiss francs (US$2,578) per month this year but voters rejected it. President Obama has addressed the notion, 'Whether a universal income is the right model — is it gonna be accepted by a broad base of people? — that's a debate that we'll be having over the next 10 or 20 years.'

Every fictitious future-world has been proven false so far. In hindsight The Jetsons can be understood as a reflection of the time it was made. Hanna-Barbera took the every day concerns of a post-war Californian nuclear family and projected them into the future, in the same was as The Flintstones was a fantastic take on the distant past. It's impossible to accurately imagine the future. Artists try to reflect present day while it's the engineers who create the future by actually building things. And the most famous engineer in the world right now is Elon Musk. The billionaire genius sees UBI as natural. 'There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation. Yeah, I am not sure what else one would do. I think that is what would happen.'

If The Jetsons had of been more correct it might of made George not go into work at all. His boss, Cosmo Spacely, was always in a bad mood and shouting anyhow. Instead George would stay at home playing with Astro collecting money from the government. It only makes sense that in a futuristic utopia no one need work at all.

The Jetsons

Why are Tasmanians Poor People?

A Tasmanian person is 30% poorer than the national average. With the Australian GDP per capita at $68,000 the Tasmanian is just $49,000. Why?

Geography determines destiny.  And Tasmania is an isolated island at the bottom of the Southern Hemisphere, containing three towns of note in the north and a small city, serving as the capital, in the south. By the time transportation was abolished 150 years ago 75,000 convicts had been sent to the island. Today the population is just 500,000. In the same period the population of Australia as a whole has ballooned from 1.5 million to 22 million. Had the same rate of increase occurred in Tasmania, in excess of 1 million people would be living in the state now. Twice as large. When migrants come (by choice rather than in chains) to Australia they gravitate towards big economic zones to find work. At the same time educated young people who grow up in Tasmania leave for Melbourne or Sydney to pursue a variety of interesting careers. It's been an acute problem for 50 years, at one point in the 90s the population was going backwards. 

Culture can trump demographics though. Even if the population remains stagnant, as is projected, Tasmania could become significantly wealthier. But it would require leadership and huge cultural change. Many Tasmanians maintain an inward looking xenophobic approach to new ideas. And any criticism from outsiders is meet with an automated defensiveness. Premier Will Hodgman is the son of late politician Michael Hodgman. And Minister for State Growth Matthew Groom is the son of former Premier Ray Groom. There's a sense that these blokes didn't force there way into office with new ideas but rather inherited the family farm. Perhaps there is no appetite for big change. Certainly there are no leaders prepared to burn political capital to radically adjust the state's trajectory. If a charismatic leader were to emerge with a believable message describing how they would Make Tasmania Great Again then the soil might be fertile. Their constituents probably wouldn't come from the Denison Division though. 

At the moment the elite middle class in Hobart like things pretty much they way they are. They live in nice large houses with wonderful views, their children go to one of four private schools, they shop at Hill Street, dine in Salamanca, and take overseas holidays regularly. The kind of people who never went north of Creek Road until MONA opened. But most people in Hobart aren't middle class. They're working class, except a lot of them aren't working. And if you live in the northern suburbs or the pre-tertiary areas of the eastern shore you have to worry about burglary, violence, addiction, and burnouts.

The Hobart elite brag about MONA and the MONA-effect. That's been a big change they say. David Walsh’s cosmopolitan injection of private citizen ambition got the capital humming. There are now better restaurants, more microbreweries, and new hotels being erected. The culture has changed a bit but most people in Tasmania are still where they were ten years ago, looking at a sunless horizon. The attendees at this year’s awesome DARK MOFO were mostly tourists from Melbourne or Sydney as well as citizens from the elite suburbs. It was a no-povo zone. Indeed MONA's flagship beer MOO BREW states on the cup that it is, 'Not suitable for bogans.' 

There is no secret sauce to success. But looking outwards to more successful corners of the globe could be wise. Since Singapore was expelled from Malaysia 50 years ago it has been able to push it's GDP per capita of $2,600 up to $55,000. Singapore's phenomenal growth is the result of a guiding philosophy that a welcoming approach to business should be the basis for everything. Tasmania could emulate as closely as possible their methods, as outlined in the Home for Business Strategy. The Singaporean strategy encompasses every industry, placing as much emphasis on consumer goods, manufacturing, chemicals, and energy as it does on tourism or digital media. They take great pains to make it easy for multinationals to move operations there. Singapore has benefited big time from its geographic location close to China. Tasmanian could better position itself logistically. Chinese people like to eat the produce farmed on the island. Tasmania may not be as close to China as Singapore but Hobart to Shanghai is still just 12 hours flight. Close enough to get commercial flora and fauna products there in a timely manner. 

Tasmania needs to mind flip. Even if the less privileged could imagine a better future they would not feel entitled to demand it. And the middle class elite are comfortable sitting on their hands. While Tasmania is a very nice place it is not a very rich one. Perhaps all this is tolerable. But if so people will need to also accept why people on the ‘Mainland’ look down on ‘Tassie’. They do so because the people who live on island are poor.

Trump the Imaginative Genius

You could tell by the low-key stage that Trump didn’t completely expect to win.  The victory speech was meant be on the shiny blue map of America stage. Instead Clinton was probably too shocked to go out there and say anything at all. It’s really only shocking though because for the last 18 months the media has been saying he'll lose and the polls have been agreeing with that narrative. Wrong.

Trump did not win by a lot.  But he definitely won. And he got the Congress and the Senate too. So it's a massive victory, obviously.  You always had to wonder if the polls were wrong. Trump is an outlier and outliers cause modelling to break down.  His victory has embarrassed the pundits. They had no idea what they were talking about all along.  And we have no reason to think they do now. Without endorsing Trump’s actual political views it important to acknowledge the art of the victory. He had the imagination to cut through the noise and send his own signal. Despite being one of the wealthiest people in America, living in a huge apartment atop a building on Fifth Avenue with his name written on it, surrounded by luxury and security and healthcare and fine food, he had imagination. He had the thoughtfulness to understand that most Americans have none of the things he enjoys. He then took this appreciation and went out into the swing states and said to the people, I am rich and you are poor but if you come with me you can be like me, trust me, it’s gonna be huge.

When Bush got re-elected I had a phone conversation with my old man where I basically said I couldn't believe that they'd re-elected him.  His response was that I didn't understand America. I knew about their fantastic popular culture but I didn't appreciate how most of Americans are forced to live. I've since been to the US three times for a total of ten weeks and most of that was spent driving cross country.  Once you get past the Elysian Fields of California and New York City the interior is filled with poorer people, run down infrastructure, homeless war veterans with PTSD begging for change under bridges, addicts, abandoned factories and dusty townships. Maybe it's not all that bad but it ain't great.  

Trump won the primary by picking apart sixteen, mostly seasoned, politicians.  If he could devastate Jeb then so too Hillary, they were both the establishment.  Without the GOP superiors actively working against him he ran a highly original line and all with less than half Clinton's money.  He now has the gold medal.  Not seeing Clinton give a concession speech when she knew she’d lost really felt like evidence that there truly is no room on the podium for second place. Right now the rest of the world looks at the US with confusion and derision.  But maybe the Yanks don't care what the rest of the world thinks.  A few of them at least are like Trump.  They only care about who they view reflected in the glass.  And right now Trump looks in the mirror and he sees a massive winner. But will it last?  Hard to imagine so.  Even Steph Curry can only hit so many three pointers in a row.  America is a nation of complicated unpredictable tectonic shifts that can only be understood in hindsight. This is just another rapture. There will be more.