Luxury of Not Needing

Growing up in two seperate houses meant that I had to carry my most important items from one house to the other whenever I switched. Some days I’d depart in the morning from one home, go to school, and return in the afternoon to my other house. All the while carrying a heavy bag with stuff I wanted in my bedroom. Unconsciously I began to develop the habit of only wanting to own things unless I really needed them. Possessions restrict movement. As an adult I’ve lived in different countries and cities. With each move I found myself hiring trucks to move furniture or renting storage facilities to hold boxes. It was always a hassle and each time I did all this I get rid of items.

Today I can look into the back garden from my bedroom and imagine a digger rolling in to demolish the old shed that sits there, the heavy machinery could knock it down and scoop it up and take it all away, and after it was all gone a clean flat sheet of thick green grass could grow instead. A favourite activity has become throwing stuff away.  Almost as soon as I buy something my mind wanders off to thinking about how I’ll get rid of it later on. Empty places are elegant and luxurious.

If I ever own a mansion I’d like to have a large room in the corner of the second floor containing no furniture and nothing on the walls beside paint. I will open the tall windows in each direction so that wind from across the valley can rush through the building gently. In the late afternoon when the sun is dropping I might feel the want to reach out and grab the clean air in my hands. Not so that I can hold it but just so that I can let it go.

 Laguna Colorada, Bolivia

Laguna Colorada, Bolivia

Costello's Poke High Memories

Peter Costello went on 7:30 looking fed up, deeply put out by Scott Morrison's 2018 budget. In fact he's annoyed with all of the governments that have followed the one he was Treasurer in under John Howard. Australia's national debt as a proportion of the GDP is19 per cent, which is about the same level as it was when he originally became treasurer in 1996. "It took us 10 surplus budgets to pay it off last time. You'd be doing well to pay it off in 10 surplus budgets this time," he said. 'If I may say so Leigh, I think the probabilities are we'll never get back to where we were. You and I will die before that happens.'

Despite his annoyance Costello communicated a variety of complicated issues with ease, speaking without waffle nor jargon. He called people earning between $100,000 and $200,000 as 'forgotten people' and said the Liberal Party should remember individuals paying high taxes had not had any tax relief for 10 years. He then inculcated company tax cuts. 'This is the point that I find curious. Banks and big companies pay tax at 30 per cent, individuals pay tax at 47 per cent. You pay tax at 47 per cent if you're on $200,000. A bank or a big company only pays it at 30 [per cent] on $1 million.'

It's a right rotten state off affairs he feels. But it's his fault. He should never have gone. He could have become PM if he'd just waited around a while. He was always Howard's best minister and it's hard not to think he would have been a better PM than Abbott or Turnbull. He has made a lot of money in his post political life. But it wasn't like he was poor. And he was always going to get paid money for jam as soon as he quit politics. 

Seeing him deliver an honest and considered opinion on the economy really makes you lament him leaving. Peter Costello could have been Prime Minister of Australia, he might have even been a great one. But we will never know. Now the poor bastard is powerless, performing on week night TV shows. He's Al Bundy on Married... with Children, recounting Polk High football stories about how he once scored four touch down in one game and won the city championship.

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Ballad of a Fail Son

James Packer has often been touched gently by Australian journalists. They've tacitly understood that one day they might just need a job from his family. Recent news coverage has been reiterating that he has, in fact, quit casinos operator Crown Resorts' board due to mental health. Accompanying this information we saw footage of his mother being wheeled on to a Qantas plane like Dr Strangelove, off to comfort her sweet boy in California. The international man of misery is currently receiving the very best treatment available. Possibly in a coleman tent, listening to echoes of whale song.

The AJ Soprano of Australian business has bragged that Crown in Melbourne is one the country's biggest 'tourist attractions'. But that's an odd way of describing a monopoly protected by government enforced gaming license laws. If James Packer was a great businessman he'd be producing in open markets with fair competition. Instead he runs things more like a cartel. Overseas he's been tied to the corruption of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And in China 19 of his staff have been arrested for criminal activity. Back in Australia his capodecina use poker machines to rape the financial independence of the elderly and socially isolated.

While failing to get his father's DNA for commerce he did inherit the obesity gene. A few years back he had lap band surgery and lost the weight. Then he managed to get morbidly fat all over again - combining 2 litre bottles of lukewarm Fanta with hourly osmosis skin rubs of Big Mac sauce. Right back to where he was before, looking like Shrek if Shrek was the villain. Never enough food and never enough money. People could stop pretending that they respect James Packer and admit that they just fear the wealth he oars about the place. Maybe he is unwell but it's an iota of pain compared to what he inflicts on broader society - specifically people who were never afforded the entitlement his father’s fortune coddled him in. Maybe his health will improve. But he'll probably never choose to be a kinder person.


Bennelong Body Language

The day before the Bennelong by-election and it's pretty clear that John Alexander has had basically no ability it get media coverage. Two photos appearing on the ABC website sum up the situation. In the one on the left he is standing passively behind Turnbull, literally watching PM's mouth to see what he is going to say on his behalf. In the one on the right Shorten is following a meter or two behind Kristina Keneally as she actively reaches out and shakes the people's hands. Maybe it's different on the ground in the electorate but that is how the coverage is and most people only ever see politicians on TV.  

 Alexander and Turnbull

Alexander and Turnbull

 Shorten and Keneally

Shorten and Keneally

Information Melt Up

Social media was was meant to be an improvement on traditional media. Which it is. But something unforeseen also happened. Former Facebook Executive, Chamath Palihapitiya, has already expressed his guilt, 'I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works. The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we've created are destroying how society works.' 

The algorithms that govern the platforms and search engines are now so strong that they only give you what they calculate you will Like. While individuals feel that they are able to express themselves more freely they have also bought into a system that absorbs opposition to their thinking. An echo chamber where every wall, floor, and ceiling is also a mirror. What next? We don't know yet. The world is, in a way, nothing more than a construction of ideas - our political structures, philosophies, ideologies, economies. An entire framework created from the imagination. Therefore a strong enough wave of information could completely overturn and destroy all of that. 

On 9 November 1989 everything seemed status quo in Berlin. People were aware that East Germany was starting to liberalise its draconian system, but the process seemed to be completely under control. Yet that world was about to be convulsed. During a press conference on live TV, Günter Schabowski improvised a slightly mistaken answer to a journalist's question, when he said 'Today it was decided to make it possible for all citizens to leave the country through the official border crossing-points.' People just assumed he meant they could just head for the Wall and be allowed through to West Berlin straightaway. Those who weren't watching, quickly heard from friends and within 15 minutes big crowds were streaming towards the crossing-points. Since the guards at the Wall had no orders to shoot, they let them through. Soon people were clambering up on to the top of the Wall, dancing and laughing and kissing each other. The Wall hadn't literally fallen but it had simply ceased to matter. A flux of unplanned information caused a flood of people and suddenly everything had changed.

Big changes are almost impossible to predict. No one saw the collapse of the USSR coming. And right now no one can tell you what is going to happen next, this is probably especially true for anything to do with the Internet. History is like rising temperature. It is the heat of accumulated information and accumulated complexity. As culture progresses more and more information is gathered, melting up from a fluid state to an almost vaporous state and into an eventual boilover.

 Communication Melt Up, Berlin 1989

Communication Melt Up, Berlin 1989

Sad Story of a Propoganda Space Dog

Eighteen astronauts and cosmonauts have died during spaceflight. But, perhaps, the most upsetting casualty of the Space Race was that of Laika the dog. Found wandering the streets of Moscow as a stray, weighing about 6kg and approximately three years old, Soviet scientists assumed that as a street animal she would have already learnt how to endure conditions of extreme cold and hunger. These same people also gave her the nickname Limonchik (Little Lemon).

Humans have to earn our affection on an individual basis, it takes a lot of background to make us care about them. But with dogs, we already care, we innately know we love them. When a dog dies in a movie, you feel bad because you like dogs, even though you've never met the dog. We don't really keep that same idealistic image for adult humans, instead reserving judgment until we get to know them (unless you're holding prejudice). If an adult, someone who has freewill, dies in a story, you don't care unless the plot/character development gave you a reason to. When you meet the protagonist, you don't immediately hope they don't die. You have learn to to like them throughout the story, and if the writing makes you care about them, you will feel bad when they're killed. But with dogs you never want to see them get hurt, right from the start.

One of the scientists, Dr Vladimir Yazdovsky, took Laika home to play with his children. In a book chronicling the story of Soviet space medicine, he wrote, 'Laika was quiet and charming... I wanted to do something nice for her: She had so little time left to live.' One of the technicians preparing the capsule placed Laika in the container and just before closing the hatch, kissed her nose to say goodbye, knowing that she would not survive the flight.

On November 3rd 1957 blast off was successful. She became the first animal to orbit the earth. But the dog had no understanding of what she had been sacrificed for. Instead she was only confused and terrified. Around seven hours into the flight, as the fourth circuit was made, she was painfully cooked to death as the capsule slowly overheated.

In the original plan, the Soviets had boasted that Laika would have all the comforts she needed to return home safely. But Premier Nikita Khrushchev viewed Laika’s journey as a piece of propaganda, and he wanted her flight timed to perfection. He needed Sputnik 2 to blast off on the 40th Anniversary of Bolshevik Revolution, and so ordered the scientists to rush the job so he could get the date right. Khrushchev wanted a bold story to unite the USSR. But instead he created a sad story that endures. In 1998, after the collapse of the Soviet regime another one of the scientists, Oleg Gazenko, expressed regret, 'The more time passes, the more I'm sorry about it. We shouldn't have done it. We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog.'

 Little Lemon

Little Lemon

Breaking Up - How Point Break is a Love Story


Point Break (1991)

Story by Rick King and W. Peter Iliff - Screenplay by W. Peter Iliff

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow

Idealistic Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) enters the FBI under the wing of washed up Angelo Papas (Gary Busey). Despite Papas' experience he gets no respect, his colleagues mock his theory that a gang of serial bank robbers terrorising California are actually mystery surfers. Johnny nevertheless listens to Papas and agrees to go undercover as a grommet. One day after exiting the water Johnny is violently attacked by a group of beach punks. At this point he is saved by the charismatic Bodhi (Patrick Swayze). Ten years older he commands respect from everyone, he beguiles Johnny with his spiritual wisdom. Johnny does not suspect that Bodhi is, in fact, the leader of the Ex-Presidents heist gang. At the same time Bodhi has no idea that Johnny is an FBI agent, rather he sees him as a potential protégé. Their plutonic love is blind.

In part because both men are heterosexual Johnny starts having sex with Bodhi's on and off again girlfriend, Tyler (Lori Petty). An orphan she was probably drawn to Bodhi as something of a father figure. Bodhi is cool with Johnny and Tyler's developing relationship but their romance is fraught, while they care about each other Johnny's deepest feelings are for Bodhi. Only after the two men have developed serious emotions towards each other do they discover the other's true identity.

Following a botched heist interception Johnny chases a Ronald Reagan masked Bodhi on foot through the back allies of Los Angeles. When they jump into the city viaduct Johnny is injured, unable to keep chase. As Bodhi climbs a fence to escape Johnny draws a gun. Looking into each others eyes from a distance Johnny cannot shoot his friend, instead he fires the weapon into the air, screaming in frustrated agony. 

The next day, and despite all that has happened, Bodhi tries to recruit Johnny into the Ex-Presidents. He does this by aggressively bullying Johnny into skydiving with the group. The plane jump is the ecstatic highpoint of the film. Falling through the air they hold hands in a bro grip, ignoring the unavoidable reality that awaits them on the ground. As the high of the jump wears off Bodhi attempts to initiate Johnny all the way into the Ex-Presidents by forcing him to rob a bank with them. When Johnny does not comply people get killed. This is the breaking point of their relationship.

Papas shows up in the aftermath and together with Johnny they chase the Ex-Presidents to an airfield. Before their light airplane takes off Papas pulls his weapon on Bodhi. He is about to fire but Johnny stands in the way of the potential bullets. Inadvertently this gives one of the other bank robbers an opportunity to shoot Papas dead. Not only could Johnny not hurt Bodhi himself he could also not allow anyone else to. Johnny is rendered unable to perform his moral obligations as a law enforcer because of his emotions.

Months later and Bodhi has escaped to Australia where Johnny finally catches up to him. Down on the beach watching the ocean produce lethal waves Johnny attempts to bring Bodhi into custody peacefully but Bodhi rejects him. During a brawl in the surf, Johnny manages to handcuff himself to Bodhi, their bro grip replaced by a literal chain. Bhodi begs Johnny, appealing to their history together, to release him so he can ride the once-in-a-lifetime fifty year storm wave forming on the horizon. Knowing Bodhi will not come back alive, Johnny releases him. He does this because he loves him. With helicopters circling, Bodhi paddles out and surfs to his death. Johnny walks away, heartbroken, throwing his badge into the ocean, his career and friendship destroyed by the waves.

Point Break.jpg

Rob Sitch: Father Formerly Known As Comedian

Rob Sitch was on fire during the 90s. His prolific output included The Late ShowFrontline and The Castle - all classics. Audiences loved him. But then he somehow became less funny, walking off the stage with the curtain still up. In retrospect this seems to have happened around the time he stopped being such a prominent member on The Panel. Not coincidently this was also around the time that he began establishing what would become a large family. Jane Kennedy and he have five children together. Kids ask their fathers why they make such lame jokes. The answer is the questioner. It happens to a lot of men, the burden of fatherhood stunts their freedom to be subversive.  Humour tends to arise when something seems wrong, unsettling, or threatening (a kind of violation), but simultaneously seems okay, acceptable, or safe.  Once you have kids you're meant to be responsible, so you close the door to the room in your mind were you keep the bad things. The exact same thing happened to Eddie Murphy, who concluded he couldn't do anymore Raw-style stand up shows once he was parent. And these days he's most famous for voicing a cartoon donkey. Rob Sitch is still a legend, obviously. If he'd been born in the UK and produced the same level of content over there he'd now be in the Pantheon with John Cleese and Ricky Gervais. He's still active, since 2000 he has produced over a dozen television shows but none of them have come close to the content he made before fully settling down. In 2012 Any Questions for Ben? was released in cinemas and it bombed hard. It felt like the old bloke at the party trying to trick the young people into thinking he was still hip and with it. Things change. Several generations of comedians have come up behind Rob Sitch now and he's almost just another face in the background. To many people he could be any other parent lifting groceries into the boot of their 4WD at the Coles car park. But let it not be forgotten that for a considerable period of time Rob Sitch was pretty much the funniest person in the whole world. 

Sitch Double.jpg

Crazy Frogonomics

The GFC could have been the finale in the Neoliberal opera. But it wasn't. Instead the fallout was surprisingly modest. The banks in the US and Europe were bailed out, almost no one went to prison, and the price for bad behaviour was paid for by taxpayers. In Australia stocks dropped and unemployment ticked up but a technical recession was somehow avoided. Economic lightning was not followed by political thunder, no one stepped in to reform the system, so the underlying institutions of the economy remain the same today as they did before the crisis. 

The great wave of economic growth in post-GFC Australia has been uneven, heavily favouring the already wealthy, specifically those with access to large amounts of cheap credit. Inequality is at a seventy year high. And the Melbourne City region has the most unequal incomes in Australia, where the top 20% have an income that is 8.3 times as high as those in the bottom 20%. The ABS claims the Victorian capital will be the largest city in Australia within fifteen years. Meanwhile the Lord Mayor Robert Doyle tells his electorate that Melbourne is the 'most liveable' city in the world, sighting the title with all the glee of a boy who's won a lolly raffle. The Economist magazine does create a graded list of 140 major global cities, it is true, and for the last seven years Melbourne has been at the top. But things are not as they appear. The list is actually designed for multinational companies negotiating how much they should pay their executive staff while away on assignment. And because it's not aimed at regular working people housing affordability is not part of the metric.  

Not only have all boats failed to rise on the tide some people are drowning.  The reality of life in the soon to be biggest city in Australia is not always perfect, obviously. Melbourne traffic flows like sludge in a moat, the trains are a B-, and Tullamarine sucks. Outside suburban supermarkets there are beggars. Below bridges sleep minors. The literal horizon is filled with self-erecting cranes, lifting one nondescript apartment building into the skyline after another. But even they are not really homes because more people then ever will never be able to afford to buy into them. There are over one million vacant residencies across the country. Many of those apartments are just blocks of money in storage. At the other end stick there are over one hundred thousand homeless. The concentration of wealth upwards seems to have changed the general culture also. Flashiness is in vogue. It was always about but now it's less frowned upon, it's sort of encouraged even. That's what the tall poppy syndrome was really all about. Australia's idea of itself was one of a nation of more or less equals. And to virtue signal your money was, by that definition, un-Australian.

At several moments during 2007-08 everything felt like it might come undone. But the crisis turned out to be just a blip on the otherwise uninterrupted trajectory of Neoliberalism. Now, ten years later, the international system is strapped together with debt like never before and quantitative easing is never ending. Inside Australia, privatisation experiments have failed to produce better outcomes for consumers and cuts to penalty rates get passed off as innovative business models. Everything is the same as before the crisis only more so.  Yet today the GFC feels like nothing, nothing more than a vague annoying memory, holding about the same import as a Crazy Frog ringtone.

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Sean Spicer: Ridiculed at Work and in Death

Sean Spicer stood at the podium like a washed out clown with food poisoning. His blistering debut as White House Press Secretary began with accusations that the media had faked the low inauguration attendance figures. Despite photos, videos, and public transport statistics declaring contrary. No one even cared about the numbers, not until Spicer, under orders from the new President, felt the need to contradict reality.  During the campaign Donald Trump's strangest political talent was bringing everyone else down to his level. But once sworn Spicer's job to bring the President's messaging up to the level of the White House press corps. It was impossible.

Melissa McCarthy's impression on Saturday Night Live portrayed him as he was - a man in the middle of an existential crisis. Before accepting the role Spicer had been a well liked Navy reservist and Washington regular. His whole career had been a lead up to a senior White House position. But this senior gig was not what he had hoped for. Donald Trump hated McCarthy's impression because it portrayed the White House Press Secretary as weak and by extension so to was the President himself. In retaliation Trump took to verbally debasing Spicer privately and then, perhaps even more cruel, undermined him publicly.  The 45th President became the abusive soccer mom berating her son in front of his friends on the way home from the game after her boy failed kick any goals. It was crushing. Terrified of giving McCarthy more ammunition Spicer ordered that the cameras be turned off. While he would continue to carry water for the President he also wanted to hide. Ashamed and unable to laugh off it got to him. Six months and one day in he quit. 

The specifics of Spicer's on the job failings will not be remembered forever. Quite quickly his silly pantomime faux pas will basically be forgotten about. But Melissa McCarthy's satire of him will not. They'll play it on the news when he dies. His great great grandchildren will see it. It was so clever and finely performed that it may survive centuries. And eons from now people will still be remembering it and laughing at Sean Spicer, in all his wretchedness and absurdity.    

 Sean Spicer

Sean Spicer

Fortino Samano

Very little is known about Fortino Samano other than that he was a leader of rebel forces during the Mexican Revolution. This photo was taken moments before he was executed by Federal authorities in 1916. After finishing his cigar he chose to hang a white handkerchief from his left breast pocket, giving the firing squad something to aim at. Refusing a blindfold he then removed his hat and stood up straight with his shoulders back. In his very last moment he watched the bullets leave the barrels before feeling them enter his heart. He may well be the coolest person to have ever lived.

Australia Can Copy Canada

Historically Australia and Canada have shared similar origins and motivations. But since the turn of the millennium Canada has jumped way ahead in some simple but important ways. In short, they have created a more socially progressive society. Canadians are better than us. 

When the House of Commons passed the Civil Marriage Act in 2005, Canada became the fourth country in the world and the first outside Europe to legalise same-sex marriage. For over a decade now they've enjoyed the normalisation of homosexuality and the outcomes have only been good. 

In 2016 they legalised euthanasia. After just a few weeks of debate lawmakers passed legislation to legalise physician-assisted death. This made Canada one of the few nations where doctors can helps sick people die. The law has limited the option to the incurably ill, requires medical approval, and mandates a 14-day waiting period. It's all very sensible. 

And now the Trudeau government will legalise marijuana in time for Canada Day next year. The federal government will license producers while the provinces will have the right to decide how the marijuana is distributed and sold. Provincial governments will also have the right to set price. Ottawa will set a minimum age of 18 to buy the plant but the provinces get the option of setting a higher age limit. And as for Canadians who want to grow their own, they will be limited to four plants per household. All very pragmatic. 

By passing similar legislation Australian can quite quickly transform itself into a more forward looking nation with it's head held high. To get there though we need to emulate Canada. There's no shame in copying good ideas. It's pathetic not to. And until we do this Canadian society will be superior to our own - because it is fairer, more enjoyable, and kinder. 

Fake News RoboCop

The creation of the Internet promised a society where the old forms of political control might somehow become obsolete. Beginning in the 1970s computer utopians believed that if humans became linked by cyber networks then they could create a more democratic system. And for a brief period it actually appeared that there might be a chance to create order in society without central control. This was a revolutionary idea. Because it ran contrary to the mainstream political thought that if individuals were given too much control then there would be anarchy. 

When Microsoft sold forty million copies of Windows 95 in the first year alone Bill Gates put Internet Explorer on personal computers everywhere. This lead to the first uptick in online citizen journalism. It was meant to be better than old journalism. The collection, dissemination, and analysis of information by the general public over the web was the way of the future. But there were unforeseen outcomes. Everyone on the Internet is a citizen. But not everyone on Internet should be a citizen journalist.

Fast forward two decades and fake news is everywhere. Free flowing information spreads through the digital ecosystem like cancer in a body, mutating into whatever shape necessary as to be shared and reposted again and again. Spreading false rumours to gain advantage, out of malice, or just for entertainment is old. But incorrect information now pollutes political discourse at levels never really anticipated. The fact that the Internet made all this possible is a dystopian realisation. 

Dystopian movies tend to do well at the box office. For some reason audiences have always liked to imagine society's decline. While these stories are set in the future but they are always a product of their era. One of the best is RoboCop, released in 1987 two years before the Internet was invented by Tim Berners-Lee. Easily dismissed by critics because the title sounds silly, people assumed that it was just another low budget science fiction horror. With the passage of time however it can also be appreciated as a satire of Ronald Reagan's America. Written by Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner the script is simultaneously tight and layered. And Paul Verhoeven's visceral direction makes you feel yucky. It is noteworthy that he is from the Netherlands as foreigners sometime critique America better, approaching it anthropologically. 

Right now social media has become like the downtown district in a dystopian 80s blockbuster, a place filled with fear and anger, where moral contracts and politeness have failed and everything is ruled by desperate capitalism. In RoboCop society has become so bad that an incorruptible man-machine is created in order to save everyone. In order to clean up Detroit the RoboCop goes on a rampage, murdering everyone from laneway muggers up to glass tower corporate criminals. In a strange way, it is a feel good movie. While we might live in a world that is out of control we can (in this fictional version) also create a device that puts things back in order. The story plays subconsciously to the notion that although authority is scary it's also comforting as it can protect from evil. But there is no RoboCop coming to police the fake news in our social media feeds. There is only us. And we cannot stop refreshing.

Zooropean Union

The European Union is like a zoo, where some inhabitants thrive in protected conservation while others are trapped and desperate to escape. It was conceived by France and Germany for their own geopolitical reasons. Yet everyone wanted in, joining appeared to make new members wealthier. But that was all temporary. Euro convergence meant that the PIGS gained access to low interest loans for the first time, so they borrowed heavily. The black swan collapse of Lehman Brothers triggered a series of events that suddenly exposed their blood red balance sheets. And a decade later the troika is still applying lipstick to the cadaver. 

Britain's decision never to join the Eurozone was definitely correct. Their more recent choice to exit the EU altogether may or may not be wise in the long run. Either way the Brexit referendum was less about economics and more about nationalism. Huge populations migrating from Eastern Europe to Western Europe became a fear. But it wasn't just the xenophobes that felt uneasy. Learned technocrats got bothered by the types of laws being created from Brussels. The legal system in Britain is based on a tradition of being built up from below by judgements of the court. The system on the continent however, spread by Napoleon's conquests, is one where laws are imposed more heavily from above.

The practicalities of Brexit will take a while. Getting divorced is more complicated than getting married. But in time it may lead to additional members departing. It will of course be easier for countries like Denmark and Sweden to leave first because they're not on the euro. And they've already watched Norway never actually join the EU, without drawbacks. If there is an unsolvable monetary crisis in the Eurozone then maybe those countries will leave first. All bets might be off at that point. Perhaps Europe as a whole is simply too dynamic to be governed by a superstate. Since WWII the map has been shaking like a coin in Coke bottle. Germany was split in two then reformed. The USSR collapsed. Chechoslovakia divided. Yugoslavia dispersed. Russia has annexed Crimea. Scotland may seek independence. Nation states cannot hold themselves together in the same shape, not forever. 

Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterrand dreamed that the EU would embrace Germany with France so tightly that that they would never go to war again. In that respect it has been a huge success. But there have also been unintended consequences for other players, negative outcomes for millions of people. Before U2 became a re-hash of themselves they released the interesting album Zooropa. It was recorded in 1993 just after the Maastricht Treaty was signed but before it came into effect, while taking time off from their Zoo TV tour - a concert series that visited most of the countries now in the EU. In some ways the album captures the zeitgeist of that time. The opening and title track Zooropa was created by mashing together different pieces of music they had laying around and it is bright. The closing track The Wanderer is one of their best-crafted songs and it is dark, so much so that they needed Johnny Cash to sing it. The lyrics describe a man searching for goodness across a post-Apocalyptic landscape, unable to secure it but nevertheless trying.

Late Night Whitehouse

Conservatism is about reinforcing and maintaining. While Comedy is about challenging and undermining. As those two things are diametrically opposed Late Night hosts tend to be left leaning. Late Night talk shows themselves form a function within the network news cycle, where after a day of ratcheting up high impact stories the very last thing you watch before going to sleep is the same information but with an added punchline. This Late Night domination of the news cycle might appear to be an advantage for the Democrats but it actually isn't. It's a weakness. Because it's hard to create a political narrative when your loudest spokespeople are a collection of clowns.

Stephen Colbert's recent elevation to the number one Late Night spot has been attributed directly to his overt attacks on the new administration. But so what? John Stewart was the highest paid of Late Night hosts ($30 million when he retired in 2015) and he was also successful, explicitly so, because he took on the GOP. But his slants didn't stop George W Bush from retaining the Oval Office in 2004. Pithy monologues are meaningless when you're staring down the barrel of intergenerational poverty. The DNC needs to appreciate why people elected the 45th. By mocking Trump for trivial things the Late Night gang don't undermine him, they just render those who support him even more bitter. Satirical observations delivered by multimillionaires in New York and LA won't make the the fly over states reject the one person (however orange their skin might be) who's actually bothered to pay them attention.

Even if Donny cannot bring back manufacturing at least he acknowledged that something very bad happened to millions of people. There has been almost no real wage growth in the US since the 1990s. All of the innovation and increases in productivity created on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley have been paid out in profits, not to working people. The DNC missed opportunities. Four POTUS terms yet they completely failed to create a more economically just society. Instead they allowed the great transfer of wealth upwards to roll on. Billy repealed Glass Steagall and Berry did nothing to prosecute those who defrauded the economy during the GFC. In short, Trump is not the cause of Democrats woes. He's the symptom of their failings. 

Comedians love making fun of the President's hairdo. The fact the Trump looks silly is so obvious that it almost needs not be remarked upon. But even that they get wrong. In his 2003 book How To Get Rich Donald Trump has a chapter called The Art of the Hair. In it he acknowledges that some people think he looks odd. But he doesn't care because it's part of his brand and therefor it gives him power. We know now that it helped him win the 2016 election. Because it afforded his opposition the permission to dismiss him. The grotesquely cut suits and ridiculously long ties acted like an invisibility cloak, allowing him to walk right under the noses of the traditional gatekeepers and into the White House.

Republican establishment discounted him in the primaries. Wrong. Clinton assumed she'd be given the election by default. Huge wrong. And now people are just assuming that he'll lose in 2020, if he isn't impeached beforehand. That's ignorant. Donald Trump is a big bad bastard with an uncanny ability to win at long odds. And right now he's on track to serve two terms. If the middle class left actually want to see Trump lose they will need to take him on politically. The DNC need a policy driven story to convince disenfranchised voters with. And importantly that story cannot be a comedy. It must be a drama. 

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President Super Shredder

In the 1991 film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze the four heroes face off against their arch enemy Shredder inside a packed nightclub. Vanilla Ice is up on stage improvising Ninja Rap while Shredder is attacking to kill. The turtles improvise also and overload the speaker system, causing Shredder to be blasted though the wall of the club by a sound wave and out into the docks behind the building. They assume he's gone for good. 

For two terms George W Bush was not only unable to understand complex situations he also deferred a lot of his decision making to someone else, Vice President Dick Cheney. After the Republicans lost to Obama liberal voters sighed relief because now there was this thoughtful learned individual in the White House who could pour over documents like an executive scholar. This was the new norm. This was the future. Wrong.

As the ninja turtles are busy congratulating themselves they fail to see that the evil shredder is not dead - he's actually just swigging mutation ooze. Suddenly he reappears from nowhere bigger and sharper than before. Ranting and swinging his blade armour against the pillars that are holding up the dock he's standing under.




The last vial of ooze. He must have taken all of it.


It's a Super Shredder!

People thought the GOP was dead when Obama won in 2008. But no. They just went away, digesting a strange cultural ooze of social media and collective ADHD. In 2016 the mutant Trump emerged as a grotesque thrash of name calling and know-nothingness. His political genome was so distorted that he defied understanding, to the point that no one knew how to defeat him. The mutation included is the worst of Bush but more so. The same but super. Trump's decision maker is Steven Bannon, a mutant Dick Cheney (the ooze actually allowed him to grow thick hair and no longer needs glasses). At least Cheney was elected. Bannon is an unknown entity who appears to have a Rasputin like power over President Trump, controlling him with dark arts psychology. The Donald probably doesn't even understand what's triggering his uncontrolled outbursts of anger and frustration. He sees late night comedians as bullies teasing him. So he throws tantrums on twitter and runs away to his safe space at Mar-a-Largo. In order to cope he watches Jean Claude Van Damn movies on Air Force One, fast forwarding ahead to the fight scenes. Genuinely struggling with texts more than a few sentences long he does not read the executive orders he signs. Instead he scribbles his magic marker IMPACT font signature across the parchment then shows it off to everyone in the Oval Office like a kid that's just picked a massive booger from his nose.

Right before it all comes crashing down Leonardo tries to debate Shredder mid paroxysm. 


Shredder, you've got to listen to reason. You're gonna destroy us all!


(heavy breathing)

Then so be it!

In the movie the turtles survive by jumping into the Hudson River just in time. The movie is fictional

Narrating Numbers

Powerful narratives, like mythologies and shared histories, have a transformative ability. But there is an obstacle. Huge chunks of the modern world evade being turned into digestible stories. Economics shapes contemporary life at every point yet our stories fail to reflect this. Economics is a social science used to analyse and describe production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. Just saying that aloud is boring. Which is the problem.

Classic form TV news bulletins still frame the popular discourse. The broadcast itself is a series of stories. It works well for politics, social affairs, sports, and weather. But it breaks down when it's time for economics. Almost an anti-story the finance report gets annexed off towards the back end of the program, with a completely different style of presenter, someone somber and grey. The lexicon of acronyms used to express the information is so alien that charts are needed. But even then they often give off this murky vibe that they might not actually know what they're talking about. They say things like, 'Interest rates went up today, which saw the price of crude oil remain stable.' At the very least they're hard to understand. 

But it gets worse. Recent history saw financial journalists completely blindsided by the Global Financial Crisis of 2007- 2008. And in turn so was the public. The people who watched Bloomberg fastidiously and read the Financial Review before checking emails each morning were not warned ahead of time. Even more lousy, in the decade since a clear engaging explanation of exactly what happened has not occurred. A gigantic disastrous blow yet the regular citizens who suffered most never got to find out who swung the weapon. And because voters never grasped a narrative they could not understand things well enough to know what changes to demand from their politicians. This lack of story beget US financial institutions being even more hardwired now than ten years back.

Turning financial data into stories is very very very hard. Take cinema, the greatest story form of the 20th Century, and look at the two most profitable films made about finance recently. In The Wolf of Wall Street, screenwriter Terence Winter deliberately omitted the particulars of the securities fraud committed by Jordan Belfort because it was too hard to comprehend and cumbersome to explain to the audience. Instead he focused on the charismatic narcissism of the lead players as they partied their way to perdition. In The Big Short, director Adam McKay hired Hollywood starlets to play themselves and instructed them to break the fourth wall as they explained credit default swaps. It sort of worked but mostly it was a clunky way of delivering information.

In 2017 the biggest event in economics might just be quantitative easing. The unending introduction of new money into the existing money supply by central banks should be a big deal but it's definitely not a big story. No one is able get the message across. William Shakespeare is the greatest story teller in human history. But even he would battle to move audiences with tales of collateralized debt obligations as they pertain to structured asset backed securities. Thus far, economic concepts simply cannot be kept in the layperson's mind. As vital as they might be to civilisation they resist with a full court press against being dragged into the common social understanding. They can be explained and even understood in the moment but quickly they disappear from mind almost totally like a strange psilocybin mushroom experience.