Monthly Archives: June 2014

The strange, dangerous, addictive world of @Twitter

twitterA colleague at work tells me I’m the worst tweeter in the world.

I laugh and shrug, but agree he could be right  (some of the time).

Mostly, it’s to do with my inane comments on sport, particularly Australian Football, which I admit I know very little about.

Still that doesn’t stop me winding up my 1200 or so followers, some of whom are friends who support opposing teams to the high-flying Sydney Swans, the team I barrack for.

What can  I say, I like to wind people up by saying this coach couldn’t teach a primary school woodwork class or that full forward couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a banjo – let alone guide the Sherrin through the middle posts.

My problem is that I occasionally tweet my private thought and let’s be honest everyone has some pretty dark or silly ideas running through their brains at one time or another (before Twitter came along in 2008 the worst you could do is send a text message while drunk or angry) .

Some tweets are so explosively bad, they have the potential to be disastrous.

This was famously illustrated last year when PR executive Justine Sacco tweeted to just 400 followers before boarding a long-haul flight from the US to South Africa:

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Twelve or so hours later, her racist remarks had been retweeted thousands of times – by people who had tens of thousands of followers creating a huge multiplier effect – and the Twitter-sphere was up in arms.

A hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet trended around the world and Ms Sacco found herself with 8000 unwanted “followers”.

Ms Sacco lost her job, her reputation was in tatters and she promptly vanished from Twitter and social media to lick her wounds (though amazingly someone has hired her again!)

Of course other more famous people have gotten into trouble for tweeting including fiery cricketer Dave Warner, who tweeted an expletive-ladden attack on cricket writers and was promptly fined by Cricket Australia and Hollywood actor Ashton Kutcher who tweeted to his 8 million followers his support for American college football coach Joe Paterno after he was sacked for not doing enough to prevent the abuse of children by his assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

A bad tweet can end a career, ruin a reputation and cost a lot of money in legal fees – comedian Roseanne Barr was sued by the parents of George Zimmerman, the man who shot Trayvon Martin – after she tweeted their home address. The Zimmermans claimed Ms Barr incited a lynch mob. She later deleted the tweet but the damage was already done.

Undeniably, Twitter has incredible power.

While Facebook’s influence is arguably waning, Twitter is getting bigger and bigger (pop star Katy Perry has 54 million followers) and it has that incredible multiplier effect through retweets. Give a tweet time (as in the case of Justine Sacco) and the results can be tsunami-like.

Twitter’s power is its immediacy, punchiness (just 140 characters forcing people to condense their thoughts into bite size chunks) and ability to reach so many people.

Unlike Facebook, LinkedIn and others, where there is some level of privacy (messages can be restricted to friends and networks), Twitter is a free-for-all where everything is public.

It’s an addictive place where you can read the private thoughts of some of the world’s most powerful people  like right-wing media baron Rupert Murdoch  – @rupertmurdoch  – who actually writes his own rambling tweets.

It’s where you can interact with your favourite celebrities (who doesn’t like to brag about getting a reply from a favourite actor or a retweet or mention) and get involved in discussions on politics, sport, religion and every topic in between.

There’s a strange kind of pleasure when people from far-flung places respond to your tweets. For example, this exchange after I posted my thoughts on the book Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks, which I had just read. I got a reply from an actor appearing in the play of the novel in the UK.

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Twitter is a great place for sharing stories, thoughts, inspiration, recipes, photographs, anecdotes, jokes and grievances (nothing better than winding up a big corporation who can’t help themselves but responding to every criticism).

Twitter is where many of the biggest news stories are broken (I remember a colleague at work shouting out: “Someone has just tweeted that Oscar Pistorious has shot his girlfriend” before it became a huge worldwide story).

But you have to be careful what you write even if you are a humble journo hack like me.

A point I have to keep reminding myself every time I think I’ve thought up something witty to say and have my finger hovering over the “Tweet” button.

“Just remember Justine Sacco,” I tell myself.

Follow me @larryschles

 

Downloading a movie is wrong, but is it the same as stealing a car?

Perhaps you remember this ad:

It was an anti-piracy commercial warning the DVD viewer that downloading pirated movies was the same as stealing a car, or a handbag or a television.

People who downloaded movies were very bad people, the ad insinuated, a message that was replicated around the world in similar campaigns like this:

illegal download campaigns2

M-Tv anti-piracy ad

I was reminded of this campaign strategy after reading that the Australian government under the direction of Attorney General George Brandis planned a fresh move to crack down on movie pirates. Mr Brandis said:

“The government will be considering possible mechanisms to provide a legal incentive for an internet service provider to co-operate with copyright owners in preventing infringement on their systems and networks.

“This may include looking carefully at the merits of a scheme whereby ISPs are required to issue graduated warnings to consumers who are using websites to facilitate piracy.”

It’s unlikely this will succeed.

In 2012, an Australian High Court ruled that internet service provider iiNet (the second biggest ISP in Australia) was not responsible for the conduct of its subscribers and could not be ordered to terminate services of repeat copyright offenders.The five high court judges in the case ordered Warner Bros, Disney, Fox and Paramount Pictures and 29 other companies including Australian independent distributors and TV networks under the umbrella of the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft to pay $9 million in court costs.

In addition, prosecutions of individuals who pirate material remain rare and are primarily restricted to those who make and sell pirated DVDs (the kind you can pick up overseas or in a dodgy market for a few bucks) and the websites that host them.

Campaigns like “You wouldn’t steal car…” and more recent ones by the Intellectual Property Awareness Foundation which appeal to the public’s guilty conscience have also failed.

Australians are downloading pirated movies and TV shows in record numbers, as seen in the recent download stats for hit HBO show Game of Thrones, where they accounted for the highest proportion (around 11 per cent) of the 7.5 million people worldwide who downloaded the finale of season four within days of it being shown on pay television, according to website Torrentfreak.com.

By comparison, about 500,000 people watched the episode legally on Foxtel when it premiered.

thrones-cast

“Australia, I am sorry to say, is the worst offender of any country in the world when it comes to piracy,” Senator Brandis told the Australian Senate.

But, contrary to what’s being said, people who download or stream movies illegally (between 25 per cent and 55 per cent of Australians depending on what survey you read) are not also stealing cars or handbags or televisions. They’re not trying to put someone out of work (about 6,000 jobs are lost each year as a result of piracy) or send a production company bankrupt.

Most go to work, pay their taxes, pay their mortgage, pay for their groceries at the checkout counter and pay for their petrol after filling their tank. They’re your friends, your work colleagues, your bank manager, the guy making your chai latte at your favourite cafe, your kid’s kindergarten teacher – everyone is doing it.

The main reason people download shows illegally are convenience, to save money and anger and frustration at the cost of paying for it legally.

The internet has made it incredibly easy and safe to download or stream favourite show just by clicking on a link.

Many people are rebelling against the high cost of movies (now above $20 for some time slots), and the inflexibility and arrogance of providers like Foxtel, which does not allow subscribers to pick and choose their movie channels they want (channels are bundled) and which has a virtual monopoly on pay television in Australia, (though this is being challenged by online competitors).

There’s also the anger at service providers like Apple iTunes, which charges Australian customers between 50 and 100 per cent more for movies and music than they do customers in the US (as highlighted in the ABC’s The Checkout) for the same products

The relative cost of buying the movie "Life of Pi" in Australia and the US (from The Checkout)

The relative cost of buying the movie “Life of Pi” in Australia and the US (from The Checkout)

There’s nothing like the feeling that you are getting ripped off to encourage you to try and get something for free.

There’s also the harm factor. While some Australian companies may be impacted by lost revenue to piracy the public will also be aware that the really big entertainment companies are still doing rather well despite it.

Time-Warner reported revenues of US$7.5 billion for the first quarter of 2014 and earnings of $1.5 billion primarily from shows like Game of Thrones, True Detective and The Lego movie. Nobody at Time-Warner is crying poverty.

Australia’s biggest entertainment group, Seven West Media (owners of Channel 7) reported a 4 per cent rise in television revenue to $683 million for the six months to December 2013 and profits of $190 million.

Foxtel – half-owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp – has 2.5 million subscribers (not far off one in two Australian households) and last year had revenues of $3.1 billion and earnings of almost $1 billion.

Add the $20 – $30 million plus some Hollywood stars get paid to appear in a single movie  and you can understand why some people’s attitudes to movie piracy is this:

illegal download campaign - parody

Or this:

illegal download campaign - parody2

Intriguingly, while pay television companies, cable networks and cinema owners shake their fists at the public for being pirates and Australian attorney general George Brandis threatens tough new measures, others are taking a far more realistic view.

Jeff Bewkes, CEO of entertainment giant Time-Warner, owner of network HBO, which produces Game of Thrones, said during an earnings call last year that having the most pirated show of the year was “a tremendous word-of-mouth thing” and “better than [winning] an Emmy.”

He wasn’t alone. Game of Thrones director David Petrarca said piracy contributed to the show’s “cultural buzz”, while author of the novels, George R.R. Martin also called it a “compliment,” (though one he would rather not receive).

Mr Bewkes compared piracy to “cable-splitting” (illegally sharing a cable subscription) and said it had in fact contributed to HBO subscriptions and greater penetration of the HBO brand.

Also interesting to note is that US movie streaming service Netflix uses piracy data to decide which shows to buy, a back-handed compliment to the tastes of online pirates.

And perhaps also a concession that piracy is part of the entertainment industry like popcorn and paparazzi – and something that they will have to learn to live with even as the authorities threaten a clampdown.

Five Woody Allen movies infinitely better than Blue Jasmine

woody_allen__1218229285_1191I’ll be honest. I was a little bit disappointed with Blue Jasmine.

It certainly wasn’t a Woody Allen clunker like Celebrity or Curse of the Jade Scorpion or Small Time Crooks, but it wasn’t up their with his best work. It was better than his middle-of-the-road stuff, and neatly reflected in the IMDB  score of 7.4 out 10.

Blue JasmineThe acting was excellent, particularly Cate Blanchette as Jasmine – the neurotic, snobby and materialistic New York socialite brought down to earth by the scandal of her New York husband’s Hal’s  (Alec Baldwin) Bernie Madoff-like fraud, who flees to San Francisco to start her life over. There are also excellent performances by Sally Hawkins (who plays her sister Ginger) Andrew Dice Clay (Ginger’s ex-husband) and Bobby Cannavale (Ginger’s cocky love-struck boyfriend).

For me, the film started incredibly strongly and then just lost momentum two-thirds of the way through with an obscure, annoying ending (I won’t spoil it for those who have not seen it). It felt like Woody Allen wrote the film mainly to win an Oscar for Cate Blanchette – roles involving dysfunctional, intense female characters having a history of Oscar success, consider: Angelina Jolie in Girl Interrupted, Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook, Natalie Portman in Black Swan to name just three (all far better films than Blue Jasmine).

Blue Jasmine is worth watching for the acting and some excellent scenes, but if you want to watch classic Woody Allen at his best, there are more than a dozen films that are better from his vast oeuvre going back five decades.

For Woody Allen novices, these are five of my favourites, all absolute classics:

Crimes and Misdemeanours (1980)

Woody Allen’s greatest cinematic achievement. Interweaves multiple plotlines in a film about the nature of comedy, guilt, forgiveness, betrayal and love. Incredible performances from Martin Landau, Angelica Huston, Alan Alda, Sam Waterston, Mia Farrow and Jerry Orbach. Some of his funniest jokes, some of his most poignant moments in film. IMDB rating 8.0

Judah Rosenthal: I remember my father telling me, “The eyes of God are on us always.” The eyes of God. What a phrase to a young boy. What were God’s eyes like? Unimaginably penetrating, intense eyes, I assumed. And I wonder if it was just a coincidence I made my specialty ophthalmology.

Annie Hall (1977)

A romantic comedy about Alvy Singer (Woody Allen), a neurotic, over-sexed comedian who falls for the utterly charming but ditzy Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) filled with Jewish New York humour, witty observations about sex, love, family and relationships. IMDB rating – 8.2

Annie Hall: Sometimes I ask myself how I’d stand up under torture.
Alvy Singer: You? You kiddin’? If the Gestapo would take away your Bloomingdale’s charge card, you’d tell ‘em everything.

Manhattan (1979)

Shot beautifully in black and white to the music of George Gershwin, this is Woody Allen’s homage to his favourite city, New York. It stars Allen as Isaac Davis, a divorced writer of TV shows caught in a dubious love affair with teenage Tracy, (a very young Mariel Hemingway), but who falls in love with his best friend’s mistress (Diane Keaton). IMDB rating 8.0

Isaac Davis: My analyst warned me, but you were so beautiful I got another analyst.

Match point (2005)

Set in London high society, a tennis professional (Jonathan Rhys Myers) engages in a steamy affair with visiting American Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson) while engaged to Chloe (Emily Mortimor) the innocent daughter of a wealthy family. A film that examines the nature of good and evil, temptation and fidelity and injustice. IMDB rating 7.7

Christopher “Chris” Wilton: It would be fitting if I were apprehended… and punished. At least there would be some small sign of justice – some small measure of hope for the possibility of meaning.

Play it Again Sam (1972)

A screwball, slapstick comedy set in San Francisco about Allan (Woody Allen) a neurotic film critic who takes dating advice from his alter ego (Humphrey Bogart as Rick from Casablanca) and best friend Dick. Predictably he falls in love with Dick’s wife (Diane Keaton).

Allan: If that plane leaves the ground, and you’re not on it with him, you’ll regret it – maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.
Linda: That’s beautiful!
Allan: It’s from Casablanca; I waited my whole life to say it.

And here’s a whole bunch more to add to your “Must watch” list:

Love and Death (1975)
Deconstructing Harry (1997)
The Purple Rose of Cairo (1987)
Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
Husbands and Wives (1992)
Might Aphrodite (1995)
Hannah and her Sisters (1986)
Interiors (1978)
Midnight in Paris (2011)

The economic (non)sense of hunting in Victoria

hunting fool

98 per cent of hunters in Victoria are blokes

This week, among the many silly press releases that arrived in my inbox, was one from the Victorian government, titled: “Hunting’s $439 million boost to Victoria”

It proceeded to explain how much recreational hunting is worth every year to the Victorian economy, how it supports the equivalent of 3,500 full-time jobs and that those who hunt (the 46,000 game licence holders in Victoria) contribute to local economies across the state as they buy “hunting and camping equipment, food, fuel,and other supplies related to their pursuits”.

Reading through the government’s PR spin, it became apparent that this was  really nothing more than a thinly disguised election year publicity stunt, designed to garner a few more votes from would-be rambos running around bushland shooting at things.

“The Victorian Government will invest $17.6 into game management over the next four years and the new Game Management Authority, an election commitment from the Coalition, comes into effect on July 1,” said Agriculture minister Peter Walsh in a pledge to the trigger-happy rifle brigade.

The economic benefits highlighted in the press release were based on a detailed 116 page report commissioned by the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) and undertaken by three private consulting firms. RMCG, EconSearch and DBM Consultants.

The report followed some very bad press for the hunting fraternity and the government after the Box Flat duck massacre at the start of Duck hunting season. This was the illegal slaughter of 800 ducks by hunting louts in the state’s north west, their carcasses left to rot in the water. The victims included 104 freckled ducks, one of the world’s rarest duck species.

What’s really silly about the press release is the implied logic: that hunting is good because it makes economic sense:.

Such reasoning could be used to justify any number of socially abhorrent activities that make money but have virtually no societal benefits such as plundering wildernesss areas for mineral deposits or manufacturing illegal drugs like heroin or ice and selling them to addicts.

That hunting is an absurd blood sport offering little benefit to wider Victorian society (except allow the 46,000 licensed hunters to ruin the natural calm of he bush with gunshot and blood) is abundantly clear in the findings of the survey by the consultants in the same government report.

More than 90 per cent of the 1000 hunters surveyed said they “strongly agreed” with the statements that hunting “let them enjoy nature” and helped them “connect with nature”.

Perhaps they interpreted “connect” to mean the moment a bullet connects with deer or duck brain matter?

Even the economic benefits of hunting are minimal.

Hunting is in fact a tiny part of the Victorian economy and represents well under 5% of the $9 billion of revenue derived from tourism activities every year.

The $17.6 million set aside for game management could easily be directed to encourage economic and socially beneficial outdoor programs that support nature conservation and eco-tourism.

And hunting is not popular among the wider electorate: In a 2012 survey, more than three-quarters of Victorians opposed the shooting of native water birds, an activity which is being banned in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia.

In the UK, the cruel but traditional sport of fox hunting with hounds – favoured by rich landowners and Tories – has been banned since 2004. A survey this year found that more than 8 out 10 Britons supported the ban, after British prime minister David Cameron considered removing it.

The Australian (and Australia’s) propaganda war against boat people

boat peopleI was dismayed – no gutted – to read a story in The Australian newspaper last week.

The story ran under the headline “Lowy Institute poll shows strong support for asylum-seeker policies”.

It’s first paragraph said: “More than 70 per cent of Australians support the Abbott government’s Sovereign Borders Policy, including the idea that boats should be turned back when safe to do so.”

This information was correctly reported and seemed to confirm that, depressingly, most Australians have bought the propaganda – dished out regularly from both sides of politics about asylum seekers.

This is, that asylum seekers are queue jumpers, possibly terrorists and that if they want to come to this country, they should get in line and wait their turn – regardless of the circumstances in their home country. If they arrive by boat, they should be sent back to where they came from.

This sentiment was spelled out 13 years ago when former prime minister John Howard said in his election victory speech: “We will decide who comes here and the circumstances under which they come.”

He was referencing the Tampa affair, where a Norwegian freighter carrying rescued asylum seekers was denied access to Australia. This hard line attitude has been stamped into the heads of the voting public ever since.

But The Australian article conveniently forgot to mention another finding of the same Lowy Institute survey.

This was that the majority of Australians (57%) polled disagreed with the former Rudd government and current Liberal Party government policy that ‘no asylum seeker coming to Australia by boat should be allowed to settle in Australia’.

This statistic is nowhere to be found in Rowan Callick’s article – and which, if it were included, might have led to a different headline or at least told the full story.

Now, the margin of error in the poll was 3% so it could be that as many as 60% of Australians believe that asylum seekers who arrive by boat should be allowed to come and live in Australia, should there claims be genuine.

At worst 54% of Australians are opposed to the policy which is seeking to settle asylum seekers who arrive by boat on Papa New Guinea, Nauru or possibly even Cambodia in grubby cash-for-people deals.

So the end result is that I feel a little bit better about my country (of adoption) and my fellow countrymen.

But then again, reading numerous other articles and following the social media conversations, it is clear there are many Australians who feel like I do – that we are behaving abominably to the most desperate and needy in society.

For more balanced views, try:

Sadly though too many people appear to have been brainwashed following years of propaganda and believe – against all factual evidence – that asylum seekers arriving by boat are the first wave of potential invading hoards.

boatproportion

Source: Crikey.com.au

This is in no part due to the aforementioned article in The Australian, but also do to News Corp popular columnists like Andrew Bolt who regularly rounds of his tirades against Labor, the ABC, Fairfax, the Greens etc with thoughts like: “it is grossly irresponsible to allow thousands of illegal immigrants from countries very different from our own to crash our borders when we know it exposes Australians to extra risks they don’t want and never accepted.”

Or comments like this: ” Tens of thousands of ‘refugees’ would swarm each year through the Greens’ open door, more than we could safely accept, and the thousands rejected as refugees would not just go home.

All designed to stir up fear and hysteria of invading hoards and keeping John Howard’s 2001 message alive and well.

Reject the propaganda and form you own, educated view. Don’t be an ignorant fool.

(For more of my articles on this topic, go here.)

A very Scottish evening with Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh

irvine welsh2I went to hear legendary Scottish author Irvine Welsh speak last week.

My friend Jonny, who has read all his books, invited me along to a talk hosted by the Wheeler Centre.

I have read just one of Welsh’s books, “Trainspotting”, but it was enough for me to say “yes” immediately.

Trainspotting – a brilliant, excruciating, haunting and often hilarious story about a group of doomed Scottish junkies set in the impoverished council estates of Edinburgh in the late 1980s/early 1990s – was published in 1993 and has sold more than 1 million copies in the UK alone.

It’s listed in my literary reference bible: “1001 Books You Should Read before Die” alongside contemporary literary masterpieces by Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Donna Tartt and J.M. Coetzee.

welsh

Irvine Welsh with a fan in Melbourne

Welsh, a bald, tallish man sat down on stage  at the Athenaeum Theatre on Collins Street dressed casually in a black t-shirt, jeans and leather jacket looking like the kind of guy you’d strike up a conversation with about football at the pub. The only sign of possible eccentricity: bright red socks.

He was there ostensibly to promote his latest book which has the intriguing title of ‘The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins’. It’s his first novel set entirely in the US – Welsh lives in Chicago and wrote and set the novel amongst Miami’s gym, fitness and dieting culture.

(“If people want to lose weight, they should just eat less. Instead, in America, they consume diets.” he says.)

It’s his first novel without a Scottish character with only the vaguest references to Scotland.

Putting on a bad American accent, Welsh recalled a line in the book spoken by one of the aggressive female characters to Wheeler Centre director Michael Williams:

“I don’t wanna go to a fillum set in Scotland or Bosnia speaking a language no one can understand.”

Williams reminded Welsh that he is had pronounced “film” in the Scottish dialect of “fillum”.

Welsh throws back his head and roars with laughter.

Miami agree with Welsh. He goes to gym, eats well, walks around in shorts and t-shirts taking in the good weather.

But his heart – thankfully – remains firmly rooted in Scotland, where he created his most iconic characters – Renton, Begbie, Sickboy and Spud.

It’s not just his heavy Scottish brogue that makes it hard to imagine he’s become an American in any way, he still clearly loves his homeland, telling the audience that he has enjoyed “discovering Scotland from the US”.

Moving to somewhere “exotic” like Miami, he says, made him realise that Scotland is “one of the f-cking weirdest places I have ever been to in my life.”

And he’s also kept up with local politics, noting that the country is “re-inventing itself from the inside out” and that it is an “exciting time” with the Scottish independence referendum vote on September 18 – a remark which draws a large cheer from fellow countrymen in the packed audience of devoted fans.

Welsh has also maintained that famous, sardonic, playful Scottish sense of humour, that made Trainspotting such a huge success.

He quips: “Scottish people are always wonderful to outsiders – they like people coming to visit, but they f-cking hate each other.”

He then jokes that the last time he visited Edinburgh everyone was so nice to each other, which meant he had nothing to write about.

This is thankfully an exaggeration with Welsh telling the audience that his next book – coming out next year – will be about a taxi driver in Edinburgh.

More than likely it will be about one of those failed characters, who he writes so well about – whether its Renton, Spud or Begbie in Trainspotting or the vicious Detective Seargeant Bruce Robertson in the recently filmed “Filfth” (a novel I’ve already picked up from the library).

Failure, is something which inspires Welsh and the characters he creates on the page: Trainspotting is not just about failed characters whose lives have been blown off course by heroin addiction but is set within a landscape of failure  created by Margaret Thatcher and her Tory cronies, and one experienced by Welsh himself.

“Failure is much more interesting to me than success,” he says. “I write about people who are going through a bad time, when things are falling apart.

“I try to show these characters grasping for the light switch,” a beautiful phrase, which encapsulates the sadness behind doomed characters like Tommy Laurence, a football-mad childhood friend of Renton in Trainspotting who turns to heroin after his girlfriend dumps him and ends up contracting AIDS.

“These are people who were not always like what they are now,” Welsh says.

Welsh himself knows a lot about failure. He couldn’t play football or cut it as a musician (his two other passions) – but he was good at storytelling.

“Most writers are serial failures,” he says.

Speaking about his own success – he notes humbly that many celebrated Scottish writers blazed a path for him but did not achieve the international recognition he did.

He says he is inspired by bad fiction, rather than by what other great authors have written (one of his favourite books is Ulysses by Irishman James Joyce):

“When I read a shite book, I tell myself, I am going to take that c-nt down.”

Renton, couldn’t have said it better.