Tuesday 30 December 2014

Johann Strauss: "The Blue Danube" … in Space.

Clarke's Third Law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic".

Even if you hate sci-fi, chances are you'll have something good to say about Stanley Kubrick's 1968 “2001: A Space Odyssey”, based on Arthur C. Clarke's novel.

I was too young to watch it the year it was released, but I didn't have to wait much. Sometime in the early 1970s I watched it. It was the years of the Apollo Program and the future seemed like a great adventure.

It didn't last long. By 1982 with Ridley Scott's “Blade Runner”, and Michael Radford's “1984”, the future started to look somewhat bleaker. I was growing up, I guess. And over time, my impressions just got worse. (Shortly after Jan 1, 2001, I remember telling a workmate something like: “Gee, the future looks surprisingly like the past, only crappier”. Don't ask me today.)

If you haven't seen it: it's a great movie. There's little dialogue. Keir Dullea, as Commander Dave Bowman, is terrific.

But the soundtrack is, well, just superb. Given that I'm far from being Nietzsche's greatest fan, you'll be surprised to read that one of the highlights is Richard Strauss' “Also sprach Zarathustra”; but the compositions by Aram Khachaturian ("Gayane") and György Ligeti are not far behind.

Anyway (and this is the by far the absolute high water mark of the movie for me, thanks to that other Strauss, performed by the Vienna Philharmonic, and directed by Herbert von Karajan) this is how the future looked like to me back in the early 1970s:

Well, I'll wish readers a happy 2015. Hopefully, the next year will look more like “2001” than “1984”.

PS: The interruption in the video means a lot to me, even if it's only accidental.

Monday 29 December 2014

Derek Ide: Chomsky vs. Foucault.

Commenting on the 1971 debate between Noam Chomsky and Post-Modern philosopher Michel Foucault, Derek Ide notices that:
"() Foucault asks [Chomsky] poignantly: 'When, in the United States, you commit an illegal act [of political activism], do you justify it in terms of justice or of a superior legality, or do you justify it by the necessity of the class struggle, which is at the present time essential for the proletariat in their struggle against the ruling class?' After a brief period he quickly reiterates the question again: 'Are you committing this act in virtue of an ideal justice, or because the class struggle makes it useful and necessary?' " (See here)
Chomsky apparently tries to dodge Foucault's first question; finally, when he replies to the second, he does so rather weakly.

Smelling blood in the water, Foucault swiftly goes for the jugular:
"I will be a little bit Nietzschean about this … the idea of justice in itself is an idea which in effect has been invented and put to work in different types of societies as an instrument of a certain political and economic power or as a weapon against that power … And in a classless society, I am not sure that we would still use this notion of justice."
To which Chomsky basically has no reply, other than to reiterate his belief on "some sort of an absolute basis -- if you press me too hard I'll be in trouble, because I can't sketch it out --ultimately residing in fundamental human qualities, in terms of which a 'real' notion of justice is grounded."

A lefty observer, suggests Ide, would probably give a point to Foucault: his answer would seem to be in harmony with views widely held in the left, particularly the Marxist one. After all, "it is deeply rooted in the recognition of class-based power, hegemony, and contestation."

However, Ide writes:
"Yet, Foucault's position seems at odds with the stance that Patricia O'Brien attributes to him when she explains that, for Foucault, 'culture is studied through technologies of power -- not class, not progress, not the indomitability of the human spirit. Power cannot be apprehended through the study of conflict, struggle, and resistance … Power is not characteristic of a class (the bourgeoisie) or a ruling elite, nor is it attributable to one … Power does not originate in either the economy or politics, and it is not grounded there'."

I can offer a solution to Ide's puzzle: Foucault can assume contradictory stances on the same issue, because foundational questions are not important for Post-Modernists. A and Not(A) are only debating, rhetorical tools to be employed at the debater's discretion against different opponents, according to tactical considerations.

The point is not to argue a deeply felt position, but to win the debate, by hook or by crook.

Far from me to side with him on anything (God forbid!), but Richard Dawkins, the bête noire of some in the "academic" "left", alludes to something similar in the preface to "The Blind Watchmaker":
"I remember being shocked when visiting a university debating society to debate with creationists. At dinner after the debate, I was placed next to a young woman who had made a relatively powerful speech in favour of creationism. She clearly couldn't be a creationist, so I asked her to tell me honestly why she had done it. She freely admitted that she was simply practising her debating skills, and found it more challenging to advocate a position in which she did not believe. Apparently it is common practice in university debating societies for speakers simply to be told on which side they are to speak. Their own beliefs don't come into it. I had come a long way to perform the disagreeable task of public speaking, because I believed in the truth of the motion that I had been asked to propose. When I discovered that members of the society were using the motion as a vehicle for playing arguing games, I resolved to decline future invitations from debating societies that encourage insincere advocacy on issues where scientific truth is at stake." {op. cit. p. xv}
This is what the debate between petit bourgeois intellectuals has come to: word games. And why one sees really surprising bouts of admiration towards apparently mortal foes.

Thursday 25 December 2014

Mecano: "La (Otra) Fuerza del Destino".

Economist, teacher, writer, musician, TSSIer, blogger and nice guy extraordinaire, Peter Cooper reminded me of pop songs from the 1980s.

Well, Pete, here's a 1988 song I always remember, by Spanish band Mecano. Ana Torroja sings "La Fuerza del Destino".

Yes, you guessed it, the pretty and mischievous face belongs to Penélope Cruz.

Ojalá la vida fuera como las canciones; pero a veces no hay final feliz.

Sunday 21 December 2014

Bits and Pieces (III).

George Ellis (professor emeritus of applied mathematics at the University of Cape Town), and Joe Silk (professor of physics at the Paris Institute of Astrophysics, and at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore) are worried about cosmology and theoretical physics. They are Popperians and string theory and multiverse ideas -- unlike dark matter/energy -- don't make the scientific cut for them. (h/t MNE)

Writing for Nature, Ellis and Silk complain that multiple universes are unobservable (how could their existence be verified?); the energies required to empirically test string theory are beyond actual (and foreseeable) human capabilities. According to Popper, this means those theories are not falsifiable: they are, therefore, at best "metaphysical research programmes".

Ellis and Silk are not alone in adopting Popper's ideas. After all, in economics, Friedrich Hayek (recently promoted to PoKe icon) was also a Popperian (and so was Joan Robinson, by the way, but we'll leave that for the near future).


Sean M. Carroll (senior research associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology) picks up the gauntlet: for him, Popper's falsifiability is overrated.

"It's a well-meaning idea, but far from the complete story. Popper was concerned with theories such as Freudian psychoanalysis and Marxist economics, which he considered non-scientific. No matter what actually happens to people or societies, Popper claimed, theories like these will always be able to tell a story in which the data are compatible with the theoretical framework. He contrasted this with Einstein's relativity, which made specific quantitative predictions ahead of time. (One prediction of general relativity was that the universe should be expanding or contracting, leading Einstein to modify the theory because he thought the universe was actually static. So even in this example the falsifiability criterion is not as unambiguous as it seems.)".

I may be mistaken, but this is how I read that: Popper's falsifiability was a "well-meaning" hatchet job "against theories such as Freudian psychoanalysis and Marxist economics, which he considered non-scientific".

You have a conclusion and devise a clever-sounding argument to support it. Neat, uh?


But the fun doesn't stop there. If Carroll is a crypto commie, then he hides it well:
"This [two criteria Carroll proposes to replace falsifiability] is what distinguishes these theories [multiverses and strings] from the approaches Popper was trying to classify as non-scientific [Freudian psychoanalysis and Marxist economics]. (Popper himself understood that theories should be falsifiable 'in principle,' but that modifier is often forgotten in contemporary discussions.)".
So, the idea is not to abandon falsifiability, even if it sucks big time. Intentionally or not, what Carroll proposes is to apply the full falsifiability criterion to the theories people don't like, but relax it when dealing with the theories he likes.

You've gotta love the philosophy of science.

Friday 19 December 2014

Sá e Guarabyra: "Sobradinho".

“And he gathered them [i.e. 'the kings of the earth and of the whole world'] together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon”. Revelation 16:16 (KJV)

The prophesied war of the end of the world refers -- naturally -- to future events, yes?

Well, maybe. But, just for the sake of the argument, what if the war had already been fought? And, what if the good guys had actually lost?

If you ever read a Spanish language novel (even in an English translation), you could do much worse than picking Mario Vargas Llosa's 1981 "La Guerra del Fin del Mundo" ("The War of the End of the World" is its English title), based on true historical events (the War of Canudos, in Brazil).

Sobradinho (o sertão vai virar mar -- i.e. the desert will turn into a sea), by Sá e Guarabyra (Portuguese lyrics, my adaptation from this version)

O homem chega e já desfaz a natureza
Tira gente, põe represa, diz que tudo vai mudar
O São Francisco, lá pra cima da Bahia
Diz que dia, menos dia, vai subir bem devagar
E passo a passo, vai cumprindo a profecia
Do beato que dizia que o sertão ia alagar

O sertão vai virar mar, dá no coração
O medo que algum dia o mar também vire sertão
Vai virar mar, dá no coração
O medo que algum dia o mar também vire sertão

Adeus Remanso, Casa Nova, Santa Sé
Adeus Pilão Arcado, vem o rio te engolir
Debaixo d'água, lá se vai a vida inteira
Por cima da cachoeira, o Gaiola vai subir
Vai ter barragem no salto do Sobradinho
E o povo vai se embora com medo de se afogar

O sertão vai virar mar, dá no coração
O medo que algum dia o mar também vire sertão
Vai virar mar, dá no coração
O medo que algum dia o mar também vire sertão

Remanso, Casa Nova, Santa Sé, Pilão Arcado
Sobradinho, adeus, adeus, adeus


It happened, somehow.

Canudos, circa 1895. [A]
Canudos survivors surrounded by the Brazilian Army, 1897. [B]
Antonio Conselheiro, by Flávio de Barros. [C]
"After 17 years [i.e. in 2013], Canudos re-emerges with drought". (source)


"Colonel Macedo nods. 'Did you see him die?'
"The little old woman shakes her head and clacks her tongue, as though sucking on something.
" 'He got away, then?'
"The little old woman shakes her head again, encircled by the eyes of the women prisoners.
" 'Archangels took him up to heaven,' she says, clacking her tongue. 'I saw them.' "
There is redemption, even for us, the rabble.


And the desert did turn into a sea (o sertão alagou mesmo, né?), as the saint Counselor (o beato Conselheiro) said.

Image Credits:
[A] Canudos. Image in the public domain. Source: Wikipedia.
[B] Survivors. Image in the public domain. Source: Wikipedia.
[C] The only photograph of Antonio Conselheiro, the mystic rebel and spiritual leader of the War of Canudos (1896-1897). Author: Flávio de Barros. Image in the public domain. Source: Wikipedia.

Wednesday 17 December 2014

Your ABC: The Hunger Games.

"Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life", Oscar Wilde.

Maybe the best way to break the news is paraphrasing the IMDb:
In the dystopian present, the totalitarian nation of Australia is divided between big miners, bankers, “conservative, right-of-centre, libertarian” propagandists think-tankers and other Ubermenschen, ruled by PM Coriolanus Snow, and the rabble. This year 100 staff from ABC were selected by lottery to participate in The Hunger Games. Part entertainment, part brutal retribution for their journalism, the ABC will not televise the games throughout Australia.
The short version: last week ABC managing director Mark Scott announced 100 out of 300 ABC staff were selected for potential redundancy. The process was something like this: if in NSW, for instance, there are 25 senior reporters band 6-8, then 6 had to be sacked. So, if you are in the list (say, you are one of the 6) and don't want to become an actual redundancy, you better convince your boss why you are needed, while any of your colleagues left out of the list (the other 19) is not; otherwise, you must convince a Katniss Evergreen to take voluntary redundancy in your place (see here)

The list of 100 potentially redundant staff was released yesterday (after covering the Lindt hostage-taking incident, obviously, and the masterly touch in timing: before Christmas). Fairfax Media and other news outlets have been covering the news since last week, including the list release. Curiously, I haven't found any reference to this ongoing story by ABC News (12:20 PM AEDT, Thursday, 17/12/2-014): which suggests that the Minister for Communications, Master of Ceremonies, Caesar Flickerman, is conducting the show his audience wanted to (not) see.


You have to give these people the credit they deserve: that is not merely sadism, it's creative sadism.


So, Merry Xmas everybody and keep voting for them! Capitalism is great!

Sunday 14 December 2014

Brazil: The Lord Took it Away.

"The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord". Job 1:21

A few years ago, the BRICS were all the rage. Brazil, in particular, seemed quite successful:

Source: Google

Riding on the back of the resources boom, the Brazilian balance of trade was positive during the first decade of this century, reaching a record surplus in 2006 of nearly USD 6 billion (source). Together with a moderately expansive fiscal policy (2.4% of GDP on average, with a 4.3% peak in 2003, and two highs in 2005 and 2009, both around 3.5-3.6%, source), the Da Silva and Rousseff administrations (from the pseudo-left Workers' Party) appeared to have found the magic formula to keep business people and the rest of us happy. The Lord gave it.

According to James Petras (the Bartle Professor, Emeritus, of Sociology at Binghamton University), things may have changed for the worse since Rousseff's appointment of Joaquim Levy as Finance Minister (h/t MNE). Levy, a “Chicago Boy”, is linked to Bradesco, a Brazilian financial giant.

Petras qualifies Levy's policies as “shock therapy” and believes that, “contrary to the expectations of President Rousseff, cuts in credit, salaries and public investment will depress the economy – and send it from stagnation into recession”. The Lord took it away.

Frankly, I haven't followed the situation in Brazil, but I'm happy to accept Petras' opinion. He also believes that:

  • First and foremost, inequalities will increase because whatever income gains ensue will be concentrated at the top. Government deregulation and fiscal and exchange rate policies will deepen the imbalances in the economy, favoring creditors over debtors, foreign finance over local manufacturers, owners of capital over wage workers, the private sector over the public.
  • Levy’s shock therapy will heighten class tension and inevitably result in the break-down of the social pact between the so-called Workers Party regime and the trade unions, the landless rural workers and the urban social movements.


However, I do find Petras' analysis wanting in two matters. First of all: there is no point in singling Levy out as responsible for this: “It's not personal, Sonny. It's strictly business”, in the immortal words of Michael Corleone. If Bradesco has too much power, the solution is pretty simple: nationalise it.

Another thing that escaped Petras' attention is that, whenever these pseudo-left parties have to choose between the people's interests and business interests, they will inevitably, invariably choose the latter. It's in their nature, as the scorpion said to the dying frog in the Frog and Scorpion fable.

To predicate fiscal stimulus on technical grounds, as MMTers and Keynesians are wont to do in these circumstances, is not the solution: political will, not brains, is what is lacking.

Again, it doesn't take a genius to figure the solution: real socialism, not pseudo-left, not bullshit social democracy, not third way.

The good news? We don't need to wait for the Lord.

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Sumi Jo/W. Kilar: "Vocalise".

Not a single word is said (none is needed, either). Roman Polanski's "The Ninth Gate" closing titles, based loosely on Arturo Pérez-Reverte's "El Club Dumás".

Wojciech Kilar (composer) and Sumi Jo (soprano); the City of Prague Philharmonic and Chorus, directed by Stepan Konicer.

The DVD subtitles are crap, as in really, really crap (Traductor, aunque Ud. no lo crea, en España se habla español, no italiano.).

PS. Ask yourself, whose point of view is that and what is it you are hearing and seeing?

I Did it Again: reply to GWMason.

Oops! Judging by GWMason's comment to my previous post, it seems I -- like Britney -- did it again:
"You refuse to contribute to Wikipedia because there is one article that cites a non-fmaous person alongside a famous person? Jesus. Grow the fuck up."
Come on, GWMason, what was it, really, that pissed you off:

  1. The "Keynes true-believer" thing?
  2. The reference to The Prophet?
  3. The comparison to Ayn Rand?
  4. The possibility that private space exploration fails?
  5. All of the above?

Do tell me, please, so that I can take that into account for the future, :-).


On second thoughts, maybe the answer is "none of the above". Perhaps you are mad because the character Tilda Swinton played was also named "Mason"?

If that's the case, chill, man. I'm sure that was a mere coincidence: such a worldly, rational, educated person as your good self cannot possibly have anything in common with that arrogant, doctrinaire, fictional character … :-).


Seriously now, GWMason: you are being deliberately obtuse and I'm too old to play your game much longer.

I'll be generous with you and give you the benefit of the doubt: you know, as well as I do, that mediocrity, fanaticism, and charlatanism are not synonymous with "non-famous"; you pretend not to know it and instead take sides with pseudo-intellectual shit out of your misplaced Keynesian tribalism (what you call "political context").

Neither is my donation the issue: as an economist that you are, you know my donation, modest at best, is not really that important; you also know that under capitalism, as a consumer, I can only vote with my money, which is my private property. That's the only real freedom I and the other Snowpiercer tail car passengers have. It's the only freedom capitalists, and decent, hard-working, petit bourgeois people like you have left us. Or are you now, suddenly, against private property?

So, we both also know my donation (or lack thereof) wasn't behind your outburst. Would a learned person like yourself make a fuss over $20?


"Grow the fuck up".
At my age, my friend, I'm afraid I can hardly grow in any other direction than horizontally. You, at the other hand, sound awfully young …

Sunday 7 December 2014

Bits and Pieces (II)

Peter Radford has "been on quite a kick lately [here, here, here, and here] criticizing mainstream economics as being fundamentally anti-democratic".

I agree with him on everything, but then he writes:
"Economists don't want an 'expert led democracy' at all. They want a society led by Platonic philosopher kings, with economists being those very folk. Economists, those on the right anyway, don't have time for democracy".
The philosopher king delusion and the anti-democratic feeling may be quite prevalent among mainstream, free-market, economists, as Radford correctly says, but they are also powerful leitmotifs behind "progressive liberals":
"The attitude attributed to Keynes is antidemocratic only if one asserts that (…) democracy requires extensive popular participation". [*]
"Bah!" says the Keynes true-believer. "The author of that quote must be some ultra-free-market person."

Well, no. That was Conrad P. Waligorski (professor of political science at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and author of "Liberal Economics and Democracy" and "The Political Theory of Conservative Economists"), defending Keynes against the charges free-marketeer economists ("such as James Buchanan, Milton Friedman, F. A. Hayek, William Hutt and Richard Wagner") made against him being anti-democratic.

Mind you, Waligorski's not the only one.


So, this is the time of the year when Wikipedia asks for donations.

Normally I would feel a moral duty; this year, however, I will most definitely not contribute. Why not? Because of this.

As a non-profit organization, Wikipedia depends on the good-will it establishes among its users. But you cannot publish shit content, refusing to correct it after you were made aware of it and cultivate good-will, all at the same time.

I would, however, suggest Wikipedia to revise their complaints policy. You know, there's always a next year.


And speaking of next year, The Guardian has a really cool pictorial article on what 2015 has in store in space exploration.

This caught my eye:
"Getting to the Moon on a shoestring might seem ambitious, but with the Google Lunar XPrize deadline fixed for December next year, the precedent could very soon be set."
After Virgin Galactic's tragic SpaceShipTwo loss, this may well make or break private sector space exploration.


A 2014 movie release which totally escaped my attention, "Snowpiercer", directed by Bong Joon-ho, and starring Chris Evans, Song Kang-ho, Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, and Ed Harris was an excellent surprise on DVD: never the slow-motion train crash simile was better applied to capitalism.

The character Mason (an Ayn Rand lookalike, with English accent), played by Swinton, was particularly memorable.

Mason explains her views on society in the video clip below. Those views go a long way into explaining why democracy is not popular among pundits, taking us full-circle back to Peter Radford's comment:

That's how these people see themselves and how they see you; the place they occupy in the pecking order and the place you occupy. Must I say more?

[*] 1994, "Keynes and democracy", Social Science Journal, vol. 31, no. 1, p. 79.

Friday 5 December 2014

Yo-Yo Ma/Tan Dun: "Eternal Vow".

This may be just me, but I find that film directors often leave the most remarkable of the musical score for the last scene and ending credits.

Ang Lee's 2000 "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" is a case in point. Starring Chow Yun-fat, the magnificent Michelle Yeoh, and Zhang Ziyi, its superb music score was composed by Tan Dun.

This is the final scene and credits and the cello solo performed by Yo-Yo Ma ("Eternal Vow"):

Update (13/12/2014):
Another version (in some ways, better; but you won't see a beautiful fallen angel flying into eternity):

Friday 28 November 2014

Domingo y Gardel: "El Día que me Quieras".

From this Saturday on I'll do my best to post a link to a musical piece, which I find personally meaningful (sorry, youngsters, you'll probably hate me for this).

To start, I couldn't possibly get anything better than Plácido Domingo, singing Carlos Gardel's “El Día que me Quieras”. Domingo, on top, chose three great songstresses!

You may not remember them, but I few years back the Three Tenors (Domingo, José Carreras, and -- What's his name? The Italian fellow … -- just kidding, Luciano Pavarotti was great, too, even if he wasn't Spanish) were all the rage.

I didn't like the musical accompaniment that much, unfortunately: too “American”. Oh, well.

Wednesday 26 November 2014

McCloskey on Piketty: Caesar on a Pau-de-Arara.

The pictures below show a popular form of transportation in contemporary north-eastern Brazil, known in Portuguese as pau-de-arara (I'll leave details for another opportunity). Generally, impoverished refugees from the drought, those people leave their homes and flee to the cities in search of survival.


Gaius Julius Caesar, in the cusp of his power, never owned one such vehicle; neither did the richest Roman, the quasi-legendary Marcus Licinius Crassus, Caesar's contemporary. For that matter, neither did the Egyptian pharaohs, the Chinese, Inca or Aztec emperors.

Centuries of technological advancement certainly revolutionized land travel. And that most of this progress took place under capitalism is undeniable: even a pau-de-arara available to rural migrants from the poorest regions of Brazil puts to shame the technological advancements the Caesars enjoyed.

But you wouldn't think those migrants rich, let alone richer than Caesar, would you? Could you compare the enjoyment (i.e. utility) experienced by the migrants on a pau-de-arara and Caesar in his very own sella, or sedan chair?

The point is that one cannot identify technological progress with wealth, as Deirdre McCloskey implicitly does:
"(…) In Piketty's tale the rest of us fall only relatively behind the ravenous capitalists. The focus on relative wealth or income or consumption is one serious problem in the book". 
Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and Karl Marx knew that, even if McCloskey chose to ignore it: You are poor(er) or rich(er) in relation to your peers and your contemporaries, not in relation to historical comparisons, which easily lead to absurd.

Augustus hailing a pau-de-arara, on his way to Río. [A]

That is, unless you can conceive a Roman Imperator merrily hanging from one of those infernal contraptions, his hopes centred on finding work as domestic help in São Paulo or Río de Janeiro. "Imagine -- thinks Caesar -- they even have those amazing $50 electrically-powered vacuum cleaners!"

Image Credits:
[A] Augustus of Prima Porta, 1st century. Photographer: Till Niermann. My use of the file does not suggest the author endorses me or my usage of his work in any way. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Sunday 23 November 2014

Marx's Reply: Alabama!

Or, "40-Hour Week (for a Livin')"

Commenting on Mark Thoma's latest, Branko Milanovic writes that he didn't like Thoma's treatment of Marx and promptly corrects him, based on the authority of Joan Robinson (the well-known "doyenne of English Marxists"):
"Thus, in Marx we have two steps: (a) labor theory of value, and (b) value of labor power which together show (Marx was very proud of this) that exploitation is not mere stealing but takes place on the back of the action of the law of value. Capitalism allows everything to be bought and sold according to its value, including labor. Surplus value and exploitation are thus 'imbedded' in the 'value-driven' or 'value-based' nature of the capitalist process. They are not a robbery; they are just an intrinsic feature of the system.
Joan Robinson thought that Marx’s distinction between value  of labor and value of labor power was just 'metaphysics.' It is quite likely so. But nevertheless, it was an important methodological innovation which distinguishes Marx from Smith and Ricardo."

It's appropriate, then, that Marx himself, directly from Highgate Cemetery, should reply:
"That the method employed in 'Das Kapital' has been little understood, is shown by the various conceptions, contradictory one to another, that have been formed of it.
"Thus the Paris Revue Positiviste reproaches me in that, on the one hand, I treat economics metaphysically, and on the other hand — imagine! — confine myself to the mere critical analysis of actual facts, instead of writing receipts (Comtist ones?) for the cook-shops of the future."

But, there must be something incredibly convoluted in that, no? What, exactly, is involved in the labour power vs labour thing?

"This is the 'jingle' in a television beer commercial in which sweaty workers are shown enjoying a drink or two after their daily efforts. The advertiser's aim is to present ordinary citizens contributing to the advancement of the nation over and above what they are rewarded in wages (and, hopefully, spending some of those wages on the advertiser's 'liquid gold' as well). Ironically, and no doubt unintentionally, the jingle also summarises the Marxist theory of surplus value-that workers produce over and above what is returned to them as wages." (F. Stilwell [*])
Frank Stilwell (professor emeritus, Department of Political Economy, University of Sydney) is referring to the 1985 song "40-Hour Week (For a Livin')" (lyrics, Wikipedia entry), by American country, southern rock and bluegrass band Alabama. In Australia that song was used in a TV ad by a local beer manufacturer.

The idea seems clear to me; so clear in fact that a Joe Blow like yours truly can understand it: surplus value is what workers produce "over and above what is returned to them as wages" and which always ends up in their employers' pockets: the employer pays the exact labour power expended (the wages), all right; but whatever the worker's labour produces goes to his employer. When the output exceeds the input, there is a surplus value: expressed in money, a profit.

Being that so clear, it's astonishing that learned, middle-class, liberal, sophisticated, worldly, hard-working, economics professors appear to have difficulty understanding surplus value and Marxism.

Left in my confusion, I cannot but remember Upton Sinclair:
"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

[*] 2002. Political Economy, the Contest of Economic Ideas. Oxford University Press. Page 114.

Thursday 20 November 2014

Abbott's Bullshit.

The truth about the Australian fake democracy in one headline and two interviews.

This is the current headline (November 20th, ABC Online):

"Mr Turnbull said the ABC would receive $5.2 billion in funding over that time - a cut of 4.6 per cent.
"He said SBS's operating budget would be reduced by $25.2 million or 1.7 per cent over the same period." (see here)

This was Tony Abbott's promise (September 6th, 2013, SBS):


But, let's face it, this was no surprise. Every single Australian citizen or resident knew Australian politicians in general, and this mob very especially, could not be trusted with the truth.

This was Tony Abbott (7:30 Report, May 18th, 2010):

Yet, against all logic, you voted for them. Indeed, you still want to believe capitalism can be fixed: it's just a matter of putting the "right people" in charge. When the last government fails, you turn to the other party, hoping it will be better or at least less bad.

Now, my fellow countrymen, you earned every little bit of the shit befalling upon you; upon all of us, in fact: unfortunately, we'll all have to pay for your decision.

However, I remain optimistic. This may still prove to be a salutary lesson: you'll eventually learn the truth about capitalist democracy and their politicians, as people like me already learned.

You'll just have to sink deeper in shit. Fear not, these politicians will oblige, be sure of that.

Enjoy the lesson.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Thoma on Piketty: a Matter of Context.

Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century has generated an enormous amount of comments and reviews (see here for a partial list of reviews), some of them quite favourable, others not so much; some very accurate, some others missing the point entirely. In general, the authors of these comments and reviews have focused on, let's say, the technical aspects of Piketty's work.

Without denying the importance of these aspects, these commentators and reviewers have largely neglected Piketty's place in the history of economic thought. Mark Thoma (professor of Economics, Department of Economics, University of Oregon, here) has made an important contribution to fill that void for the general public.

I cannot but recommend his recent article (The Fiscal Times, 18-11-2014), from which I quote:
“What Piketty has done in his book is revive the study of the distribution of wealth without violating the positive and normative distinction that economists hold so dear. It’s fine to leave questions about the distribution (or redistribution) of wealth to the political arena, but how can politicians make good decisions if economists cannot tell them about the laws of motion that determine the evolution of wealth and income distributions? Whether or not Piketty is correct about the fundamental determinants of these distributions remains to be seen, but he deserves much credit for reviving these questions and bringing them to the forefront of economic research.” (emphasis added)
In addition to a brief overview of the history of economic thought, Thoma sums up brilliantly what -- in my opinion -- are both Piketty's greatest contribution and limitation: while distribution is a political decision, is it really fine for the little guy to leave questions of distribution to the political arena?

His mainstream Keynesian colleagues, their Post-Keynesian critics, and many a Marxist would do well to think long and hard on the issues Thoma raised in this piece. Anyone with an interest on Marxism should also read Thoma's account of the history of economic thought.

Kudos to Prof. Thoma (h/t MNE)

Monday 17 November 2014

The Age of "Capitals".

Plastilina plasticine from VEB Varia-Chemische Fabrik Mügeln from the GDR [A]

Matt Bruenig (h/t MNE) notes the proliferation of "capitals": human, social, and cultural capitals; plus organizational, institutional, intellectual, and even gender capitals.

While focusing on "human capital", Bruenig writes about the effect of this general tendency:
"However, one of the problems with the late 20th century academic fad of calling everything capital is that it can and does generate some serious confusion via category errors."
I couldn't agree more; in fact, I'd go one step further: it renders the category of "capital" meaningless for, if everything is "capital", then there is nothing specific about capital; by implication, there's nothing specific about labour and wages.

That's how you find people who can remain straight-faced and say things like this:
"Profit can be seen as the wages of profiteers for their ability to organise the means of production. In a lot of larger companies that is quite literally the case - salaries for managers with bonuses."
And why reminders like this are necessary.

But other examples of this bad habit are not hard to find. Exactly the same thing happened with the word "value", to the extreme that our fashionable cognoscenti (many of whom, I'm sure, Bruenig have confronted over the net) react to the word "value" with either laughing or hissy fits (often both, in an apparent display of schizophrenia).

Another example: "middle-class". Apparently, its contemporary definition goes something like this: "Conceptual plasticine; used in pseudo-socio-economic discourse". The consequence? Everyone thinks they're "middle-class".

Image Credits:
[A] "Plastilina plasticine from VEB Varia-Chemische Fabrik Mügeln from the GDR (East Germany)". Author: Richard Seefeld (23-11-2004). My usage of the image does not suggests the author's endorsement of me or my work. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Wikipedia.

Wednesday 12 November 2014

Did Abbott and Putin Meeting Live up to 'Shirtfront' Hype?

(see also the full version: here)

In the latest news: A Russian Navy 4-ship squadron in the Coral Sea, south of Bougainville, moving towards Australian waters. The Australian Navy is unconcerned with those events, and that's why they sent a P-3 Orion surveillance plane and a frigate, to monitor the Russian ships.

Apparently, the vessels' mission is to deliver the apologies PM Abbott forcefully demanded. President Putin, it seems, learned to apologize in the John Howard Apologies School.

Without showing any signs of Schadenfreude, the Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull said he is not amused with the 7.30 Report video. For once, senator Cory Bernardi agrees with him.

Incidentally, Australia, it seems, has evidence of the Russian involvement in the downing of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 flight. Challenged by their Russian counterparts to present the evidence, Australian authorities declined: the evidence is a secret, after all.

Tuesday 11 November 2014

EXTRA: Abbott-Putin Showdown.

So, you thought that the APEC meeting would end without the epic Abbott-Putin fight, eh?

You were mistaken. Here is exclusive footage for Magpie News of the moment when Australian PM Tony Abbott shows Russian President Vladimir Putin who's the boss:

That's a lifetime lesson.

Monday 10 November 2014

MH17 Affair: Good on Russia - Abbott.

Or, The Mouse that Roared …  Briefly.


After blaming Russia (July 18-19) - without proof - for the downing of the MH17 Malaysian Airlines flight, where nearly 40 Australians lost their lives, the rhetoric of the Australian PM, Tony Abbott, has gone through the whole spectrum, from demanding peremptorily that Russia not stand in the way of a full inquiry into the tragedy and warning that
"There can be no excuses, no buck-passing, no blame-shifting."
To the extreme of threatening last month to "shirtfront" Russian President Vladimir Putin, during his visit to Brisbane, for the G20 meeting.

The latest of our intrepid leader, Tony Abbott:
"Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he will seek an 'assurance' from Vladimir Putin that his country will co-operate with investigations into the downing of MH17, in a further softening of his tone towards the Russian President.
"Speaking to reporters at the APEC summit in Beijng on Monday, Mr Abbott dramatically toned down his rhetoric and noted Russia's pledge to do what it could to bring the perpetrators to justice.
" 'Good on Russia for saying that and I'll just be looking for an assurance from the President that what they said then - they meant and what they said then is still what they say now,' he said."
It seems this is something we Aussies must learn to live with: the permanent feeling of vicarious embarrassment. Do you see now why I'd rather see an old-fashioned dust-up?

We Australians deserve better than this Coalition/Labor farce.

Image Credits:
[A] Author: U.S. National Institute of Health. Image in the public domain. Wikipedia.

Tuesday 4 November 2014

Thuringia: Seeing Red.

Tom Gill (h/t MNE), for Counterpunch, writes that:
"25 Years After the Fall of the Berlin Wall
"Return of the German Reds?
"The radical Die Linke looks set to take charge of a regional government in Germany for the first time, in alliance with the social democrats (SPD) and Greens."
That's good, I guess. Apparently the SPD finally got tired of having its already devalued brand name entirely soiled by its association to Merkel's CDU, and decided to join Bodo Ramelow, Die Linke's leader in Thuringia in a coalition government.

Let's just hope for once a pact with the devil does not end like all pacts with the devil: Die Linke being betrayed by Labor, Fabians, Democratsprogressives, social-democrats. You know, the Left -- or Die Linke, as they say in German -- betrayed by the pseudo-Left -- or liberals, as we say in Oztralian.

But there's more. Philip Oltermann, writing from Berlin for The Guardian, also chronicles the event. According to Oltermann,
"Twenty-five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Left party's ascendancy in Thuringia is the clearest sign yet that German views on the GDR legacy are becoming more pragmatic and less ideological."
Oltermann reckons that the reunified Germany has slowly incorporated the good things (yes, there were those, even if you never heard of them from our free press) from the former East Germany. This has been a difficult process, though, as Oltermann explains with seemingly trivial examples:
"When Germany introduced a bottle deposit system to encourage recycling in 2002, it pointed towards Scandinavia, even though East Germany had a sophisticated recycling infrastructure since the 1960s."
Oltermann calls that denial "ideological"; perhaps he is right. Maybe you could say German mainstream opinion-makers are "doctrinaire". You, too, could be right; after all, that's what mainstream opinion-makers, all over the world, do for a living: being doctrinaire.

I call it a bit differently: it's the pettiness and mediocrity that characterizes the defenders of capitalism, liberal and conservative, alike (pretty much the same crap, really, but from different piles). See also.

Wednesday 29 October 2014

Bits and Pieces.

Corey Robin illustrates the proverb "good things, when short, are twice as good":
"Historically, liberalism was proffered as an answer to the left. That is what gave it its political heft and social depth. For the last half-century, it's been proffered as an answer to the right. Therein lies the problem."
The corollary? Our "defenders" aren't there to "champion" our cause, exactly. If that isn't clear enough, see here.


Robert Paul Wolff's recent writings (here and here) fit very well with Robin's post:
"The simple truth is that none of the 'liberation' movements [i.e. black liberation movement, the women's movement, the gay liberation movement] had an economically radical thrust. In effect, their demands were variations on the same theme: We Want In!  We demand to be and to be treated as first-class citizens, not second-class citizens, of this capitalist society - which is, after all, just another way of saying We Want To Be Exploited Just Like White Men!"
This is not to deny the justice of these movements. Wolff (a retired professor of Afro-American Studies and father of a gay man) shares their aims.

Wolff's point is that, valuable as they are, their aims can be obtained within a capitalist society: gender discrimination, for instance, is a pre-capitalist atavism. To overcome these residuals of the past is part of the evolution of capitalism and may well mark the outer limits of progress within a capitalist system.

Note the word: progress. Liberals (or progressives) can and often play a part in these movements. But that's as far as they can go as liberals. They can afford it: it does not threaten the capitalist system to whom they are beholden and it will shore it up.

In the process, these "liberals" or "progressives" may well claim (not entirely spuriously) the title of "champions of the oppressed". The problem begins when you believe that.


It may surprise you, but Marx and Engels acknowledged capitalism's civilizing role:
"The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his 'natural superiors', and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous 'cash payment'. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom - Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.
"The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.
"The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation."

It's when one conflates this partial civilizing role with the whole labour of civilization that problems arise. For one, that's how words like "left" and "socialist" have lost their meaning, to the point that one of the richest Australian parliamentarians, the current Federal Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull ("conservative, centre-right, libertarian") is seen by some as a "socialist": he supports same-sex marriage, and believes in climate change.


Used intentionally as a deeply dishonest rhetorical device, this surreal twisting of words' meanings is present in other contexts.

Here is an individual who obviously considers himself intellectually sophisticated:
"Profit can be seen as the wages of profiteers for their ability to organise the means of production. In a lot of larger companies that is quite literally the case - salaries for managers with bonuses."
Yeah, right. And a hotdog can be seen as the third wheel of a bicycle, or your boss did not choose to kick you out of your job, but "had to let you go".


In a roundabout way, we reach George Monbiot's article on the euphemisms used nowadays (from "human resources", to "collateral damage" and "extraordinary rendition": often a two-word construction!) to dehumanize people and legitimize all sorts of abuses (doesn't "neutralize" sound so much better than "kill"?):
"If we wish to reclaim public life from the small number of people who have captured it, we must also reclaim the language in which it is expressed. To know what we are talking about: this, in more than one sense, is the task of those who want a better world."
"Human capital", that conceptual monstrosity, is in Monbiot's list. Maybe "cognitive bias" should be added.

Saturday 25 October 2014

Trans-Pacific Partnership by Year's End!

Or What Sorts of Wonderful Presents Santa's Got in Store?

The Guardian (Australia) informed us yesterday:

"Trans-Pacific Partnership taking shape behind closed doors, Andrew Robb says
"Australia’s trade minister says the free trade deal should be concluded by the year’s end"

Andrew J. Robb, the Federal Minister for Trade and Investment (a former economist for the National Farmers' Federation, and later Executive Director of both the National Farmers' Federation and the Cattle Council of Australia), according to ABC News, said "that the Federal Government is trying to achieve a deal which would increase access for Australian agricultural products to markets in the 11 other countries. But it's not just about agriculture".

That, precisely, is what has many people worried:

(see here)

So much secrecy surely means we'll have many pleasant surprises, right?

Image Credits:
[A] "KM Crazy Face", 5 December 2011. Author's own work. My usage of the image does not suggests the author's endorse me or my use of the work. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Wikipedia.

Friday 24 October 2014

A Fable, Fabulous, of Oesophagus.

Or, a Nightmare on Arden Street.

Bondi Poster circa 1930
You finished your lunch. On the table, a plate with the remains of your meal and a crumbled paper napkin on top; next to it, lie a cup of black coffee and a little plastic tray, with a tip for the friendly young waitress. It's a sunny day; across the road lies the park and beyond it, the beach, full of people.

For you, a modest man of modest means, that's as close as bliss as it gets.

Your bliss, however, is cut short when a fashionably unshaven, twenty-something man suddenly takes one empty chair and sits next to you, an intense gaze in his eyes: the kind of expression one finds on street preachers Friday nights, corner of George and Park, opposite Town Hall, zealously announcing the Good News of Jesus to uninterested pedestrians.

Before you say a word, your unexpected companion, short-breathed, excitedly starts: "I've proved it! I did! The Pythagorean Theorem is false!"

Startled, you barely suppress an emerging "Whadda!?" And maybe it was a good thing: truth is, you don't know what to say. Again, you try to open your mouth as he grabs the napkin from your plate, but are impatiently shushed by your new friend, anyway. After a quick attempt to smooth its surface, he draws a square with a pencil that came apparently from nowhere.

While the youth, in a trance-like state, is distracted scribbling feverishly, you try to leave. No luck: unexpectedly, he grabs your arm, forcing you to sit back.

After a few seconds, evidently satisfied with his work, the young chap finally looks up from the napkin.

As he shoves it in your direction, stopping an inch from your nose, he quickly says, his voice full of passionate contempt, pointing to half a green pea stuck in the middle of the drawing: "If you add the square of the 4 sides of this triangle, there's no way you can get the square root of the hypothalamus. See? See? See?" he asks, stabbing repeatedly the napkin with his index finger. "Pythagoras, that old fool, was a shabby Hegelian!"

Somewhat recovered from your surprise, for a moment you pretend to study the doodles on the gravy-stained napkin, while desperately trying to figure a way out of the ordeal.

Nothing comes to mind, however; so, you give up trying. You say to your unblinking companion, defiantly staring back at you:
"Mate, I am no mathematician, but I believe the Pythagorean Theorem is about right triangles. That's not a right triangle; that's not even a triangle! That's a square."
Unexpectedly, your companion, suddenly frozen, says nothing; you could almost hear the half green pea, which fell from the napkin, hit the table.

Choosing your words ever more carefully, you add hesitantly:
"If memory serves, the theorem states that the square of the hypotenuse…" you say, pausing for emphasis, "…is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two…", again, a pause, "…sides. So, before discussing the theorem, maybe it would be best to understand the basics…"
At the middle of that sentence, it dawns on you: the young fellow may be momentarily silent, but he isn't listening. Instead, he is getting livid by the second; livid as in "ka-boom livid".

The moment he slaps the table, you jump to your feet, suddenly free from his grip; the precious napkin falls to the floor, and you leave hurriedly, every head in the pub turning your way in alarm.

As you hastily walk to the nearest bus stop, the last thing you hear is the young man shrieking angrily behind you:
"But, but… You people never listen to your critics. Circular reasoning!!! Listen to me! … Fuck you, Pythagoras! … Metaphysics… The Mahatma Gandhi this, Nietzsche that… Epistemologically correct asshole… Lacan and Roth's Kòjeve's Hegel all agree: E=m*c^2 is a sexed equation… Wet fish… Veblen… Veblen! VEBLEN!!!"

It may not be the open gates of Heaven Friday night street preachers say Jesus promised, but for you, right now, that bus with its front door open, just waiting there, comes a close second.


The story, characters and incidents portrayed are fictitious. No identification with actual persons, bloggers, places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred.

Image Credits:
[A] "Poster promoting Bondi Beach circa 1930". Source: Booth, D. "Australian Beach Cultures", Author: Unknown. Image in the public domainWikipedia.

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Casting the First Stone on Bigotry.

Barry Spurr (Australia's first Professor of Poetry and Poetics in 2011 and Personal Chair in Poetry and Poetics, University of Sydney, link) has had a distinguished career, including his role as a consultant to the Review of the Australian National School Curriculum, ordered by the Liberal/National Coalition government ("centre-right, conservative, libertarian".)

More recently Prof. Spurr's own literary output has gained exposure, as New Matilda published "The Partial Works of Professor Barry Spurr" containing private emails allegedly "sent to friends and colleagues at the University of Sydney over a two year period, from September 2012 to late 2014".

To cut a long story short, Prof. Spurr's opus apparently includes rants against Abos, Mussies, Chinky-poos, fatsoes, harlots, whores, "worthless sluts" intent on ruining the lives of "poor chaps" whose only mistake was to put their penises in the sleeping sluts' mouths.

For New Matilda and a host of liberal, middle-class, educated commentators (see here, here, here), this behaviour is unforgivable; for Prof. Spurr perhaps not so much: he "has maintained that the emails were a 'whimsical linguistic game', and that they were largely restricted to a bit of 'oneupmanship' between himself and an old friend", according to New Matilda.

Be that as it may. I have no dog in that hunt.

Besides, even if the allegations are true, that kind of expression is not unheard of in Australia, which is precisely what makes me write this.

You see, in the past, when this kind of thing happens, involving people lower in the social ladder, middle-class, progressive, educated commentators characterized the behaviour as exclusive of bogans (as in caravan park, poor white trash). See below.

So, members of their own caste are free of sin, right? The educated middle class is immaculately innocent, only the white rabble has to answer. That's why they can cast the first stone.


Incidentally, PM Tony Abbott, a former Rhodes Scholar, apparently hasn't -- yet -- threatened anybody involved, even though he was allegedly described as an "Abo lover". Credit where credit is due.

Monday 20 October 2014

Two Cows - Capitalism Version.

My own contribution to the Two Cows:

You have two cows. I enclose your land and evict you.

When your cows are starving, I buy them suitably cheap and say: "No need to thank me. I'm just doing what any other philanthropist would do."

When you are starving, I hire you at a low wage and say: "No need to thank me. I'm just doing what any other job-creator would do."

When you ask me how come I now own your land and cows, while you slave away for me, I say "Ungrateful bastard!" and hire an American liberal economist to teach you a lesson.

Image Credits:
[A] To the best of my knowledge, these two cows still belong to whomever owned them. Original U.S. Department of Agriculture photo by Scott Bauer. Image Number K7686-7. Image in the public domain. Wikipedia.

Saturday 18 October 2014

Peter Cooper: State and Capitalism.

Peter Cooper, from heteconomist, writes about the importance of the State for the operation of Capitalism.

From a methodological perspective, to keep State and Government out of the picture, as a first approximation, is a useful approach to study Capitalism: it simplifies the subject. I would add that during the 19th century such simplification was probably less radical than it may seem to contemporary eyes.

Additionally, Cooper argues that "in debate between the proponents of laissez-faire capitalism and its dissenters, the approach is useful and informative".

However, this approach may have less desirable consequences. Read more at heteconomist

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Free Range Diplomacy.


What a difference a day makes.

Two days ago, PM Tony Abbott was going to shirtfront Russian President Vladimir Putin:
"Mr Abbott raised eyebrows when he told reporters in Queensland: 'Look, I'm going to shirtfront Mr Putin … you bet I am'." (see here)
Yesterday he was singing a different tune, as reported by that Murdoch-owned "conservative, centre-right, libertarian" propaganda pamphlet:
"Prime Minister Tony Abbott has toned down his language on Russia, but still insists he will hold a 'very robust conversation' with Vladimir Putin during the G20 summit".
Well, maybe this time he actually means it. And if he asks nicely, respectfully, humbly, he may even get an audience with Putin, because Putin apparently has no plans of speaking with him:
"Russian second secretary to Australia Alexander Odoevskiy said there had been no request for a bilateral meeting between the leaders, and Moscow was not expecting a physical confrontation.
"From the Russian government perspective, currently the president of Russia is getting prepared for the Brisbane summit.
"This is an international event focused around the economic issues, and as we are aware at this point there has not been a request for a bilateral meeting, either from Moscow or from Canberra.
"So we are not sure where exactly and when the Australian Prime Minister would like to shirtfront president Putin." (see here)

But I am an equal opportunity critic and to keep the balance, I won't leave Labor out of the note. Opposition "leader" Bill Shorten according to that rag:
" 'When you deal with international bullies, the way you do it isn't by laying out the red carpet,' Mr Shorten said today. 'So no, I don't think he's welcome. I don't think most Australians want him here'.'' (see here)
So, that's his big idea: the silence treatment. Please, Shorten, for the love of God, shut up.


Call me a Neanderthal, but I still prefer a good, old-fashioned, dust-up.

Monday 13 October 2014

Fight of the Century: Abbott vs Putin.

Last night, Leigh Sales (7.30 Report - ABC, anchorwoman):

"Tony Abbott Promises to 'Shirtfront' Putin at G20 Summit"
"If you can believe what you read, Vladimir Putin has wrestled bears and now Australia's one-time pugilist Prime Minister Tony Abbott is spoiling for a fight when the Russian President comes to town." (here)

For overseas readers, this is what "to shirtfront" means:

On this corner, Tony "Mad Monk" Abbott (56), on the opposite corner, Vladimir "Volodia" Putin (62) in the grudge fight of the century.

And yet, these guys have much in common: both old-school, stridently homophobic men, who enjoy sports and being photographed shirtless, in the splendour of their half-naked manly glory, so that you know that they are macho men (and don't you go getting any wrong ideas).

The Mad Monk has the local boy advantage, used to be an amateur boxer and, as a young man, allegedly scared female students as a hobby; Volodia is a judoka, wrestles bears and had his KGB experience terrorising people and doing all the nice things secret cops do.

Frankly, I don't care who wins: I just want to see a good fight, pulling no punches (actually, pulling nothing: pulling no bites, kicks, eye-gouging...).

It's time for these guys to show what they are made of.