Tuesday 22nd of June 2021

revisiting history...


The law of diminishing (marginal) returns is a theory in economics that predicts that after some optimal level of capacity is reached, adding an additional factor of production will actually result in smaller increases, even decrease, in output. This is why there is unemployment. We don’t need you to muck things up.

So we are where human history itself is about to become victim of negative returns with our pants on fire… For a long time now, since Abraham and Moses, we have been going circularly like flies in a jar, patching the glass sides of history with sticky-plaster, some useless glue that sticks to our fingers, an increase of population cracking the planet at the seams, some inventions including the babble and steam pressure, various medical hoaxes and a few wars, masks for idiots plus various white threads — lies — that do nothing but reduce our efficient output as humans...

But humans are not all about efficiency. As a weird unfinished species, we’re about THEATRE and stories, true or not, for the single reason that we don’t know zip or everything — and lying is our best asset…  Tchh tchh... we are told by Plato. You remember Plato, don’t you? He knows we can tell good porkies:

‘Poets and storytellers are in error in matters of the greatest human importance.  They have said that unjust men are often happy, and just men wretched, that wrongdoing pays if you can avoid being found out, and that justice is what is good for someone else but is to your own disadvantage.  We must forbid them to say this sort of thing, and require their poems and stories to have quite the opposite moral’...

Plato has thus been accused of censorship and even of “fascist" revisionism — by "demanding the truth". Plato wanted to control storytelling because he understood how powerful it could be in shaping culture, character and behaviour. He chastised the fictional stories that didn’t praise the heroes in the best light:

Moreover such lies are positively harmful. For those who hear them will be lenient towards their own shortcomings if they believe that this sort of thing is and was always done by the relatives of the gods. If we want our prospective Guardians to believe that quarrelsomeness is one of the worst evils, we must certainly not let them be told the story of the Battle of the Giants or embroider it on robes. We can admit to our state no stories about Hera being tied up by her son, or Hephaestus being flung out of Heaven by his father for trying to help his mother when she was getting a beating’

Hell! Who can we believe now?

Is this why Bill Bryson has decided to stop writing? Has he done enough to tell us about “who we could be”?… or is he tired of having to counterpunch the flux of constant delusions? Or has he said it all?


As the title suggests, bestselling author Bryson (...) sets out to put his irrepressible stamp on all things under the sun. As he states at the outset, this is a book about life, the universe and everything, from the Big Bang to the ascendancy of Homo sapiens. "This is a book about how it happened," the author writes. "In particular how we went from there being nothing at all to there being something, and then how a little of that something turned into us, and also what happened in between and since.” 

What follows is a brick of a volume summarizing moments both great and curious in the history of science, covering already well-trod territory in the fields of cosmology, astronomy, paleontology, geology, chemistry, physics and so on. Bryson relies on some of the best material in the history of science to have come out in recent years. This is great for Bryson fans, who can encounter this material in its barest essence with the bonus of having it served up in Bryson's distinctive voice. But readers in the field will already have studied this information more in-depth in the originals and may find themselves questioning the point of a breakneck tour of the sciences that contributes nothing novel. Nevertheless, to read Bryson is to travel with a memoirist gifted with wry observation and keen insight that shed new light on things we mistake for commonplace. To accompany the author as he travels with the likes of Charles Darwin on the Beagle, Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton is a trip worth taking for most readers.

Has Bryson made enough money by preaching to the converted and the modern Intelligentsia (I say modern because the old ones were full of drunks and peasants), or is he tired to tell us that we muffed it by having had religious delusions like sticks in the spokes of the wonky wheels of history?

Even our modern heroes have feet of clay and are half-way sunk in the mud of their own good hearts… Look at Gladys. We've been told she has set the “gold standard” for Covid-control. Easy as piss. Use the police and hefty fines to make us accept the destruction of our liberty, stop us from going to the beach (horror!), make us enjoy the closure of restaurants and praise the annihilation of the arts, as an infected cruise ship is freely disembarked at Circular Quay. For this one, someone had to be blamed. They’re still working it out, like the scandal of the old-age homes, in which the one-footer-in the-graves got to exit early… Before this, Gladys and her street-vendor ministers sold a lot of public lands, state’s assets and buildings to those who could afford buying, principally their rich mates. All this flurry of cash to fund a network of road tunnels which to say the least will be useless when the shit of global warming REALLY hits the fan in 2032. 

So our heroine got into a relationship with a crooked politician and — either having a bad taste in men or being desperate — she saw nothing, like the proverbial Colonel Schultz.

Strangely, I believe her. Love is blind, they say… But Sin-city-Sydney isn’t Melbourne. We were forced to accept that our best exhibition halls (built by Labor governments) and sports venues (Labor thingies too) were pissy compared to Melbourne’s — and that our lovely PowerHouse Museum (Labor), with a new meaningless logo, MAS or whatever, was going to be moved to Parramatta, 20 miles up the river without a paddle, where tourists buses never go — no matter what — while the land would be sold to more rich mates, those called property developers, who of course don’t give anything in return to our brave politicians — not even a kiss on the cheek or the butt, when given the successful tender documents… But the gods of public outrage allied with the price of moving some of the heavy exhibits that would have cost more than what the developers were prepared to pay for the site, stopped the headmistress's desire to punish us to P'matta. So the museum is to stay where it is, alleluyah! Meanwhile a new one in Parramatta requires the demolition of a beautiful Very Historic House to accommodate a lovely modern concrete pseudo-monstruosity paid for by public funds, now thread-bare like the back of Maguire's trousers, because of the tunnelling. You know what I mean. I’m mean and awful. So now the PowerHouse Museum is asking the public to make suggestions on how to use the space… What? Do they believe that a few dozen chardonnay-swilling Sydneysiders can come up with ideas like Einstein did, even on a bad day?

So this is our golden shit. If the Harbour (nature), the National Parks (Labor), the Bridge (Labor) and the Opera House (Labor) wasn’t there, the city of Sydney would be a Liberal (CONservative) hell, where the Headmistress would be doing the best golden fire-dance on our graves in Rookwood, unless the site be already sold off for a golf course…

And then there is Americaca… So to celebrate the diminishing returns of historical values, we’ll place a few dear vanishing moments as seen from the cartoons of our own faded minds, all pushed out by new incoming crap, which we might not see too well, due to the speed of change... and our poor eyesight.


Gus Leonisky

Former brain athlete...




Oh Bill! This isn’t the kind of news we need now. The legendary Bill Bryson, purveyor of funny, insightful, warm-hearted books on everything from travel to popular science, for most of my life to date, has announced his retirement.

The 68-year-old author told Times Radio: “I don’t know how much of this is pandemic-related [but] I’m really quite enjoying not doing anything at all. For the first time in literally decades I’ve been reading for pleasure and I’m really enjoying it. Whatever time is left to me on this planet I’d like to spend it indulging myself, rather than going out and trying to cover new territory.”

He’s not the first writer to announce plans to hang up his pen. Lee Child did so at the start of this year, revealing that he’d be handing Jack Reacher over to his brother Andrew. “I’ve been doing it 24 years now and I couldn’t do it any more,” he said. (The first book in that new collaboration is now out, and I can report that Reacher is as gigantic, tough and nomadic as ever.)

Philip Roth said in 2012 that, at the age of 79, “enough is enough! I no longer feel this fanaticism to write that I have experienced in my life.” And he stuck to it until his death in 2018.

Annie Proulx has said Barkskins would be the last novel she’ll publish– “I cannot bear the signings, interviews, book tours and all the PR stuff. I hate it. Really, really hate it” – while Jonathan Franzen has hinted at something similar.

As I gently weep into my cup of tea about the lack of any new Brysons to curl up with, and snicker along with (A Walk in the Woods is my favourite … or maybe A Short History of Nearly Everything. No, definitely Notes from a Small Island), I’m comforting myself with thoughts of authors who changed their minds. Jim Crace, for instance, announced his retirement with Harvest, only to realise he “just needed a break. I thought I wanted a divorce from writing, but it turns out it wasn’t so.” And Maeve Binchy, who also changed her mind and carried on writing until her death in 2012.

Bryson said he’s been “treating retirement as an experiment so far this year”, but “it’s an experiment that’s been very successful”.

“I was worried, as I think most writers would be, that maybe I would run out of things to do in my leisure time, or that I would just miss having an occupation, professional distractions … but so far that hasn’t been the case,” he said. “The world is full of lots of other things you could do that are enjoyable without any of the pressures that come with trying to do these things as a job.”

Look, I’m not a monster. I love the thought of Bryson spending his time “doing all the things I’ve not been able to do. Like enjoying my family. I have masses of grandchildren and I would love to spend more time with them just down on the floor.” And I am endlessly grateful to him for the hours of pure pleasure he has brought to my life: the amount of humour and insight and intelligence he packs into book after book is pretty much unrivalled. There’s no writer like him.

So hail and farewell, Mr Bryson, but here’s one reader who’s hoping you might just change your mind.



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Being way older than Bill, and having tackled similar subjects of sciences and humanities since childhood, we're not yet ready to blunt our pencils and abandon our keyboards. 




it's a short way to the past...


















selling the tunnels...

The cash-strapped NSW government will sell its remaining stake in the WestConnex motorway, with the multibillion-dollar asset set to draw interest from around the globe.

Treasurer Dominic Perrottet announced on Friday the government intended to sell the remaining 49 per cent of the 33-kilometre motorway after an extensive scoping study which began in March.

A consortium led by tolling giant Transurban purchased the majority share of WestConnex in 2018 for just over $9.2 billion, and are viewed by some analysts as the most likely buyer for the remaining share.

Investment firm Martin Currie portfolio manager Andrew Chambers said Transurban was in the “box seat” to purchase the remaining stake.

“Obviously you’ll have the Transurban-led consortium that is going to be particularly interested. I’d also expect quite a large number of infrastructure investors in Australia and globally to be quite keen on it," he said.

A Transurban spokesman said the company had noted the NSW government’s announcement and would be monitoring further developments.

“Our focus remains on operating our existing roads and delivering our current major road projects for Sydney,” he said.

Mr Perrottet said money generated from the sale of the remaining stake would be used to fund government infrastructure projects and other capital works.

"Proceeds from any potential transaction will be invested into the NSW Generations Fund and allow us to continue to build world-class infrastructure such as the Metro West train line from Sydney to Parramatta," he said.


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See (old) toon at top 

$16 billion deficit solved...


By Michael Pascoe


NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet has achieved a land tax double – a proposal that Baldrick would call “a cunning plan” and Sir Humphrey would describe as “very brave”.

Mr Perrottet has suggested a method of replacing real estate stamp duty with annual land tax that is indeed cunning – and might just succeed when other means have failed to jump the political pain threshold.

But it could still prove “very brave” when electors start feeling the end cost and vested interests start dealing with the complications of a two-tier property market.

Amid all the detail of the NSW budget on Tuesday, the Treasurer was offering little detail on the suggested switcheroo beyond the broadest of outlines:

  • Home buyers would be given the choice of paying a lump sum upfront – as they do now with stamp duty (or whatever it’s called in your state) – or cop an annual property tax
  • Once a property was traded with the “annual tax” box ticked, it would remain annually taxed for all subsequent owners. There would be a lower rate of property tax for owner occupiers than for investment properties.

There’s a bit of nonsense about “protections” being put in place to prevent landlords seeking “rent increases without a tenant’s agreement” because of the property tax – that’s not how rents work in the real world, landlords charge what the market will bear regardless of costs or windfalls.

But so far, so simple and politically painless, leaving it to individuals to pick their tax system.

What’s missing, though, is any indication of how expensive the annual tax would be. That’s because the answer has to be “a lot”.

Enter political pain down the track.

And then there’s the complication of a two-tier property market caused by the aforementioned “a lot”.

One of the many efforts to encourage politicians to make the stamp duty/land tax switch was a 2016 study by KPMG on behalf of the NSW Business Chamber, the NSW Council of Social Service and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union – as broad a coalition as you’re ever likely to see.

The KPMG modelling found all sorts of employment and GDP benefits from the switch to a much more efficient tax, but it also estimated all NSW owners would need to pay annual tax of 1.3 per cent of the unimproved value of their land to replace stamp duty.

According to the NSW Valuer General’s 2019 report, the median unimproved land value in the Premier’s Willoughby local government base was $1.4 million. In the Opposition Leader’s Strathfield council area, $1.53 million.

To save you getting out your calculator, 1.3 per cent of $1.4 million is $18,200 a year or $4550 a quarter, $350 a week – all before tax for owner-occupiers but a tax deduction for investors.

And that would be on top of the usual quarterly local council rates.


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We love Baldrick's "cunning plan” and Sir Humphrey's "bravour"... Please, Dominic, GIVE UP YOUR DAY JOB...


See toon at top.