Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sunday Night Tomfoolery (10)

One of the many benefits of having kids is that it provide you with a legitimate excuse to view, or review, kids' shows (with the kids, of course!). Whilst there are a number of good kids' shows being made now (and a whole lot more that can only be described as absolute crap) I have also had the pleasure of introducing some old shows to this, newer, audience. Sometimes when I show these to my sons they laugh at me not with me, as some of the cartoons I used to watch as a kid have not aged well.

Sesame Street has run continuously for 42 years, so is one of the few shows (Play School is probably the other one that readily springs to mind) that hasn't seemed to date between views, and still seems fresh (and funny)to both me and my kids.

This final Tomfoolery on Sesame Street looks at some of my favourite segments from the Sesame Street I grew up with, as well as some funny parts of more recent episodes, found whilst researching these last few blog entries.

Now my top six favourite characters in Sesame Street are (in no particular order):

Kermit, Grover, Oscar the Grouch, Guy Smiley, The Count (explaining why I am now an accountant) and Cookie Monster (explaining my love for food!). These characters will feature in the videos that follow.

The first two videos both feature Kermit the Frog as a reporter on Sesame Street News with "another fast breaking news story". These news reports are all based on well known nursery rhymes and fairy tales with the story going off on an unexpected tangent. Most of them have buried in them some educational content such as explaining words or concepts. The humour in these reports works on a multitude of levels, for both kids and adults.

Here is my all time favourite - Rapunzel.

And Old Macdonald had a farm (and the yep-yep-yep aliens)

Other Newsflashes include the 3 Little Pigs, Humpty Dumpty, Pinocchio and Jack and the Bean Stalk.

Grover and Fred Johnson provided some of the funniest moments on Sesame Street. The Grover and Fred sketches involved Grover as a waiter (usually at Charlie's Restaurant) and serving Fred, with something usually going wrong. Once again there is an educational component in there somewhere. Here are three of my favourites.

The first one teaches the alphabet, and involves the serving of (surprise, surprise!)alphabet soup. I love Grover's orders to the cook. Listen carefully.

The second one (my all time favourite) involves the ordering of a hamburger.

This last one sees a change in scene from a restaurant to Fred's home and Grover as a pizza delivery man. This one should be shown as a customer service video for businesses.

Oscar the Grouch brings a dose of reality to Sesame Street. All shows need a trouble maker and Oscar is it (any guesses as to who Kinglake's Oscar is?). No further introduction required for these next two clips:

Now Guy Smiley isn't one of your main Sesame Street characters. He is "Everybody's favourite game show host". I just seem to remember him quite clearly from my early viewing of Sesame Street. Here's why:

His official name is Count von Count but we all know him as The Count. A generation or so before the Twilight series, and True Blood, The Count was my introduction to vampires. And my introduction to counting.

How cool is it to cause thunder and lightning inside an elevator?

This next 'Tube has both The Count and Cookie Monster learning to ... cooperate. I love the screens exits at the end.

The final one is a parody of The Beatles, with Cookie Monster singing Hey Food.

And yes, this leads us to next week's topic which is Beatles' songs parodies.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Sunday Night Tomfoolery (9)

Originally composed by Joe Raposo, Can You Tell Me How To Get To Sesame Street has been the theme song for Sesame Street since this start. The lyrics of the song were composed by Raposo along with John Stone and Bruce Hart. Stone felt that the song was a "a musical masterpiece and a lyrical embarrassment".

The above version was used from 1969 to 1991 - and this is the one I grew up with (being a Sesame Street viewer in the early to mid seventies).  After that the melody has been rerecorded, using different beats with slightly different feels. Here is the opening theme used from 2003 - 2006.

Music has been a very important part of Sesame Street. A lot of the educational "lessons" were taught through song. The following clip teaches us about All, Some and None. It was composed again by Raposo and sung by Bip Bippadotta (who will feature later on, in one of my all time favorite Sesame Street songs).

In 1972 The Pointer Sisters recorder the following song to teach kids how to count to 12, with it debuting on Sesame Street in 1977.

And another classic counting to 10 song

Now to a slightly more recent piece (well something beyond the mid seventies). In doing some research for tonight's blog< I found this piece, called Put Down the Duckie, first aired in 1989 and featuring Ernie and Hoots the Owl, but with a cameo list a mile long, including Paul Simon, Madeline Kahn, John Candy, Danny De Vito and about 2 dozen other well known actors and musicians. Beware, as though you will be humming Put Down the Duckie for the next week or so!

I mentioned to my wife that I was blogging about Sesame Street songs and she mentioned the next one, In My Room. I must admit I don't recall this one myself. Maybe she remembered this from when our kids were watching Sesame Street:

I do remember this one. Ernie seems to feature in a lot of songs on Sesame Street. Here is probably his most famous one, Rubber Duckie:

Back to the seventies again, and here is a semi regular segment where Bob McGrath sings about People in Your Neighbourhood. The following features a life guard and carpenter:

Now Cookie Monster assists in singing one of the "One of These Things Doesn't Belong" educational songs:

At the end of each episode of Sesame Street there were closing credits music. Often they were quite short

But every now and then you would get the long credits, going for a couple of minutes. Here are the long credits for your enjoyment:

This final one is my all time favourite, orginally composed by Piero Umiliani for an Italian film, Sweden: Heaven and Hell, Mah Na Mah Na was recorded by Bip Bippadotta and used regularly on both Sesame Street and The Mupper Show. This will lead on to next week's final topic on Sesame Street, my favorite segments.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cutting Through The Crap

The Prime Minister addressed the nation's heavyweight political journalists at the National Press Club in Canberra today, mainly as part of her selling tour of the carbon tax. In response to one of the questions at the end of her speech, Julia had some, one would think, commonsense advice to her audience - "Don't write crap".

It is a relief to note that in the past couple of days we have started to get a glimmer of thoughtful media analysis cutting through the crap, ignoring the side shows, and providing a proper review of carbon tax proposal.

That means less discussion about Tony Abbott's daily photo ops, visiting "hardworking" business owners to scare the bejesus out of them about how the carbon tax will destroy their business. This hasn't stopped him from continuing his trips, although he has now stepped it up notch to include his family as seen at the fish market yesterday.

One starts to wonder whether the ongoing Chicken Little approach by Abbott and Co is starting to wear just a little bit thin. Not yet with the public (though there may be cracks appearing - see this report on tonight's Abbott Forum), and certainly not by the loony fringes of the media - hello Andrew.  However, there are a number of articles by serious commentators in the mainstream press that are starting to call out Tony Abbott for his "sky is falling" hysterics, and realising that the Emperor's New Clothes are illusory. (Try to keep up with my analogous metaphorical references).

It's useful to have the weight of the numbers on your side and in this instance the numbers refer to the large percentage of Australian economists that believe that the Government's carbon policy trumps the opposition's "direct action" policy. Michael Stuchbury (Economics Editor for The Australian) has picked up on this with these two recent articles:

Economists Mostly Agree on Things, Survey Finds
PM Trounces Abbott in Economists' Survey

Peter Martin is a respected economics and business journalist currently writing for Fairfax. Here is his take on Economists v Tony Abbott:

Abbott. Economists Vote.

On The Drum (ABC website) Queensland academic John Quiggin also looks at why economists don't like the Abbott plan.

Lenore Taylor, writing for Fairfax (Sydney Morning Herald and The Age) as National Affairs Correspondent wrote this piece yesterday (and yes, the Chicken Little reference above was copied from her - imitation is the sincerest form of flattery):

Facts Assail Chicken Little Act

In other, related news, the recently announced takeover proposal of Macarthur Coal has seen an interesting development where the Chairman of the company, Keith de Lacy has indicated that the proposed carbon tax will be able to be easily absorbed by the mining companies, seemingly at odds with the pronouncements of the mining industry's own peak body.

The kicker to this news is the revelation that Joe Hockey is adamant that Mr. De Lacy is wrong. It is amazing to see the number of groups and individuals that Abbott and Co think are wrong in supporting the carbon tax.  (And  Newsflash to Joe Hockey - whilst economists aren't elected to run the country neither are politicians. You don't "run" a country.  Politicians are not directors of Australia Ltd, as there is no Australia Ltd.)

Trouble could also be brewing within the Liberal Party as Malcolm Turnbull is having difficulty in clearly articulating his support for Tony's direct action plan. His performance on ABC radio yesterday should have warned his party that the direct action plan may not be the policy that the Opposition will be presenting at the next election. Listen to the interview, or read the transcript here.

The Government have got a long way to go before they are out of the woods politically, but this is not a sprint, it's more like a long distance race. And I think Abbott is carelessly expending all his energy in the first hundred metres. It's good that some in the media are starting to see, and more importantly report, this.


I liked this article by Lenore Taylor in Fairfax this morning:

Price Fantasies of Veg Growers and Barrow Pushers

It's not just the Opposition spouting crap about the proposed carbon tax. Various industry groups are out there overstating the price implications of the carbon tax, or some media's interpretation of their overstatements. I applaud Lenore for highlighting this.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sunday Night Tomfoolery (8)

Conceived in 1966 and premiered on PBS in the USA in 1969, Sesame Street is a little kids show that seeks to use humour, puppets, music and the occasional famous person to teach kids about all of the basics, such as letters, numbers, language, shapes, etc. Now in its 42nd year, it is watched in over 140 countries arounnd the world. In America it has won 8 Grammies and 118 Emmies, more than any other children's television show.

I remember watching a fair bit of Sesame Street in my early years. The characters of Bert and Ernie, Grover, Oscar, Cookie Monster, Elmo, The Count (my favorite), Big Bird and of course Kermit, were a staple part of my television diet.

Sesame Street wasn't just about puppets, as there were many humans interacting with these characters. People such as Mr Hooper, Bob, Maria, Luis and Gordon taught me about life as well as any teacher did.

One of the great things about Sesame Street is that it attracted a number of well known actors, entertainers and musicians to perform and play for the kids. Tonight's Tomfoolery will explore some of these performances (well, those that I can find on YouTube, anyway).

Last week ended with Natalie Portman's performance with Elmo. Tonight will be another performance with Elmo, this time with Jack Black (in 2008) teaching us about what an octagon is.

Now for Annette Bening and Cookie Monster, teaching us about Here and There.

And Cookie Monster sharing his cookie with Susan Sarandon.

Now we have Liam Neeson, doing the second best counting to 20 I have seen, with The Count.

American talkshow host, Larry King, interviews the letter W:

As well as actors, there have been a number of musicians on Sesame Street. This first one sees Victor Borge talking about practising on the piano.

Andrea Bocelli sings a lullabye to Elmo.

The videos shown above are all very slickly directed and most of them are pretty recent. The next two are from 1973; firstly Stevie Wonder and band with Superstition.

And then teaching Grover to sing.

The final two videos for tonight shows legendary trumpet player, Winton Marsalis teaching music. The first was shown in 1985 and discusses playing notes.

This final one was shown in 1998 and was again about playing notes.

We're going to stay with this theme for next week, as we explore music on Sesame Street.

Have a good week.

Environmental Savior or Nothing More Than Tax Restructure?

At midday today the Prime Minister, flanked by the Treasurer and Climate Change Minister, conducted a press conference where details of the introduction of the Carbon Tax were announced. The main talking points at the press conference, and by the media on their websites, concentrated more on the income tax changes and how much taxpayers are going to get, rather than on how the carbon tax will actually allow Australia to reach its goal of carbon emissions reduction by 2020.

As far as small businesses and individuals are concerned, the key taxation points are:

An effective increase in the tax free threshhold to just over $20,000 from 1st July 2012. The change in the effective tax free threshhold since 2000/2001 has been created as a graph here, by Twitterer @MattCowgill.

Small businesses will be able to immediately write off plant and equipment purchases of up to $6,500. This has the potential impact of reducing income tax payable by many thousands of dollars.

Centrelink and Family Assistance Office recipients will get more.
  • Up to $338 extra per year for single pensioners and self-funded retirees, and up to $510 per year for pensioner couples combined.
  • Up to $110 per child for a family that receives Family Tax Benefit Part A.
  • Up to $69 extra for families that receive Family Tax Benefit Part B.
  • Up to $218 extra per year for single income support recipients and $390 per year for couples combined for people on allowances.
  • Up to $234 per year for single parents in addition to the increased family payments they receive.
(information courtesy of ABCOnline)

There will be an eventual and gradual reduction in Fuel Tax Credits claimed by eligible businesses over the next couple of years.  It will be interesting to see what the exemptions will be here as currently these credits are claimable by primary producers, owners of trucks with carrying capacity of greater that 4.5 tonnes and mining companies.

If you are interested in finding out how much money you will be entitled to under these announcements there has been a handy calculator on a newly created website,

Now this money is being provided to the Australian public because the 500 largest polluters in the Australia will be paying a carbon tax of $23 per tonne, from 1st July 2012. This tax will be replaced by an emissions trading scheme in a few years time.

The economic modelling of the carbon tax is actually quite complex. From a simplistic point of vew here is what will happen:
  •  The carbon tax will mean that prices will go up in a number of key areas, such as food, electricity, consumer goods and transport (though petrol itself is not subject to carbon tax). The expected increase in prices is shown in the following ABS graph (The key thing to note here is that the anticipated CPI increase is expected to be much lower than the increase in prices caused by the introduction of the GST):
Taken from Peter Martin's blog -
  • The tax cuts and Centrelink payments have been announced to compensate the majority of people from the effects of this increase in prices. This will be paid for by the introduction of a carbon tax.

  • For the 500 companies paying the carbon tax they will have an economic incentive to become more efficient emitters of carbon so that their carbon tax payable will reduce over time. And it is this point that is the key to the expected reduction of the carbon emissions.

Now the details of the economic modelling from Treasury can be found here. There is lots of detail which will no doubt will be analysed and pulled apart by economic analysts and expert commentators over the weeks and months ahead.

Now I have sat through and watched the press conferences of the Government, the Greens, the Independents (well two of them, anyway), and finally the Opposition.  Here are my views:

There has to be some discussion as to how much of the government's announcement today is about income tax reform, as opposed to the reduction of carbon emissions. In particular a point was made by Greg Hunt (opposition environment spokesman) that Australia is seeking to reduce carbon emissions by 160 million tonnes and only 60 million tonnes will be reduced through the measures announced today. That other 100 million tonnes will come from ...?

90% of Australians will not be worse off, and to be frank the remaining 10% will only be worse off by a little bit. How does this provide an incentive to make the average Australian change their energy use to assist in overall carbon emissions? It doesn't. The announcements today are designed to only change the attitudes of the country's top polluters. If the government is serious about carbon emission reduction there will need to be more announcement in the future that will either provide additional incentives for energy efficiency or disincentives for maintaining the status quo. Especially when you consider that the three tiers of government in Australia would have to, collectively, be one of the top carbon emitters in the country.

It sounds as though this is a done deal as the Government has the support that is required to get these measures through both houses of parliament. That means that the Abbott and Co's bellyaching and additional photo opportunities that will be reported on by the media will ultimately be a waste of everyone's time. By refusing to take part in the multiparty taskforce on climate change, the opposition have effectively been sidelined from the policy discussions. In the end, it would have been better for Tony Abbott's position for him to have been involved from the inside at the start, rather than the petulant displays we have seen  (and unfortunately we will continue to see).  A colleague of mine earlier this week had stated that the Opposition's main job is to oppose. I disagree with that statement and am sure that I am not the only one in this country that is sick to death of the combatative nature of politics here. I think a better outcome would have been achieved for Australia if the LibNats were actively involved in these negotiations.

The Opposition may need to go back to the drawing board to rework their Climate Change policy. There doesn't appear to be any support for their direct action model, as it will be costly and lacks economic credibility. It's easy to oppose. It's harder to come up with a good alternative plan.

The announcements today weren't budget neutral. What I mean there is that the carbon tax will not fully cover all the spending measures and tax cuts announced this morning. This has to mean that there will added difficulties in the Government attempting to balance the budget by 2013 (which, by the way, is becoming a pointless exercise. Why keep saying that the budget will be in the black by 2013. Any credibility that the Government still has will be destroyed when a budget backflip is announced in May next year).

Ultimately this is a modest attempt at tackling the climate change issues intertwined with some income tax reform. Whilst the policies have now been articulated it is up to Gillard and Co to successfully promote these policies to the general public. Judging on their performances today they will do OK. Whether this will be enough to combat the negativitiy of the Opposition and some of the more poorly informed media commentators will be another matter.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sunday Night Tomfoolery (7)

Well good evening one and all. Tonight's Tomfoolery is about elephas maximus or loxodonta (cyclotis or africana). Yes, it is elephants, or more specifically elephants on YouTube.

Now YouTube has many differnt videos about elephants. A lot of them relate to either circus tricks (and how elephants are "taught" to perform) or documentary extracts about the normal lives of elephants. Now both topics, whilst interesting in themselves, are not what Tomfooleries are about. I am looking for the weird and wonderful.

So, to start off with, here are some baby elephants playing soccer (or football, for those outside Australia). This is as a part of a BBC documentary about orphaned elephants in Africa.

Next is a short Youtube about a baby African elephant sneezing. Short, but funny.

This next YouTube is quite special. It shows an elephant painting a picture of an elephant. These are Indian elephants (in Thailand) that have either been taught, or naturally have, a special ability to paint pictures. See more at The Elephant Art Gallery. I would not have believed it before seeing the video. By the way, this, and other elephant paintings, can be purchased here.

From here on in it is all fantasy. The next YouTube is a short movie CGI about a particularly acrobatic elephant:

The next two YouTubes are connected to one of the earliest, and one of my favourite, Disney movies, Dumbo the Elephant. This movie is about a baby elephant, in a travelling circus, that was able to fly using his large ears as wings. There are many great scenes and songs in this movie, from Dumbo flying, the three crows and Casey Junior the circus train. But one of the most striking scenes in this movie is when Dumbo gets drunk (weird, I know, for a kid's movie) and starts seeing "pink elephants". This is that scene, with the catchy Pink Elephants on Parade as the accompanying song:

This is now the same scene, with a current variation on the original song.

The next two YouTubes are variations on the song Baby Elephant's Walk. This piece was composed by Henry Mancini (see my previous Pink Panther Blog) for the movie Hatari (starring legendary actor John Wayne). The first version, a funky little number, is performed by Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra.

This next version is performed by USA marching band, Shieks of Morocco. I could say a lot about marching bands, but for the moment choose not to:

The final video connects my past with my present. As a young 'un, I watched a lot of Sesame Street. A lot of well known actors and musicians have performed on Sesame Street, and this will be the topic of our next Tomfoolery. This particular video features Natalie Portman (very high up on my list of current favorite actresses) with Elmo in a performance of The Princess and the Elephant (no, I don't know it either).

Have a good week.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Kinglake Ranges Wilderness Camp

Today I would like to congratulate and pay tribute to Colin and Michelle French, owners and operators of Kinglake Ranges Wilderness Camp (KRWC) and Kinglake Sustainability Leadership Centre (KSLC). I'll refer to the camp/centre throughout this article under its old acronym of KWAC (or its old name of Kinglake West Adventure Camp), as that is the name that I associate it with (Old habits die hard - sorry Colin).

KWAC is, or had been, primarily a facility hosting camps for schools, youth and other groups. It is located on the Whittlesea-Yea Road, on the left hand side, a kilometre or so past the turn off on to Kinglake, if you are heading towards Yea.

KWAC, has been operating for over 15 years and is one of the largest employers in the region. Colin and Michelle have been involved with the camp for over 5 years. The business has a strong reputation for the high quality of the activities provided to all participants, with a very experienced crew managing the whole process (and the food was pretty good too). As their accountant, I have been privileged to have been involved with the business since 2007.

On Black Saturday, in February 2009, the camp facilities were completely and utterly destroyed.

We are now 29 months from that horrific day and, whilst the going has not been easy, the camp is now up and running again, with new, and better, facilities and activities conducted by a committed team, all under the expert management of Colin and Michelle.

Those of you who have not been intimately involved with the recovery process in Kinglake, and other bushfire affected regions, may have some difficulty in fully appreciating the enormity of the task that lay ahead for Colin and Michelle after the fires. As a business person also affected by the fires I am but in awe of the way they have gone about the process of rebuilding. Patience, determination, persistence, flexibility. These are the attributes that have been needed to get the camp rebuilt.

Government has helped. DSE's financial contribution and the collaboration with GOTAFE have meant a facility that is now able to be utilised throughout the year (even in the cold months!). The facilities that have been built bear no relation to those detroyed by the fires, and that's probably a good thing. A fully equipped, and spacious kitchen, cosy teachers' retreat and training rooms are just some of the added extras to the old camp. Outside, and a new and challenging ropes course has been created, as well as the Leap of Faith. A new permaculture garden will provide fruit and vegetables for the camp all year-round.

There has been royal interest in the rebuild. Back in early 2010, when Prince William visited Victoria's bushfire affected regions he stopped in to visit the KWAC site. Here are some photos of the prince, and his entourage with the French family (courtesy of The Australian, and Kinglake Ranges News).

The new Leadership Centre and Training Centre were constructed by another local company, KLMS Australia, a company specialising in modular building construction. Local tradesmen have been used, as much as possible, making this a distinctly Kinglake project.

The reopening of the camp is good news for the Kinglake community. As one of the largest employers in the area, a number of locals will be able to work close to home. The goods and services that the camp sources locally will benefit local businesses, allowing them to employ more staff. Aside from the economic benefits, it provides a boost in local morale to have one of the local iconic businesses back up and running again.

With the facilities fully operational, a number of schools (and other groups) have already experienced the new Kinglake Ranges Wilderness Camp, with other groups booked in up to a year in advance! If you are connected with a school looking for a new camp experience (or maybe a band looking for a weekend band camp) you should contact the camp. Colin, Michelle and the team will be able to look after you.