French Film Festibule for Melbourne: with timetable of best films


Here’s another post highlighting a film festival. It derives from my frustration at being able to actually work out what’s worth seeing and when from festival propaganda which is mainly directed at trying to get you to go, not helping you work out what you’d like to see. Regulars know that I’ve been doing this for some time. I get someone in India to identify films that have passed a quality threshold – judged by standard review sites and other reviews and then run them up for me. Then I put them up here for everyone’s benefit.

However I don’t think I’ve ever got any feedback on this, so I’d appreciate it if people could offer some comments on the usefulness of the service. Note because it’s still a hassle to identify a film and then work out where and when a film is on, there’s now a new feature, which is a timetable at the bottom of the list of best films which have been identified. That way if you’re not studiously trying to get to the best films, but want to go out on a particular night or nights and want to know if, where and when there are any good films on that night, you can now do so using the table.

Top Picks

Trailer Icon 03 Gemma Bovery (Opening Night)
Martin, an ex-Parisian well-heeled hipster passionate about Gustave Flaubert who settled into a Norman village as a baker, sees an English couple moving into a small farm nearby. Not only are the names of the new arrivals Gemma and Charles Bovery, but their behavior also seems to be inspired by Flaubert’s heroes.
☆☆☆☆ Cinemablographer
☆☆☆☆☆ IMDB
Show Timings:

Listen mate, do you want to see the game or don’t you?


My one remaining lobster cartoon saved from the flames

I once drew a whole book of cartoons featuring lobsters in various socially awkward situations. One of my favourites was of a lobster trying to get into Princes Park Football Ground (when I drew the cartoon it was the mid 80s and I was living across the road from the ground and I used to go there for last quarters when there was nothing else doing). Anyway in the cartoon, after a goodly wait in the queue, the lobster is confronted by a sign that says “Adults $5, Children $2, Lobsters $27.95. The lobster says “Fair go mate”. Out of the darkness of the box office comes the voice of the attendant. “Listen mate, do you want to see the game or don’t you?” This may not amuse you but I’m afraid it amused me then and it amuses me now.

Anyway many years later I was at Grand Central Station in New York City and talking to a lady behind a grill in a booth selling train tickets. New York is an animated place. It’s got a Jewish sensibility, and though I’m not Jewish my father was Jewish (though not observant or believing) and so half my relatives were Jewish. (Rather more of that side of the family got murdered than my Mum’s side of the family, but then a fair share of them didn’t talk to Mum after she married a Jew and she didn’t speak to them, so that evened things up.)

In New York, as in many cultures – I think this is broadly true across lots of the US and Europe – one can quite vigorously contest things with people – in a good spirit – without things turning nasty. I was sensing this while I was speaking to this lady. There was no train to Philadelphia that evening even though there were three trains to Washington and the relevant train-line went through Philadelphia.  So said to her in an animated way “What are you telling me? That there’s no train to Philadelphia when there are three trains to DC?” You can probably imagine Jerry Seinfeld speaking in a similar way, or Woody Allen or someone similar.

She shrugged and sympathised saying in her NY Jewish(ish) accent “Yeah it’s crazy isn’t it?” with a mutually shared bemused and amused resignation.  I thought about this conversation and my cartoon and realised that I wouldn’t have said those things in that way in Australia – because had I done so it was very likely the person behind the grill would have got shirty with me “Listen mate, I don’t make the rules around here, now do you want to get to Philadelphia or don’t you?”  Now I like Australia a lot, but really this is about the worst place in the world for that kind of low level policing of a certain kind of conformity and hostility to contest, for the alacrity with which people take personal offence and get surly when challenged.

I thought of all this earlier this week when I organised a dinner for ten with a visiting American. When it came to time to pay the bill the waiter insisted that the restaurant wouldn’t split the bill. I told them, starting nicely, that that was going to be too bad for the restaurant because we were only going to pay the bill as a split bill, but that we would make it easy and split it evenly at $50 each. The waiter dug in and finally one of us rang the owner who was a friend. Even at this going over the waiter’s head, he didn’t budge from his demand. Our American visitor was much better than me in this situation and simply politely told the guy the way it was going to be and wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

Anyway, it occurred to me that the ‘no split bills’ nonsense is another manifestation of this national characteristic of keeping our heads down and conforming with the group. I asked the American visitor if he knew of the practice elsewhere. He said he was unaware of it in the US. I wonder if it exists anywhere else?

Facts, reflections, lobsters please.

On Democracy: Against elections

Some readers of this blog with know my preoccupation with the shortcomings of Vox Pop Democracy. Here are some aphorisms from David Van Reybrouck who’s book Against elections does not appear to have been translated out of Dutch at this stage. They offer some interesting ways of understanding the difference between deliberative and representative democracy.

1. Democracy is not meant to make people happy, it is meant to teach people how to be unhappy.
2. Democracy is not meant to be exciting, but to be boring.
3. Democracy is not about solving conflict, it is about learning to live with conflict. (Luc Huyse)
4. A world in which conflicts are constantly being minimized is not a democracy, it is utopia.
5. A world in which conflicts are constantly being maximized is not a democracy, it is hysteria.
6. A world in which conflicts are valued as sources of insight into each other nurtures the culture of democracy.
7. Of all political systems, democracy is the one that celebrates conflict the most.
8. Democracy is not about consensus, it is about conflict.
9. A world in which conflicts are being dealt with before they turn into violence fosters the culture of democracy.
10. A world in which conflicts are neither buried nor blown up is in the process of becoming democratic.
11. Democracy is an early harvest of what otherwise would grow into war.
12. In order to remain democratic, the pursuit of happiness should go hand in hand with the acceptance of unhappiness.
13. Happy the society whose inhabitants are all slightly unhappy, for this may betray the culture of democracy.
14. Democracy is about the even distribution of unhappiness. This is its utopian ideal. In the absence of its full realisation, it teaches people to be moderately happy about their moderate unhappiness.
15. Democracy is government of the people (tick), for the people (tick), by the people (question mark).
16. Universal suffrage does not suffice to allow us to speak of ‘government by the people’.
17. If elections once belonged to the nature of aristocracy, universal suffrage was only a form of ‘quantitative democratisation’, not ‘qualitative democratisation’ (Bernard Manin). People got a right to vote, not to speak.
18. The person who casts his or her vote, casts it away. This is called: the principle of delegation. The only way of reclaiming that vote, is by sanctioning candidates at the next election.
19. Today, people despise the elected, but worship the elections. This is wrong: rather than being upset about politicians, parties and parliaments, they should be upset about the electoral
20. For the very first time in the history of representative government, the weight of the next election has become bigger than the weight of the previous election. The danger of the sanction has become bigger than the power of the delegation.
21. The theory of electoral democracy: let the past push the present (delegation). The practice of electoral democracy: the future hinders the present (sanction). This cripples action. We are being ruled by a misty void. This void is not the future, but the fear of the future.
22. Elections are not only outdated as a democratic procedure, they were never meant to be democratic in the first place. Elections were invented to stop the danger of democracy. This is not
blasphemy, but history.
23. Three thousand years of experimenting with democracy, and only two hundred years of playing with elections: and yet, we believe that elections are sacred.
24. There is nothing sacred about elections. They are only procedures, aristocratic procedures that people have tried to democratize, with considerable success, over the past two centuries.
25. There is nothing sacred about ‘one man, one vote’. It is only the historically contingent expression of a deeper democratic concern: the equal distribution of political chances.
26. If democracy is government through debate, electoral democracy is fairly mute: citizens wait, citizens listen, citizens cast their vote, citizens wait again.
27. In a world that is becoming increasingly horizontal, elections are an obsolete vestige of more vertical times.
28. In a world where information spins fast, voting once every four years is no longer enough.
29. In a world where technology empowers people, citizens not only want to vote, but voice their opinions, too.
30. Democracy through periodic delegation and sanction is rapidly loosing its legitimacy.
31. In a communication society like ours, it is natural that people want to engage in public discussion on the future of their society, it is positive that they want to take part in collective affairs and help shape the future of their communities.
32. People have the right to vote, they now ask for the right to speak.
33. How should the right to speak be organized? We have to avoid that only those with money, degrees and contacts get heard. We should not repeat the mistakes from the past: a new democracy should never become an elitist democracy.
34. The right to speak should be evenly distributed. The best way to do so is by sortition, i.e. by random sampling.
35. Sortition is the blind selection procedure by which a random sample of a population is drafted in order to get an adequate representation of that population.
36. If elections create representation on the basis of virtue, sortition creates representation on the basis of equality.
37. Both have their advantages: elections may guarantee more competences, sortition guarantees more freedom. Those who are drafted have to rotate after a while, their decisions will not be influenced by the need for reelection.
38. Two key notions for elections: delegation and sanction. Two key notions for sortition: equality and rotation.
39. If democracy is about the equal distribution of political chances, sortition guarantees that everybody has the same chance of being selected.
40. ‘One man, one vote’ now becomes ‘One person, one chance’.
41. Sortition is commonly used in contemporary democracies: it forms the basis of the entire polling business.
42. Opinion polls measure what people think when they don’t think; it would be much more interesting to know what they think when they had a chance to think (James Fishkin).
43. Giving a random sample of people a chance to think by letting them talking to each other and to experts and by giving them time to get at their own conclusions is the very nature of deliberative democracy.
44. Deliberative democracy is not about voting but about talking; it is not about avoiding conflict but about embracing it; it is not about consensus but dissensus.
45. Because deliberative democracy is both about the pursuit of happiness and the acceptance of unhappiness, it is a much needed complement to classical electoral democracy

Daniel Ellsberg on life and groupthink

HT Paul Monk who cites this as one of his favourite passages. It’s now one of mine. And a nice explanation of how easy it is – whether within an organisation or the caverns of one’s own riotous psyche - to slip into the pathologies of groupthink and self-deception. Somehow this doesn’t quite get the emphasis it should (if it gets any at all) in schools of management and/or government.

The urgent need to circumvent the lying and the self-deception was, for me, one of the ‘lessons of Vietnam’; a broader one was that there were situations – Vietnam was an example – in which the US Government, starting ignorant, did not, would not, learn. There was a whole set of what amounted to institutional anti-learning mechanisms working to preserve and guarantee unadaptive and unsuccessful behaviour: the fast turnover in personnel; the lack of institutional memory at any level; the failure to study history, to analyse or even record operational experience or mistakes; the effective pressures for optimistically false reporting at every level, for describing ‘progress’ rather than problems or failure, thus concealing the very need for change in approach or for learning. Well, helping the US Government learn – in this case learn how to learn – was something, perhaps, I could do; that had been my business.

Daniel Ellsberg Papers on the War, Simon and Schuster, New York, 1972, p. 18.

The internment of friendly enemy aliens

MS Dunera, Troop Ship To School ShipThe Dunera Boys’ views of their own treatment separated very broadly into two camps which also had something of a geographic dimension. Some regarded their treatment – by a sadistic captain on board the Dunera and his not much better deputy – as a scandal and their incarceration as foolish xenophobia. Certainly they could be expected to be hostile to the Third Reich which had remorselessly demonised them to the point of rounding them up and removing them from Western Europe. The foolishness of it all was nicely captured in their delightfully oxymoronic classification as “Friendly enemy aliens”. This view of the Dunera saga was more typical of the Melbourne Dunera Boys.

The Sydney group – which my father would have identified himself though not in any self-conscious way - tended to see it all in a wider, more forgiving context. There was a war on and when their rounding up was announced (just before Churchill got to the “we will fight them on the beaches” peroration of his address to the House of Commons and the British people) in the wake of the evacuation of Dunkirk. It was a pretty tough and desperate time. And they weren’t too fond of playing the victim given their family ties to the real victims of the holocaust. They were indeed amazingly lucky in the circumstances.

In any event, I’ve just come across this piece by Dunera Boy Bern Brent of Canberra and thought I’d reproduce it here for the historical record as it were.

Dear Dunera News Readers,

As a Dunera Boy in Canberra I have attended Dunera reunions in Melbourne and Sydney irrregularly. But when I do, I am irritated by some sentiments that should not be allowed to become established unchallenged. One of them is the view that our internment was uncalled for, a disgrace, and a blot on British justice. Invariably Churchill is the chief villain of the piece. Continue reading

Crikey Crisis Shock: We need 20 more subscribers


Well folks, my bright idea of a link isn’t working. We need 50 subscribers to qualify for the lowest price subscription to Crikey and so far only 30 people have made their way to the link and subscribed.

And here’s the crisis. For everyone to get the lowest price, we need 50 subscribers. So if naked self-interest wasn’t enough, now there’s fellow feeling. We need you – yes you personally to get us out of a sticky situation. Just link through and pay your money so that other Troppodillians don’t have to pay more. Is that asking too much? I’ll answer that question for you – no it’s not. So don’t be a fool to yourself and a burden to others. Sign up. Sign up before it’s too late. Sign up before you and everyone else regrets it.

STEM, Part culture war, part cargo cult: My latest Fin column

The Future of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)Here’s yesterday’s op ed for the Fin published as Technology education is about more than funding:

STEM is all the rage in education – that’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. Part culture war against Australian mediocrity, part cargo cult, a principal goal is more money – for universities and school education. It’s hard not to agree. Lateral Economics’ HALE index of wellbeing values Australian human capital at $18 trillion – over three times all other physical and natural capital combined. Growing it puts every other means of enriching our future in the shade.

Still, I smell a rat.

We’ve nearly doubled educational spending per student in the last few decades. That’s funded popular measures with little impact – smaller class sizes – and politico/educational fads some of which have proven disastrous – like whole language learning. If STEM is simply cranked up and bolted onto the existing system, expect business-as-usual, expensive-as-usual disappointment.

Traditional STEM teaching often turns kids off. If they were ever invited into the debate, they’d see the STEM agenda as baby-boomer finger wagging telling them to eat their greens. They’d ask what exciting jobs will exist for STEM graduates. They’d ask what STEM skills will be in demand in ten or twenty years. And we don’t know.

The vast riches of Silicon Valley use STEM skills sure enough. However not only has old-fashioned entrepreneurialism been the dominant input, but the main STEM contribution has been computer coding. While that’s taught in universities, the valley is full of practitioners who’ve mostly taught themselves with the help of free internet resources and their own workplaces. Silicon Valley has embraced data science but no thanks to university courses. Even today, while they crank out stats grads, our universities barely teach data science.

The innovation we desperately need to get STEM right is institutional. In 2010 I proposed a different approach lunching with the secretary of a state Education Department followed by discussions with his senior managers. I suggested we tap into free resources all around. The net is brimming with free resources. Want to learn how to build a website or learn JavaScript? Head to

Second, while teacher training, support and specialisation in STEM should be better resourced, on its own that would achieve very little. The last thing we should do is insist on widespread STEM in-service training for existing teachers – for instance in teaching computer skills – who’d simply go through the motions.

Meanwhile an immediate human resource is students. We should find those already doing it for themselves and empower them to enthuse and teach their peers – not to mention reverse mentoring their teachers. And if we’re to do that, we must make room for it in kids’ timetables and in the recognition they receive – their marks.

However that requires some real transformation of existing routines and priorities. And incumbent organisations find that almost impossible. Much better to seek funding for some new, bolt-on initiative. As we’ve loaded the curriculum with recent enthusiasms and political correctness, what priorities have we jettisoned? Stats was more useful than trigonometry even when I was a kid: Much more so now. But the relative weightings in the maths curriculum haven’t changed in 30 years. I learned more about computer coding in school in the the early 1970s than my kids have done in today’s schools.

What I’m proposing can’t simply be ‘rolled out’. Just as a manufacturer wouldn’t release a new product without extensive design, prototyping and testing, that’s what should happen here. We should draw out in-system entrepreneurs, fund experiments and pilots, fixing or jettisoning the failures, identifying, tweaking and growing successes and rewarding those behind them.

After speaking with the Education Department, I attended a showcase of students’ achievements in IT projects. There I met Ben, a year 8 student. He’d built an iPhone app to hone his brother’s mental arithmetic.

“How do you find maths” I asked.

“Boring! We keep doing the same stuff.

“How’d you like to teach other students to write iPhone apps?


“Wait right there.

I fetched the Departmental Secretary. Here was an opportunity to get going with what I’d proposed. Excited, he summoned his Innovation Chief saying “I want to start on this tomorrow!”

The next year I asked Ben how things had gone. I still have his reply: ”Nothing really went anywhere with my school, didn’t really surprise me”.

The STEM agenda could handsomely enrich our future, but only if it’s part of wider transformation which, though it would cost nothing, offers a richer prize than any amount of new STEM funding.

Public goods morphing through the ages: the case of Abbotsford Convent

Restoration work at the Abbotsford Convent is ongoing. Picture: Derrick den HollanderThe people at Abbotsford Convent asked me to pen a ‘shout’ for their fundraising campaign. I’d recently been on a tour of the place, and though I’d been there before and wandered around curiously, on the tour I was transported by a Big Idea, though those who’ve read my stuff here will know that the Big Idea is just a variation on my general way of looking at the world – as an ecology of public and private goods. So I told them I’d write them a bit more than a ‘shout’ and write them a ‘foreword’ length piece which, having been published in Their fundraising brochure, Heritage Reinvented – Let’s Finish The Job, duly appears below.

I’ve already given to the fundraising campaign, but would be happy to match anyone else’s donation up to an additional $1,000. Just email me on ngruen at gmail and I’ll send you instructions.

From economic textbooks to informal popular usage – public goods are supposed to be provided by governments, private goods by the market. But that’s never been true.

Though he never used the term, economics’ founder Adam Smith put public goods at the centre of the good society. Smith asked where social mores came from – for they’re the glue that holds together groups of people from families, firms and football teams right through to the family of nations.

His first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments answered that social mores were an emergent property of life itself. Culture in this schema is an emergent public good. So too is language. And governments built neither.

Another emergent public good is religion. It binds its adherents together. And particularly in Europe, religious institutions provided all manner of public goods from arts patronage and the preservation of learning and heritage to poor relief, from schools to hospitals.

And so when I went on a tour of Abbotsford Convent I saw miracles of translation – across continents and across the millennia. The French Order of Our Lady of Charity reached across the oceans investing some of its vast reserves of capital – of treasure and knowhow – to build a public good institution for the nascent colony of Victoria.

Yet before long that investment was stranded, increasingly anachronistic in a changed world in which religion had declined and governments were dominating public good provision.

As Abbotsford Convent’s potency in providing public goods atrophied, a burning question arose. What would we make of its legacy?

The site made a promising investment for private property development. But privatisation would also compromise much – though not all – of its public good value. Or it could continue in the ownership of a proud community, eager to rebuild and reinterpret its role as provider of public goods.

Ten years on, how thankful we all are that the latter, more immediately difficult course was chosen.

I don’t know about you but I’ll be giving generously to this appeal, grateful for the vision and love of others stretching back through 2004 to the founding of the Order of Our Lady of Charity in seventeenth century France.

Lentil as Anything: a good name for a very delicious vegetarian café inhabiting some buildings from the old convent.

This offer can’t last: in fact it won’t last and is off after Friday 20th Feb. NG