Author: maxdbs

Rip off the Greek band aid

Illustration: Sam BennettLast week, the three parties that constitute Greece’s governing coalition released a policy statement indicating the country would push out by another two years the fiscal deadlines under the country’s bailout program.
Nanjing Night Net

You can understand the Greek’s point. Why bother sticking to the terms of the bailout agreement signed just weeks ago when jamming your fingers in your ears, closing your eyes and telling the rest of Europe to stick it is a more attractive path?

Greece is already suffering. The official unemployment rate is 21.9%, and last year 110,000 companies folded. Over the past five years, the economy has shrunk by 17%. This year, economic output is expected to fall by another 3.5-4.0%.

Bailouts so far already account for more than 150% of GDP. Why accept more austerity and more debt when there’s no sign of it doing any good?

When Argentina defaulted, its economy contracted by about 20%. If you’re getting default-like economic contractions, social unrest and massive unemployment even when you’re trying to pay your debtors, why not just default and be done with it? How much worse can things be?

The Greeks know the rest of Europe can see that possibility. Which is why they highly rate the chances of Europe’s capitulation to this renegotiation.

The consequences of a possible Greek default are already being paid by Greece. A far higher price will be paid by EU members, especially Spain and Italy, if the Greeks don’t co-operate.

And so it goes on. Another week, another summit—there have been 19 now in two years—and another bailout agreement. And still there is no sense of an ending.

Financial commentators are divided. Some call for more bailouts, some fiscal unity and others for Greece to be booted out now. Paul Keating wants to give them some cash, wish them well and show them the door.

Deep problems are best confronted, not avoided. Deal with the source of a problem directly and you have a chance of solving it. Pretending it isn’t there only makes matters worse.

Right now, the EU is making things worse.

Europe can spend the rest of the decade working on bailout after bailout while the life slowly drains from Greece and its people. Better to rip off the band-aid and see how it pans out.

This doesn’t need to be a brutal expulsion. Perhaps Greece could be offered a way to stay in the EU under some sort of “transitional regime”, with some cash slung their way à la Keating.

The money that would have been spent on a never-ending cycle of bailouts could then be used to ensure Greek security and shore up Spain and Italy.

As for Greece, and those with financial exposure to the country, they may just surprise us with their capacity to adapt.

Knowing that the tap has been turned off will be painful, but possibly not that much more painful than what the country is already suffering.

Facing the worst possible scenario may even have a transformative effect. Action tends to be far bolder when there is no other choice.

At the very least, the huge shroud of uncertainty that hangs over the world and its economy would lift a little. We would know whether things were going to work out or if a complete financial meltdown was on our hands.

Right now, everyone’s just waiting for the worst possible outcome.

Better to bring it on than pretend that each EU meeting, new bailout and new election is going to fix a problem that everyone knows hasn’t gone away.

This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 282288).

Richard Livingston is Managing Director of Walnut Report, Intelligent Investor’s new publication about tax and SMSF investing. BusinessDay readers can enjoy a free trial offer. For more Intelligent Investor articles click here.

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University’s last will and embarrassment

The University of Queensland has mistakenly thanked 72,000 alumni pledging money in their wills.The University of Queensland has been forced into an embarrassing backdown after it mistakenly thanked 72,000 alumni for their intention to bequeath part of their estates to the university in their wills.
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“Thank you for indicating that you intend to think of UQ in your will,” read 72,000 letters, signed by Vice Chancellor Deborah Terry, which was sent to past students of Brisbane’s prestigious university late last month extolling the alumni’s philanthropic virtue and inviting further support of their alma mater.

But a subsequent note, this time coming from Professor Terry’s deputy Ian Zimmer, seemed to take it all back.

“That letter was sent to you in error,” wrote Professor Zimmer of Professor Terry’s correspondence.

“[And] we apologise most sincerely for the mistake and for any distress it may have caused you.”

While the invitation to donate remained, the retraction revealed an embarrassing administrative error which left thousands of alumni and university community members across the state confused, and concerned.

In his apology, Professor Zimmer was keen to assuage fears personal records had been breached, writing that unless recipients had personally sent UQ copies of their will or bequest intentions, the university had “no record or knowledge” of estates on their database.

“UQ is immensely grateful to the many people who support it every year,” Professor Zimmer said in a statement.

“[Donations enable] so many important initiatives including funding for scholarships for students, and funds for research to benefit society.”

The original letter, signed by Professor Terry, had urged recipients to join “growing numbers of alumni” who give money to the University of Queensland’s Annual Fund as part of arrangements in their wills confused.

They also included a link to the donations website and an emotional anecdote from a past student and fund beneficiary.

The fund helps support student scholarships, research and philanthropic activities, and contributed to the $33.41 million worth of donations and bequest revenue reported in the university’s 2011 annual report.

And while the blunder comes at the end of a financial year overshadowed by an admissions scandal which claimed the scalps of professors Terry and Zimmer’s predecessors, a spokeswoman for the university said it was not all bad news.

“While UQ regrets the mail-out error, we have had a number of positive conversations with alumni as a result of it; including some people advising us that they have put bequests in their will for UQ,” she said.

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Newsroom backlash piles up for Sorkin

Aaron Sorkin with Newsroom cast members Emily Mortimer and Jeff Daniels.What HBO and creator Aaron Sorkin hoped would be a smart, provocative drama has become an unintentional piece of performance art.
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That’s the only way to explain the strangely vitriolic response to his new show, The Newsroom, which premiered in the US to a round of mixed to splutteringly negative reviews. Many critics, including this one, objected to Sorkin’s decision to sacrifice the quality of the narrative in order to hit certain talking points – mostly about the state of journalism, the state of politics and the vicious dumbing down of American culture.

Instead of the medium being the message, the message smothered the medium in, some of us thought, an unnecessarily sanctimonious way.

It’s always upsetting when a highly anticipated show doesn’t live up to expectations, but what followed the debut of The Newsroom also included oddly personal attacks on Sorkin, which, ironically, managed to make at least one of his points more effectively than his show did: that our unfortunate cultural habit of building ’em up only to break ’em down often passes for news and legitimate criticism.

Like his main character Will McAvoy, Sorkin found himself on the receiving end of reactions out of proportion to his alleged “crime”. Gawker had a field day: A video illustrated Sorkin’s habit of relying on certain phrases (some of which could have been pulled from any film or TV show), Drew Magary deconstructed The Newsroom by way of a certainly regrettable interview and, in what may have been the most damning bit, Dan Rather came to Sorkin’s defense (Rather reviewing a television show being, at best, a cultural oddity).

“Is Sorkin’s show a flop?” asked Newsweek a mere 48 hours after the show’s first airing.

Part of this is simply the high-wire game Sorkin plays. If you are going to create a heroic main character who thinks the word “blog” is a pejorative and talks smart to stupid, you are going to get blowback, particularly from the internet.

Another part of the reaction may be frustration. Surely with a little more empathy and focus, The Newsroom could have been instantly great, the show we’d all hoped for. Some of it may also be from taking on the media, which then returned the favor. (The dig that the program did not accurately depict the television news business should be beside the point – if we demanded that of other workplace dramas, hits like ER, Grey’s Anatomy, House, or virtually any cop/detective show, wouldn’t exist.)

Still, the intensity of the criticism aimed directly at Sorkin proves in part what he is trying to deconstruct in The Newsroom. Hence, performance art.

Sorkin certainly has been complicit in his rise to the sort of celebrity that receives strongly worded attention – he is outspoken and charismatic, with a checkered personal past that includes a public drug bust. His voice is distinct and discernible in almost everything he writes.

But if the head-over-heels reception for much of his work, including just two years ago the very Sorkian The Social Network, is any indication, it’s a tone and stance many people love. Just not this time.

Perhaps because this time, he didn’t bother dressing it up. The Newsroom plays a bit like “Aaron Sorkin Unleashed,” and suddenly he’s not the young up-and-comer who wrote the endlessly quoted “You can’t handle the truth”. Now, he’s the lone resident of his own ivory habitat, smug and arrogant.

A more dispassionate reading might consider instead the danger of a writer – especially one who so clearly desires to shape national discourse – becoming a successful brand. As is pointed out repeatedly in The Newsroom, the primary concern of a successful brand is maintenance, not growth. And in any creative field, “maintenance” is synonymous with stagnation.

No matter what happens with the show’s good opening ratings in the US, or Sorkin’s future (no doubt he will be just fine), it is worth noting that the writer, like his main character, became both his own medium and message, and it wasn’t very pretty.

LA TIMES

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SBS outage leaves viewers hanging

Cut short … The Airlift.Viewers watching the German war drama The Airlift on SBS Two last night were left hanging after transmission of the film cut out 20 minutes prior to its scheduled end.
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Those late night foreign film fans who stuck around hoping for its return were disappointed, being left instead to gaze at an SBS holding screen followed by the weather. Twenty minutes later, at 11.10pm, normal programming finally resumed which was heralded by a block of advertisements.

An SBS spokesperson blamed the hitch on a “technical fault” and said the network hadn’t decided whether or not the program would be rescheduled. Complicating matters is that last night’s program was part one of two episodes.

The Airlift is a German film set in 1948. It follows the story of a doctor who went missing in action during the airlift used to supply Berlin with food after the Russians blockaded the city at the end of the second World War. Part two is scheduled to air on SBS Two on Sunday night.

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Hepburn Spa Pavilions

A deck at Hepburn Spa Pavilions.Main Road, Hepburn Springs, Vicphone: (03) 5348 4422web: hepburnspapavilions南京夜网.au
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Deep in spa territory, the Pavilions offers a relaxed, eco-friendly hideaway that is a gentle walk from Hepburn Springs’ iconic bathhouse with its therapeutic blend of mineral waters, beauty treatments and massages.

Two separate self-contained two-storey villas, Horizon and Saffron, await. Each ground floor incorporates two private luxury bedrooms – each with its own two-person Hydro Spa – with timber louvred windows that look out onto bush and garden views, while the second floor, with its cathedral ceilings, creates a generous, light-filled space with access to an outdoor terrace.

Take advantage of all the mod cons (notably, on chilly nights, the gas log fire, TV and DVD) in the open-plan kitchen and dining area. Since Hepburn Springs sits right on the edge of Wombat State Forest, the location is ideal for bushwalking.

Also, drop in on Italy’s oldest building in Australia, the Old Macaroni Factory (62 Main Road; 03 5348 4345; macaronifactory南京夜网.au) with its embedded Lucini’s Historic Pasta Cafe and Bar.

Cost: $670 a double a weekend (two night minimum stay) in one bedroom; $870 a weekend for four people in two bedrooms.

Distance: 115km (1 1/2 hours’ drive) north-west of Melbourne.

– Good Weekend

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Apartment 401

Apartment 401 in the heart of Melbourne.258 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, Vic (exact address provided on confirmation of booking)phone: (03) 9428 8104 web: apartment401南京夜网.au
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The location Apartment 401 is in the heart of Melbourne’s CBD on the fourth floor of Majorca House, a gorgeous art nouveau building of faience and twisted gold columns. Flinders Street railway station and Federation Square are a block away, the Yarra River and Domain Parklands just beyond.

The place An antique lift transports guests to the fourth floor, where 401 has a prime north-east corner position overlooking Flinders Lane and Degraves Street. The entry hall leads to a well-equipped kitchen, dining/lounge with comfortable leather seating and the bedroom with its wrought-iron balcony over Centre Place. The bathroom has Gilchrist & Soames toiletries and temperamental hot water. Lofty windows flood the space with light and capture pleasing architectural views of pediments, pilasters and neoclassical flourishes.

The experience Flinders Lane is ground zero for gourmet dining. Journal Canteen across the lane is great for coffee and breakfast. Hip city eateries, such as MoVida, Chin Chin and Cumulus Inc, are all within easy striking distance, while culture buffs are spoilt by a cluster of commercial art galleries on the doorstep (pop into the whimsical Mailbox 141 gallery, in the foyer of 141 Flinders) and heavyweights such as the National Gallery of Victoria and Australian Centre for the Moving Image just minutes away.

Don’t miss … Uncover the city’s character with an insider tour of Melbourne’s laneways and arcades by Hidden Secrets Tours (hiddensecretstours南京夜网). Don’t understand street art? Sign up for Adrian Doyle’s journeys into the artistic underbelly (melbournestreettours南京夜网). Visit the NGV’s Winter Masterpieces exhibition, Napoleon: Revolution to Empire (ngv.vic.gov.au/napoleon). Or pop downstairs to the hole-in-the-wall Soup Place (14 Centre Place) for a bowl of something restorative.

Cost: $250 a night (two night minimum stay).

Distance: central Melbourne CBD.

– Good Weekend

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Royal Mail Hotel

Lowkey and cosy … the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld.Parker Street (Glenelg Highway)
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Dunkeld, Vic

Phone: (03) 5577 2241

Web: royalmail南京夜网.au

The small town of Dunkeld, nestled at the foot of Mount Sturgeon, lies at the southernmost point of the Grampians. They form an impressive backdrop to the Royal Mail Hotel, an architecturally attractive building with a pleasing curve that faces the main street.

You can either stay in the hotel, in one of the 27 Mountain or Garden View rooms, or book one of the eight cottages (two two-bedroom options and six one-bedders) three kilometres from town.

The partially self-contained bluestone cottages all have fantastic views of Mount Sturgeon, with interiors that are lowkey and cosy: think open fireplaces and comfortable couches, and – bliss! – no TV or phones to interrupt the near total silence that comes at nightfall.

Dinner at the award-winning restaurant is a must: the tasting menu, designed by chef Dan Hunter (from $115 a head), is diverse, and the staff friendly and attentive.

Nearby there’s a wide selection of walks, from the gentle stroll up Picaninny to tougher treks such as the three-hour hike up Mount Sturgeon.

Cost: hotel rooms, $180-$380 a double a night, including breakfast in the hotel restaurant; cottages, $230-$365 (two night minimum stay), including breakfast hamper on the first morning.

Distance: 260km (3½ hours’ drive) west of Melbourne.

– Good Weekend

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Bells at Killcare

Bells at Killcare.107 The Scenic Road, Killcare Heights, NSWphone: (02) 4349 7000web: bellsatkillcare南京夜网.au
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Divine luxury accommodation, set on 3.5 hectares of manicured gardens and bushland, and not much more than an hour’s drive north of Sydney – could Bells at Killcare be the Central Coast’s best-kept secret?

The boutique resort offers 25 self-contained designer cottages, each with a sumptuous king-size bed, a double-size spa, cosy log fire and verandah with barbecue.

If you can drag yourself away from your immaculate suite, there’s also a stunning colonial manor house, where you can dine at the multi-award-winning restaurant Manfredi at Bells (run by Stefano Manfredi and featuring produce from the retreat’s garden), sign up for a course at the Bells Cooking School, or simply relax in the day spa or library.

Then there’s Killcare itself: a gorgeous sleepy town with a minimum of shops, set on the water and unmarred by overdevelopment. The perfect weekend getaway.

Cost: $350-$700 a cottage a night, including continental breakfast (minimum two night stay at weekends).

Distance: 100km (1 /2 hours’ drive) north of Sydney.

– Good Weekend

More winter escapesBells at Killcare

107 The Scenic Road, Killcare Heights, NSWphone: (02) 4349 7000web: bellsatkillcare南京夜网.au

Divine luxury accommodation, set on 3.5 hectares of manicured gardens and bushland, and not much more than an hour’s drive north of Sydney – could Bells at Killcare be the Central Coast’s best-kept secret? The boutique resort offers 25 self-contained designer cottages, each with a sumptuous king-size bed, a double-size spa, cosy log fire and verandah with barbecue. If you can drag yourself away from your immaculate suite, there’s also a stunning colonial manor house, where you can dine at the multi-award-winning restaurant Manfredi at Bells (run by Stefano Manfredi and featuring produce from the retreat’s garden), sign up for a course at the Bells Cooking School, or simply relax in the day spa or library. Then there’s Killcare itself: a gorgeous sleepy town with a minimum of shops, set on the water and unmarred by overdevelopment. The perfect weekend getaway.

Cost: $350-$700 a cottage a night, including continental breakfast (minimum two night stay at weekends). Distance: 100km (1 /2 hours’ drive) north of Sydney.

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The Denman Hotel

Cosy mountain boutique … the Denman Hotel, Thredbo.21 Diggings Terrace,
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Thredbo Village, NSW

Phone: (02) 6457 6222

Web: thedenman南京夜网.au

Built in the 1960s and recently remodelled by owners Ed and Judy Denny, the 36- room Denman Hotel is all you’d expect a cosy mountain boutique retreat to be.

An abundance of natural materials has been used, and warm, generous bursts of colour are everywhere – on walls, armchairs and in the chic Après Bar. Chef Karen Forsstrom, formerly of Sydney restaurant Kingsleys, serves fine food at the Terrace Restaurant, which offers views across the valley to Mount Kosciuszko and the Crackenback trail.

The top attraction at this time of year is, of course, the snow, with Thredbo offering slopes suitable for skiers of all levels (see thredbo南京夜网.au for more on activities in the area).

Cost: winter rates, including continental breakfast, start from $316 a night for a double room with view (two night minimum stay).

Distance: 500km (6 hours’ drive) south-west of Sydney. In winter, Aeropelican Air Services flies to Cooma and an airport shuttle connects with Thredbo.

– Good Weekend

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Hyatt Hotel Canberra

Commonwealth Avenue, Yarralumla, Canberra, ACTphone: (02) 6270 1234web: canberra.park.hyatt南京夜网
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The beauty of Canberra – and people can be very unkind about it – is that it’s close enough to leave work in Sydney on Friday afternoon and be settled into your hotel room before dinner.

From there, decide whether to stay in and order room service (and at the luxurious heritage-listed art deco Hyatt Hotel Canberra, that’s a very good option) or go out, not very far away, for Turkish at Ottoman Cuisine (corner of Blackall and Broughton streets, Barton; 02 6273 6111) or pan-Asian at The Chairman & Yip (108 Bunda Street, Civic; 02 6248 7109).

Then walk it all off the following day as you take in the Boyds and Brackses and Gleesons in the National Gallery of Australia’s permanent collection (Parkes Place, Parkes; 02 6240 6411; nga.gov.au), or move up the hill for a tour of Parliament House (Capital Hill; 02 6277 5085; aph.gov.au), where you can sit inside the chambers and have a quick lesson on Australia’s mechanics of democracy.

Or check out Questacon (King Edward Terrace, Parkes; 02 6270 2800; questacon.edu.au), a museum of science that lets you virtual-race Olympic champions, experience an earthquake or watch a lightning bolt form before your eyes.

Cost: from $275 a night; packages, from $315 a night (discounts for longer stays), include full buffet breakfast and access to the hotel’s pool, spa, gym and sauna.

Distance: 290km (3 1/2 hours’ drive) south-west of Sydney.

– Good Weekend

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