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Newly discovered director dissolves into sparkling sea

Jean Epstein.LAUNCHING his career in Paris in the 1920s, Jean Epstein approached the new art of cinema from a position of rare intellectual freedom. Few filmmakers have worked so fruitfully in the zone where fictional narrative meets the avant-garde, and few have shown such wholehearted enthusiasm for using the camera to transform our vision of the world.
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It has taken a while for English-language film culture to discover Epstein. A retrospective at this year's Melbourne International Film Festival gives an indication of what we have been missing.

Epstein is a ''flashy'' filmmaker, in a literal sense. He is attracted to elemental forms of movement - whatever sparkles, flows, or drifts like smoke. He loves reflections, veils, superimpositions, close-ups, blurred focus, and anything involving rivers or the sea.

His favourite device is the slow dissolve, especially when dissolving between the rippling surface of water and the face of a character in thought.

Often developing his visual ideas through conventional melodramatic stories, Epstein rarely delves into psychology as commonly understood.

Instead, he invites us to relish the faces, bodies and gestures of his performers: one sequence of The Beauty from Nivernais (1923) is devoted to a small boy doing a giddy dance, with little relevance to the plot.

There's a playfully eerie side to Epstein's work, linked to a use of slow motion that puts human activity and the inanimate on equal footing.

In his 1928 adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's The Fall of The House of Usher, candle flames and curtains acquire wills of their own, while hands and faces move as clouds.

Covering a fraction of Epstein's output, the retrospective concentrates on his 1920s silent films. Still, the new documentary Jean Epstein, Young Oceans Of Cinema covers his later, quasi-ethnographic shorts and features.

In the 1947 short Le tempestaire the obvious camera tricks have mostly gone: what remains is a spare yet intricate game with a handful of elements of image and sound. The rhythmic flashing of a lighthouse lamp is set against the whistle of the wind, the roar of the waves, and a plaintive melody sung by a fisherman's bride-to-be as she awaits her lover's return to land.

Asked why he so often depicted the sea, Epstein said it was out of a fear that ''obliges us to do what we are afraid to do''. That might be a clue to the true nature of this mysterious filmmaker, whose works seem lucid almost to the point of abstraction, yet deeply personal in their mingled ecstasy and fright.

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Regulator takes tougher stance with telcos

The communications regulator is warning of "more investigations [and] more court cases" against telcos that breach new customer service rules starting in four weeks.
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The new rules will stop telcos using the word "cap" and force them to offer clear pricing information, usage alerts and better complaint handling services. It also set up Communications Compliance - an industry funded body that will monitor breaches.

General manager of content, consumer and citizen at the Australian Communications and Media Authority, Jennifer McNeill, said it will have little patience for telcos that flaunt the new Telecommunications Consumer Protection code.

The ACMA previously used a gentle 'engage and educate' method to help telcos comply, but this attitude would be replaced with a tougher stance, she said.

"You will see more investigations, more directions and more court cases," she told a room full of telco industry representatives at a briefing.

"We expect immediate compliance with the obligations that have been substantially carried over from the old code."

Ms McNeill said the ACMA would no longer tolerate "good natured incompetence" as an excuse for breaches and would also ask telcos to substantiate any unbelievable service offers. Staff had been shifted around within the ACMA to bulk up its ability to enforce compliance, she added.

When the code starts on September 1, it will be the first time all Australian telcos are bound by a customer service code enforceable through fines of up to $250,000. The old code was voluntary and impossible to enforce.

The industry body that drafted the code, Communications Alliance, is conducting briefings and training sessions around the country to help companies prepare for the changes.

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Nufarm to settle class action for $43.5 million

A group of Nufarm shareholders, super funds and banks, who launched two class actions over the company’s alleged failure to disclose company weaknesses three years ago, are expected to share $43.5 million as part of a proposed settlement.
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In a statement released this morning, the law firms Maurice Blackburn and Slater & Gordon said an in-principle settlement had been reached with the agricultural supplies company after a mediation which was held yesterday.

The deal is subject to certain conditions, which at this stage have not been disclosed publicly. The deal must secure the approval of the Federal Court.

The class actions claimants accused Nufarm of failing the tell the stock exchange how worsening conditions in the market for herbicide glyphosate had affected its business and therefore its profitability and debt position.

Nufarm had denied the allegations.

The company’s chaiman, Donald McGauchie, said the board had considered the likely risks and potential costs of pursuing a defence at trial as well as the distraction it might cause to management.

“We are pleased to put this behind us and have the company fully focused on continuing to improve the operating performance of the business,” Mr McGauchie said.

In a statement to the stock exchange, Nufarm said the proposed settlement, which covers investors who bought shares between September 2009 to August 2010, encompasses claims made by the plaintiffs, accrued interest, the sums that will be paid to litigation funders for each of the class actions plus legal costs.

The class actions had been rolled into a single case and were due to be heard next year before Justice John Middleton in the Federal Court.

Maurice Blackburn lawyer Jason Geisker said the proposed settlement “represents a very positive and expeditious outcome for shareholders”.

Slater & Gordon’s Ben Phi said participants in the case included retail and institutional funds, individual shareholders and banks. Clients would be told about the deal in the next few weeks.

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Why can’t we be friends?

Sexual attraction.Oh boy. Here we go again.
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“Men and women can’t be friends because sex always gets in the way”.

Nothing new there, except now, apparently, there’s definitive science to back it up. Hear that? Definitive. Science. So definitive in fact, the story has made it from the Daily Mail, to the Telegraph, theHindustan Times, and now – ta-da – Orstrayra’s own Fairfax digital network (you’re welcome).

So clearly, it must be true.

And hey, I’m not denying it. But I am completely disagreeing with the conclusion subsequently raised: Men and women can’t be friends, because sex always gets in the way, so don’t bother.

I say do bother.

Because who says friends can’t be sexually attracted to each other? Who says there’s anything wrong with that? And who says that sexual attraction is the only kind of attraction we should ‘worry’ about anyway?

Here’s what I do know:

All friends are attracted to each other; they would not be friends otherwise.

Also, attraction is a beautiful thing. As with all things of great beauty, attraction is complex, not one-dimensional. Consider, for example, your friends. Then consider your lovers. And consider, if you have found them, the person you’ve chosen as The One.

Note how each relationship is compelling for different reasons?

And notice how sexual chemistry is just one aspect of the grander alchemy?

Now consider this: sexual attraction is just one of three key prisms through which we might observe how we are attracted to others.

Sexual attraction, or physical attraction, is complemented by emotional attraction and intellectual attraction.

We social creatures need to recognise at least one, preferably two, ideally three of these elements in another fellow before we may consider them special to us. The more tallies under each sub-head, the more attractive that character is, and the more likely we are to want to have them in our lives.

‘The One’ is demonstrative of this. They are our ultimate, our forever, our only, and they are meant to hold our affection in myriad ways: Sexually, obviously and usually at first; intellectually, which can sometimes be more stimulating; and emotionally, wonderfully and enduringly and often long after bodies and mind begin to fade.

So, why is it a problem that friends may be sexually attracted to each other?

Crudely, because we think sexual attraction should be contained. Contained to The One.

For many of us, raised with a pair of Western-heteronormative goggles nose-plonked, have been taught to see relationships beyond family (read: beyond our incest taboo) as potential life partners – as someone we can mate with, engage with and adore, monogamously, ad infinitum.

Outside the fact this narrow view renders homosexual attraction somehow less valid, it’s important to recognise ‘friendship’ exists as some sort of paltry fallback relationship. In this context, friends play second fiddle to the primary social instrument.

And, to ensure friendship doesn’t steal The One’s limelight, they must be of the same-sex variety.  Because we all know, one man wanting to shag another is an outstandingly ridiculous notion... And shagging, which can lead to babies, so-called miracles of life, is a connection oh-so much more profound than one built on ideas or feelings... Which is why ‘cheating’ is a sexual thing. Right?

(Sigh).

There is validity to the above perspective. Indeed, it is the norm. But that doesn’t make it right.

What would be more right is to acknowledge more regularly what I wrote at the start. Attraction is a beautiful thing, and beautiful things are complex.

To say that friends may only be people with whom we share either an emotional connection or an intellectual one – definitely not a sexual one – is to say that these elements are not as important. And as anyone in a long-term relationship knows, so much is utter malarkey.

For, as anyone who’s ever known their partner to share a deep emotional intimacy or profound intellectual affinity with someone outside their couple, love truly is a many splendored thing.

Therefore, if two people are sexually attracted to each other, but perhaps lack the intellectual or emotional bond that could see the relationship transition from a nice one to The One, the only thing ‘getting in the way’ of their friendship is society’s great expectations about what it means to be friend.

Don’t you agree?

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The real secret: self-help works

Read yourself happy ... the self-help genre can be very useful, says Alain de Botton. Teen angst antidote? ... Chicken Soup for the Soul self-help books target the adolescent audience.
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Headmaster of the School of Life ... Alain de Botton in Melbourne.

Do you ever find yourself idly perusing the mountain of self-help books at your favourite literary retailer - and wondering whether these books, whose dust jackets promise so much, really work? Do you decide that they probably don't but then buy them anyway "just in case"?

If so, you're not alone. There's a reason that so many of these books are published every year. Self-help is a popular genre. So much so, that it's made the unlikely leap from page to screen with the recent proliferation of plotless cinematic versions of popular bestsellers such as What To Expect When You're Expecting – a pregnancy guide – and the upcoming Think Like A Man, adapted from Steve Harley's relationship manual Act Like A Lady, Think Like a Man.

Clearly, these books speak to a universal urge for auto-didactic success and individual achievement. But self-help, at least in its modern inspirational incarnation, is a relatively recent literary phenomenon that only gained widespread popularity with the publication of Norman Vincent Peale's The Power of Positive Thinking in 1952.

The 1990s saw the expansion of the genre into every possible field of endeavour, while a whole new audience was cultivated with the Chicken Soup for the Soul teen series, the first self-help books marketed directly to adolescents.

In this century, self-help has taken another turn with Rhonda Byrne's 20 million+ bestseller of 2006, The Secret - get whatever you want by visualising it - and the bible of the overworked and underexercised: The 4-Hour Body - get fit and slender in just four hours a week. Tim Feriss's follow-up to The 4-Hour Workweek, is subtitled An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman, and already in its eleventh printing since its December 2010 release. Ferriss prescribes 'hacking yourself' to become your own life coach, webmaster and personal trainer - all in the name of achieving your genetic potential in just six months. Are these extreme outcomes actually possible or are the books written by charlatans?

Author, philosopher and TV presenter Alain de Botton argues that the genre has an important place in a well-rounded education, but it’s been degraded by exploitative authors hyping unrealistic expectations.

"Most self-help books are written by Americans of the most sentimental and over-optimistic sort," de Botton tells me.

"They promise their readers, variously, eternal life, untold riches, amazing relationships and an escape from every grubby aspect of being human - all within 300 pages of upbeat, relentlessly repetitive and patronising prose."

De Botton firmly believes that the problem isn't with self-help books per se, it's with the way they are written. He cites philosophers like Epicurus, Seneca and Marcus Aurelius as the most adept practitioners of the (broadly defined) genre. And at The School of Life, de Botton's London-based enterprise offering a variety of programs and services to encourage mindful living (set to launch in Melbourne later this year), there are moves afoot to reinvent the self-help book for a skeptical audience that might not normally read such books.

A good start, suggests de Botton, would be to reverse the genre's trite formula: instead of relentlessly accentuating the positive, these books would be more useful if they helped readers to accept the negative.

"What unites many modern practitioners of self-help is their fierce optimism, they make the grave assumption that the best way to cheer someone up is to tell them that all will be well," says de Botton.

"They are utterly cut off from the spirit of their more noble predecessors, who knew that the fastest way to make someone feel well is to tell her that things are as bad as, and possibly much worse than, she could ever have thought. Or, as Seneca put it so well, 'What need is there to weep over parts of life? The whole of it calls for tears.'"

But would this approach shift books? It may well be that we devour these books precisely because we crave their rich dose of optimism.

Ellen*, an admitted self-help addict, theorises that the genre's allure rests on its promise of paradisiacal perfection.

"I still regard the type of self-help books you tend to find under that heading in a bookshop as something so absurd and full of fantasy, but raw and coarse and so ridiculously positive about painful things," she says.

"They are never fully satisfying but endlessly promising and addictive! I used to keep stacks of them under my bed to indulge in when no one was around."

But whether it’s the promise or the result that attracts readers, de Botton insists that these books have an important role to play in our lives, even for those not seeking existential navigation lessons.

"After all, you only need to achieve autonomy from your parents, find a moderately satisfying job, form a relationship, perhaps raise some children, watch the onset of mortality in your parents' generation and eventually in your own, until one day a fatal illness starts gnawing at your innards and you calmly go to the grave, shut the coffin and are done with the self-evident business of life. Who needs help with that? It's simple," he says.

De Botton's tone is sardonic but his point is serious. The path of progress is paved with the fruits of self-reflection and self-help provides a practical starting point for a deeper analysis of the life well-lived.

And the philosopher puts his money where his mouth is. As de Botton proudly explains, his School of Life has "produced a set of books to start to address at least a few of these issues; a culture which gives a role to guidance and the self-help book stands a chance of making at least one or two fewer mistakes than the previous generation in the time that remains."

The self-help books that Alain de Botton turns to:

"I'm deliberately stretching the term 'self-help books', because good books are self-help books,' says Alain.

Milan Kundera - The Unbearable Lightness Of Being (good for obsession).

Donald Winnicott - Home Is Where We Start From (great on relations with parents and kids).

Theodor Zeldin - An Intimate History of Humanity (puts a lot into perspective).

Philippa Perry - Couch Fiction (a description of psychotherapy in the form of a graphic novel).

*Name changed to protect identity

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Narcissists Anonymous or the ‘iGeneration’

True love? ... increase in narcissistic behaviour alarms experts.Do you fantasise about being a celebrity? Perhaps you rely on Facebook to promote your successes and achievements? Or do you constantly tell your children how special they are to boost their self-esteem but really think you should be the one getting all the attention?
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You could just be displaying the traits of a confident person with healthy self-regard but some might argue you have the more sinister characteristics of a narcissist.

Lisa Firestone, a psychology expert on relationships and parenting, writing in Psychology Today, explains the distinction. "Self-esteem differs from narcissism in that it represents an attitude built on accomplishments we've mastered, values we've adhered to, and care we've shown toward others. Narcissism, conversely, is often based on a fear of failure or weakness, a focus on one's self, an unhealthy drive to be seen as the best, and a deep-seated insecurity and underlying feeling of inadequacy."

Narcissists come in two forms, says Dr Doris McIlwain, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Macquarie University. "The grandiose narcissist is out for themselves, pretty hopeless at empathy, likely to make any shame coming their way your problem rather than theirs. They are status-obsessed, unlikely to thank you or apologise. The thin-skinned narcissist is secretly resentful of being imposed on, feels like an unsung hero and, since they are unable to soothe their own ruffled emotions – they will outsource that need by getting others to bolster their ego."

If all this is starting to sound familiar, it's not surprising. Experts are warning of the dangers of narcissism - from celebrity culture promoting fame and wealth above ethics and altruism, to internet-enabled self-obsession and discipline-averse parenting styles.

Larry Rosen, Professor of Psychology at California State University in Los Angeles believes technology is affecting our emotional stability and exposing us to a range of psychological disorders including narcissism. The author of iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession With Technology And Overcoming Its Hold On Us, told ABC Radio National'sAll In The Mind program, "iDisorder is where technology is literally making us exhibit signs and symptoms of a whole bunch of psychological disorders including narcissistic personality disorder, depression, attention deficit disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder even a little bit of schizoid personality."

"While people may not be exhibiting a full-blown narcissism, what they are exhibiting are more signs and symptoms of narcissism" said Rosen. "This narcissism might be manifested on Facebook by collecting friends. I have lots, and lots, and lots of friends; I have a thousand friends, look how wonderful I am. Or look at these photos of me that I'm posting on Flickr. Wow! Look at how much fun I'm having in my life."

"Researchers that have found looking at, say, even popular lyrics in songs that over the last several decades, the songs have become more narcissistic, songs instead of being about other people and love, are more about me, me, me – look at me," he added.

Last month singer Rihanna became the latest celebrity thought to be suffering from a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) after the UK's Daily Star said "a string of bizarre messages and pictures she put on Twitter revealed she could have a mental disorder". Relationship psychologist Jo Hemmings told the newspaper: "Rihanna's erratic behaviour could indicate that she suffers from NPD. Symptoms are an exaggerated sense of self-importance and a need for constant admiration, which Rihanna shows by posting semi-nude pics."

Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University and co-author of The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement believes young people are becoming increasingly narcissistic.

"Overall, we've seen a massive increase in narcissism among college students" she told the American Psychological Association's Monitor on Psychology. The financial crisis may have dampened down materialism but "a lot of other cultural forces — the internet and parenting in particular — are still pushing in the direction of narcissism," she said.

Lisa Firestone highlights the role of parenting in the book she has written with her psychologist father, Robert Firestone, The Self Under Siege. "Vanity is a fantasised image of the self that is formed when parents substitute empty praise and a false build-up for the real love and acknowledgment they have failed to provide to their child," she says.

"Studies have shown that children offered compliments for skills they haven't mastered or talents they do not possess are left feeling as if they'd received no praise at all, often even emptier and less secure," she wrote in Psychology Today. "Only children praised for real accomplishments were able to build self-esteem. The others were left to develop something far less desirable — narcissism."

These arguments have found resonance in Australia where the question of whether young people today are more narcissistic than previous generations is a topic of debate.

Professor Johanna Wyn, director of the Australian Youth Research Centre at Melbourne University, has been conducting research through the Life Patterns project following two generations of Australians, Gen X born in 1973 and Gen Y born around 1989, in areas such as education, employment, health and family as well as learning about their aspirations and attitudes.

Wyn says she rejects the narcissistic label given to young people in Australia today.

"Jean Twenge can't speak for Australians" she says. "I don't see anything like that in the data we've got and we've been researching Generation X for over 22 years," she says. Young people today "have to be really good decision makers, they have to be self-aware and they have to be good navigators of complex times and I think you could be reading some of those traits as somehow being narcissistic because they have to be fairly aware of where they stand, who they are, how they connect, but I see it as a functional and probably inevitable way of operating."

Young Australians "really value family highly and friends and there's a really high rate of volunteering and I think it really doesn't paint a picture of that kind of narcissism or self-interested individual. As they get older volunteering increases so, instead of becoming more narcissistic, they are becoming more community minded in general and I think that's really important. I think there's a lot of evidence to paint a different picture."

Dr Helen McGrath a senior lecturer in the School of Education at Deakin University disagrees. "Parents and teachers always have the best interests of children at the heart of what they do and their involvement in the 'self-esteem movement' has reflected that. However, although well-intentioned, this movement is now seen by many researchers to have contributed to a stronger sense of entitlement and, in some cases, higher levels of narcissism."

So what does McGrath think can be done to protect children from these narcissistic tendencies? One approach, she says, is to place more emphasis on self-respect rather than self-esteem.

"We can work with parents to change their focus slightly and identify self-respect as a more useful goal rather than self-esteem," she says. "People who have self-respect have sound values that they use as a 'moral map' they treat others respectfully. They consider themselves equal to other people (neither inferior or superior) and work hard to try and achieve their goals. They are resilient, accept themselves as imperfect and continue to be self-accepting in spite of mistakes or failures. Although they enjoy receiving positive feedback and they are not dependent on it to feel okay."

In the meantime perhaps we can stop seeing celebrities as role models, take a break from Facebook and give our egos a well-deserved rest.

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Time to go to dating school

“Sophia Loren, she is a real woman.” CityKat.
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Teenagers in America have been told to define whether they were "just texting, casually hooking up, friends with benefits or monogamous" as part of a new schools program that aims to minimise the harm caused by bad dating habits.

They are also advised on why ending things face-to-face is better than simply changing Facebook statuses to 'single', and how to read signs a relationship may become abusive.

OK.

Such wisdom should not be restricted to American teenagers. Such hot tips could help matters here too.

And when I say help, I’m not just talking horny teens.

Australian adults, by and large, are terrible at ending relationships. Almost as terribly handled? Getting one going in the first place.

In other words, Aussies need help.

I suppose I should explain myself.

Problem one. There is no mature, mainstream dating culture in this country.

Yes, there are plenty of businesses devoted to helping us all each find The One. Yes, there is a nightclub scene where pants-parties are frequently found at the bottom of beer glasses. But it’s not really a culture inasmuch as the status quo.

And fair enough – Rome wasn’t built in a day. Western singles have only had a few generations to go from tight-laced English match-making sensibilities, to today’s ‘wanna get a beer?’ ‘Orright then’. ‘Wanna shag?’ ‘Sure, no worries’.

Or, in the words of my Italian-stallion friend, "Aussies don’t date, they just mate".

“Australian men are not elegant with women – they are brutish, like boys – and they don’t take charge,” he said in response to questions about why he was more successful with local ladies than fellows born and bred.

And while he was less ready to criticise Australian women (“but I love the ladies!”), he did say that, compared to the bella signorine of his homeland, dames from Down Under weren’t “real” women.

“Sophia Loren, she is a real woman,” he said, by way of example. “Australian women – they are less... sophisticated.”

Gross generalisations aside, his insight raises another reason as to why we struggle when it comes to the arts of seduction and swashbuckling. We lack a culture of romance.

In Australia, unlike Italy for example, the cultural credo otherwise vested in legendary lovers, artists and poets is lavished on murderous bushrangers, boozy larrikins, or some such scoundrel battler.

Oh worse, we roll the ideals into one, big, great, reef-n-beef-style monster notion (how else do you explain Shane Warne?).

Which brings me to my final reason we need help: Shane Warne.

But what's to be done?

We can’t exactly mandate every grown person capable of engaging in a romantic relationship, or ending one, first complete a certificate in best practice.

We could have better sex and relationships education programs at schools, but that would require strong government unafraid of backlash from the chastity police who fear condoms and believe homosexuality is contagious.

We can try and be better on a personal level. And thanks to organisations like Relationships Australia (OK, OK, federally funded), various Family Planning sites, and – hey – even the Australian Sex Party, there’s plenty of material out there which might be helpful.

But not everyone thinks there’s a problem with how we are doing it down here.

“What’s wrong with Australia? Nothing,” says my girlfriend, a long-term, happy single-sort-of-looking, emphatically.

“Yes, men don’t ask you out on the street, but who wants that? Yes, online dating is not all it’s cracked up to be, but that’s hardly unique to Australia.

“And sure, most people are asked out through friends of friends, which does create problems for when you break-up. But that’s just the way it is, why should it change?”

Why indeed.

What do you think – do Australians know how to start, or finish, relationships? Are we clumsy maters or elegant daters? How do we compare on a world stage? And what are your pet loves/loathes about how we say 'yes' or 'no' to love?

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Say it to my Facebook

Looking for faults ... is Facebook turning you into a malevolent voyeur?Occasionally, you come across someone in life who you simply can't stand. They may not be outwardly rude or aggressive, but there is something about them that gets under your skin in a way that isn't easy to explain. Perhaps it's pheromonal.
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Whatever the case, every time you run into them or their name comes up in conversation it makes you inwardly cringe. Yet, due to social mores or plain cowardice on your part, instead of making your feelings known you put on your best fake smile and nod politely.

However, there is one place where you can indulge this ugly, hateful side of yourself unfettered – the internet. Home of many things both positive and negative, the voyeuristic solitude it offers is a breeding ground for spiteful vitriol, both silent and articulated. And nowhere offers as many opportunities for the former as Facebook.

It is here that you can nurture your dislike for an individual without interruption. Sometimes it's even the source of your burgeoning loathing, offering you an endless smorgasbord of opportunities to feed the beast.

Between the narcissistic and relentless posting of self-portraits to banal or offensive updates you find that instead of defriending your object of disaffection or hiding their posts, you keep them on your feed solely because you secretly love to hate on them – checking their page every other day as if it were your private soap opera.

"Facebook can become like a reality TV series of your very own, depending on the friends you have. The voyeur in us may see this as a cheeky way of being entertained, and not wanting to miss out on the juicy gossip," said Nicole Greentree, CEO and founder of Empower Social Media. "I have heard of many unfortunate stories that have been a result of inappropriate Facebook posts. Relationships being ended with embarrassing explicit photos being posted, jobs lost due to employees whinging about their employer, friendships being lost due to misinterpretation of a post... I believe it can become an obsession."

A modern-day interpretation of glancing into a neighbour's living room as you walk past their house under the cover of night, at what point do you cross the line from casual observer to Facebook's version of a malevolent neighbourhood peeper?

A friend explains that she logs on to find out what's been going on in the online life of those she doesn't particularly like and finds that these people often hold her interest more than genuine friends – though she can't pinpoint exactly why.

"I wonder why I do it to some and get rid of the feeds of others that annoy me. If I have a cohort who gets just as annoyed by a particular person's feed as I do I find joy in complaining about how outrageous their postings are today," she said. "I guess it's the equivalent of passing notes around class bitching about someone. I know it's wrong and a waste of time but there is some satisfaction in it."

Adding that she's always polite and civil when interacting with these people in person but would never actively seek out a connection otherwise, she's unsure whether her animosity is driven by annoyance, jealously or a gentle blend of the two. Though she finds that the common link is usually a seemingly wilful display of arrogance.

"There is one particular person that I will always seek for their annoying take on their day, maybe a part of me is jealous, I don't know. I am not sure, why it gets to me so much," she said. "They are in the same line of work and seem to be quite successful, I guess I don't like that they make broad statements as if they are the first to discover something, somewhere or someone and urge the rest of us to do ourselves a favour and check it out – such arrogance. They often put up quotes from writers or the like which I find annoying. I'm not a fan of the Facebook quote in any form."

But what starts off as a bit of idle backstabbing can quickly descend into something more closely resembling a fixation. Where you were once checking their page every other day it begins to occur more frequently until you find yourself monitoring their activity as part of your regular routine. A behavioural trap that is all too easy to fall into when you work with computers as part of your everyday.

Beyond being a little bit depressing – presumably these targets don't spend nearly as much time thinking about you as you do about them – clinical psychologist Jo Lamble says fostering such behaviour often reveals more about you as a person and warns that it can lead to a lack of contentment in other areas of your life.

"The lower your own self-esteem, the more likely you are to engage in this sort of behaviour. That's because people who don't feel great about themselves can feel the need to rip others to shreds in order to feel better about themselves," she said. "Unfortunately, social media is encouraging narcissistic behaviour in some people and narcissism is all about feeling superior to others because of low self-worth... I see it as a very negative activity. Judging others is not good for us. It's the opposite to compassion and compassion leads to greater happiness and contentment than being judgmental."

She adds that a simple way to gauge if things are getting out of hand is to take stock of how much mental energy you are expending on this person. If you find that you're often thinking about them and the urge to check their updates grows so strong that you feel you are unable to stop it's a clear indication that things have gotten way out of hand.

Though we may feel fear around defriending someone because it sends a clear message about the direction of the relationship, if it's grown into an obsession Lamble strongly recommends that you take the plunge. Or in the event that doing so might cause complications – if they are work colleagues, for example – you should hide all updates from this person in a bid to break away from the unhealthy behaviour.

"There are all the excuses in the world for not defriending someone, such as the fact that they're colleagues," said Lamble. "But, as I said, hating or judging others is so bad for your own mental health that it's time to ditch the excuses and do something more positive with your time."

It's advice that my aforementioned friend has taken to heart. Feeling that she was spending far too much time focussing on the perceived faults of others, she noticed it turned on a faucet of negativity that was hard to turn off. Since culling unnecessary individuals from her friend list and hiding the updates of the ones she's unable to at the present time she says she's never felt better.

"I am finding that I do it less and less now. I used to have more people on my feed but got rid of them," she said. "I was in a hate spiral once, checking a page that particularly pisses me off and reading all the comments underneath which could go on for hours. I felt dirty afterwards so I unsubscribed from their Facebook feed and now it doesn't enter my life."

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The party’s over: HSU’s Mr Millions quits and cancels drinks

The invite, the bar, and the party host.It has been a busy week of cancellations for the man once known as Mr Millions. Michael Williamson has formally resigned as national president of the troubled Health Services Union. He handed in his notice via a text message to the union's acting president Chris Brown on Monday.
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Also cancelled is Mr Williamson's huge "Thank You" drinks party, which his family was throwing for him.

Invitees from across the country received an email from Mr Williamson's wife Julie and daughter Alexandra this morning notifying them that, due to "unforseen family reasons", the celebratory drinks had to be cancelled.

The Williamsons had sent out invitations last week to their vast network of friends, political figures, Labor stalwarts and union mates asking them to the "Thank You" party to be held at The Verandah Bar, in Elizabeth Street, on August 10.

One senior Labor politician who was invited expressed disbelief that the Williamsons were throwing themselves a party.

Apart from wondering who was paying for it, he said: "No one in their right mind would want to be seen associating themselves with Michael Williamson in the present climate."

The email sent out today said, "I am writing to advice [sic] you all that unfortunately that due to unforeseen family reasons, we will have to postpone the Thank You drinks that were scheduled for Friday week at 5.30pm.

"This is disappointing to us but family pressures must come first. We will be in touch in the near future with a new date.

"We look forward to having a drink with you all then and we hope this hasn't caused any inconvenience to those who would be travelling long distances to attend.

"Warm regards

"Julie and Alexandra Williamson.

Alexandra Williamson last week resigned from her position as a media officer on Prime Minister Julia Gillard's staff.

Earlier in the week, Ms Gillard had expressed dismay at the disclosures in the Temby report, which revealed that her staffer's family had received millions of dollars from the union, whose members are among the most poorly paid in the country.

The Temby report, an internal investigation into the union's finances and governance, was conducted by prominent QC Ian Temby and accountant Dennis Robertson, after the Herald last September reported on systemic corruption within the union.

Apart from revealing Mr Williamson's salary of $400,000 (plus $150,000 from union-related board positions), the report also noted companies associated with Mr Williamson and his family received more than $5 million from the union in the past few years alone.

Mention was also made of Mrs Williamson's company Canme (named after her children Christopher, Alexandra, Nicholas, Madeline and Elizabeth) which was paid almost $400,000 for Mrs Williamson to do the union's "archiving" work at home.

Like her husband, Mrs Williamson declined to be interviewed by Mr Temby and Mr Robertson. However, she did send a letter to Mr Temby in March this year.

Mrs Williamson wrote that the HSU did not have the resources to do the work and that her husband had asked her if she would mind doing it. "He also indicated it was not a pleasant job, but the Union Council wanted the job done."

She explained the task required going through archive boxes "removing staples, paper clips, bulldogs clips etc ... The task was slow, extremely boring and very time consuming.

"To suggest as you have I only worked 37.5 hours a week is completely wrong, it would be closer to 60 hours per week," Mrs Williamson wrote. "I can assure you on many occasions I felt I should have been charging $200 ph, as the work was downright disgustingly filthy."

However, family friends of the Williamsons have told the Herald that they never saw Mrs Williamson doing any such work, nor in all the years they have known her has she ever made reference to this task.

The union's acting president Chris Brown has expressed relief that Mr Williamson has quit and indicated he would have been forced to resign if he had not gone voluntarily. "I am pleased he has resigned, now we can get on with rebuilding the union," he said.

Mr Williamson and other union officials had previously lost their jobs when the union's troubled east branch was placed into administration last month. The branch, which consists of Victorian, ACT and NSW branches, will be demerged.

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We need stand-alone Origin: Bellamy

Craig Bellamy remembers the bitter disappointment he felt when Ryan Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hoffman were not chosen for New South Wales in this year's State of Origin. He hopes a day will never come when he would instead be hoping his players were overlooked.
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But that day could come for many clubs, with Bellamy claiming that fans — frustrated at seeing their teams suffer slumps in form during and after the Origin series — are already thinking that way.

While he said Origin was the pinnacle of rugby league and players were still desperate to play, there could come a time when players begin to miss Origin games with "mystery" injuries, if clubs believed it was in their better interests to keep their players from taking part in the series.

"If it's going to affect clubs especially going into semi-final series, like it has the last couple of years, then it could go down that path," Bellamy said.

"I hope it doesn't and I hope the [Australian Rugby League] Commission does something about it."

Bellamy has been a long-time advocate of playing Origin games as a stand-alone competition rather than having representative players back up for NRL games the following weekend.

The Storm have lost six of its past seven games including the past five in a row, but Bellamy does not blame all his club's woes on the physical toll of this year's Origin series.

However, he said fans' frustrations struck home after he met some Manly fans after the Storm's most recent win, in round 15 at Brookvale.

"Everyone knows what I think and I've said my piece for four or five years. It needs to be a stand-alone competition," Bellamy said.

"The last thing we need is people out there, supporters and people in clubs, not wanting their players picked in Origin because that's the pinnacle of our game so we want our supporters, we want our sponsors, we need everyone at the club, fellow players, coaches really wanting players to play Origin," he said.

"I've talked to fans, and not only Storm fans but fans of other clubs, who are hoping that their players are not in Origin and we don't want to go down that track, so I think they should look at that schedule very [seriously] and very soon and try and sought something out."

"I was coming down to breakfast after the [Manly] game the next morning and there were a couple of people [who] had Manly jumpers on and they were saying to me they would prefer that Manly players didn't get picked in Origin in the future because it affects their team.

"I had never thought of it like that ... I was very disappointed this year when Ryan Hoffman and Ryan Hinchcliffe missed out on the NSW teams and I'd hate to be sitting in my chair in two or three years time hoping that my players don't get picked for Origin."

Meanwhile, Bellamy today said he would keep faith with the Storm's established players, who led the team to nine wins in a row at the start of the season, despite the team's drastic form slump.

While he warned that chances were running out for some of the struggling players, it was not an easy choice to blood younger players who may not be fully ready for the challenge of NRL.

"I suppose we can make a whole heap of changes if we want to ... but these players have done a wonderful job early in the year and we've given them some chances to find that again and slowly but surely that time is running out but we'd like to think we'd find some consistency in the things we need to do," Bellamy said.

"I suppose there is a little bit of a loyalty factor ... I don't want to be throwing some young blokes in who are not ready for it. That's not going to help us but it's certainly not going to help that young guy either."

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Woolworths…The Movie?

Bridging the age gap ... retailers need to be able to appeal to all generations.Some retailers resonate so well with multiple generations of shoppers that they can appeal to grandmas and at the same time have musicals made in the their honour by high school performing arts groups.
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Other retailers can be successful with one generation but connect so poorly with the next that they are sliding into irrelevance.  What’s the secret to being in the first group and not the second?  The fate of all retailers ultimately hangs on the answer, including Australia’s department stores, discount department stores and scores of brands that were important to Gen X and baby boomers.

One of the commonalities that consumer experts believe they know about Millenials is that they are readier than any prior consumer group to reward and reject companies on the basis of their social and environmental values.

And you can’t just cook up a corporate marketing spiel about your solid values, insert it in your marketing collateral and then forget about it.  You need to mean it and you need to deliver on it.  False pretence will be punished harder than anything.

Wegmans, a family-owned supermarket chain with about 80 stores in the northeastern US generating more than $6 billion in annual sales, may be among the best examples of how companies can prosper if they “get” this.

Few retail chains in history can boast such a multi-generational cult following.  Alec Baldwin told David Letterman on the Late Show that his mum refused to move from Rochester, New York, to another city because the new city didn’t have a Wegmans.  And when the newest Wegmans store opened in Columbia, Maryland, on a recent Sunday, more than 2,000 people were waiting in line to get in by opening time at 7am. Three women in their fifties near the front of the queue were attending their sixth Wegmans opening.

At the same time the supermarket chain is so hip among Millenials that a high school drama group in Massachusetts has produced a musical celebrating the company.  It's called "Wegmans. . .The Musical."

Wegmans employs 42,000 people and has never had layoffs. All profits are reinvested or shared with employees.  But getting hired there is a highly competitive process because so many people want to work there and staff screening is exhaustive.  So is after-hire training.  For example, cashiers have 40 hours of compulsory training before they are permitted to have any contact with customers.

Part of Wegmans’ appeal to the emerging generation of shoppers is that it delivers on a corporate philosophy which, in its simplest terms, says a company can only be truly customer-focused if it is genuinely employee-focused.  Employees drive the brand by driving the customer experience.  They will only be willing and able to do that if they are happy and well-trained.

Many retailers do not understand this, confusing service with the hiring of a few or a few hundred more warm bodies.  This is a recipe for declining relevance.

The failure to remain relevant with a new generation is referred to as the "Oldsmobile effect."  It was named for the once hugely successful but ultimately ill-fated American motor car, which went out of production in 2004 after more than a century.  The phrase means that the children of people who drive Oldsmobiles do not want to drive Oldsmobiles.  More broadly, it means that each generation liberates itself from the last by buying different brands, shopping at different retailers, preferring different shopping formats and practicing different shopping habits.

As a result, retailers that were successful with one generation face a battle for relevance with the next.

In Australia, the Oldsmobile effect is evidenced by lackluster sales growth, store closures and slow technology adoption  among mainstream retailers.  E-commerce pure plays and international fast fashion brands entering the Australian market arouse excitement in the social media forums; the staples of Australian shopping centres do not.  When Costco announces a new store opening or even a site acquisition it creates a buzz; a new Coles or Woolworths opening doesn’t register.

Operators like Wegmans do not exist yet in Big Retail in Australia.  However, as retailers increasingly wonder how they will connect with the next generation, the Wegmans model is worth studying.

Who knows, one day we might see “Woolworths. . .The Movie” on Youtube.

Michael Baker is principal of Baker Consulting and can be reached at [email protected]南京夜网 and www.mbaker-retail南京夜网.

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Brutal comedy hits international jackpot

Jo Nesbo'sJackpot is black comedy about a supervisor and former inmates who succumb to greed and brutality after a syndicate win.A FILM'S director has the majority of creative power, but that control doesn't always translate to a public profile. In the case of a new Norwegian movie, writer-director Magnus Martens might have penned the script and filmed the material, but it's the author who gets credit for Jo Nesbo's Jackpot.
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Martens' black comedy is about a group of former prison inmates, and their supervisor, who succumb to murderous greed when their betting syndicate wins about 1.8 million Norwegian kroner ($2.83 million) - and begins to shed members. Released in Norway last December as Arme Riddere, it was retitled Jackpot for international film festivals this year, and is now Jo Nesbo's Jackpot for tomorrow's Australian release.

"I'm perfectly happy with that," says 39-year-old Martens. "If it hadn't been for Jo Nesbo, the film wouldn't have happened, to be brutally honest. He's got a very familiar name that can help get financing and then people into cinemas."

Aside from Stephen King, few authors get their names attached to adaptations of their work, but Nesbo has garnered strong sales over the past few years. His crime novels have sold more than 9 million copies worldwide, but he has rarely granted screen rights to his works, and held onto his signature character, flawed Oslo police detective Harry Hole, until Martin Scorsese agreed to direct the screen version of his 2007 novel The Snowman.

"I'm happy to set things up for Martin Scorsese," jokes Martens, who took on Jackpot after spending a decade concentrating on television and commercials following his first feature, 2003's United. Another stand-alone Nesbo novel Headhunters, was adapted and released this year, earning more than $600,000 at the Australian box-office, an impressive amount for a Norwegian-language release.

Martens says the author was hardly dictatorial. "His comments were always suggestions," Martens says, and over the writing process he kept the premise but reworked the plot and introduced a new structure. The film opens in the aftermath of a strip club shootout where the lone survivor is Oscar (Kyrre Hellum), a factory supervisor and sole syndicate member without a history of incarceration.

As Oscar recounts the course of events, which play out in flashback, to an idiosyncratic police detective named Solor (Henrik Mestad), Jackpot reveals a mordant sense of humour. Each time the protagonists try to improve their share of the take they worsen their situation, which acquires an avalanche-like momentum as body parts and poor alibis accumulate.

"It's the kind of film where a lot of comedy comes from the characters and their problems, and how people react after they make a wrong decision," Martens explains.

''There's a lot of comedy in trying to fix something that doesn't really have a solution.''

When the picture screened outside Scandinavia, Martens was fearful that cultural specifics wouldn't be clear to international audiences. But in retrospect, he concedes, there was little to worry about. "Translation and subtitling is really difficult to get right - it's an artform in itself," Martens says, "but now it appears that audiences abroad really enjoy the film and understand it. There's something universal about it."

Part of that narrative ease stems from the film's cinematic lineage.

"You have a generation of European filmmakers who are born and bred with American movies and their genres, and now we're adding to them," says Martens. "The Americans really like the film because the genre is very familiar to them, but at the same time there's a polite craziness on top of that which is Norwegian."

Jo Nesbo's Jackpot opens on Thursday at Cinema Nova, Sun Theatre, Palace Como, and Palace Brighton Bay.

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Genworth posts profit but payouts still bite

Genworth Financial has swung back into profit in Australia, but the mortgage insurer continues to be pressured by a high level of payouts.
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US-based Genworth shelved the partial stockmarket listing of its Australian arm earlier this year after a surge in payouts against soured Australian mortgages pulled the insurer into a loss during the March quarter.

But latest accounts lodged by its US parent show Genworth's Australian arm returned a profit of $US44 million for the June quarter. This was a rebound from a $US21 million loss in the March quarter.

Still, profit was down 18.5 per cent from the June quarter last year due higher claims, Genworth said. Sales were up 8 per cent on the first quarter helped by refinancing activity among borrowers, Genworth said.

The loss ratio in Australia during the second quarter was 54 per cent, suggesting Genworth was paying out a little less than $1 for every $2 it generates from sales.

Genworth's entire global operations - including the flagship US business - posted a profit of $US76 million for the second quarter. This rebounded from a loss of $US136 million a year earlier.

Lenders' mortgage insurance is designed to protect banks or other lenders against a loss should the borrower default on their loan. Insurance is paid out if there is a shortfall in funds from the forced sale of a property.

Genworth is Australia's largest player in the mortgage insurance market. It and second-placed QBE Lenders' Mortgage Insurance hold a combined 75 per cent share of the market.

While Genworth has declined to discuss its troubled March quarter in detail, it is believed the insurer's exposure to tourism hot spots in Queensland caused a hike in payouts. Some banks, including regional lender Bank of Queensland, also took a more aggressive accounting stance against some if its Gold Coast exposures.

Earlier this year Genworth said it would delay the planned sale of a 40 per cent stake in its Australian offshoot until 2013. At the time it was estimated that the sharemarket listing of a 40 per cent stake in Genworth Australia could have raised between $700 million and $800 million.

Last calendar year Genworth's main Australian business posted a profit of $250.9 million. This was up from $182.6 million a year earlier.

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