Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A One-Sided Conversation

SOME time ago, a high-flier came rather abruptly to earth, suffering such terrible injuries that only massive government funding and the most modern technology could make him whole. Many millions of dollars were spent to get him back on his feet, at which point he re-paid the debt by launching an immediate crusade against wickedness in all its manifestations.

Steve Austin, you might be thinking, the hero of TV’s antediluvian action series, The Six Million Dollar Man? No, not him. While the amount spent on rehabilitation is identical, we’re not talking here about an astronaut-turned-crime fighter, about which there would be no cause to complain. Given the $100 million Victoria Police’s executive cadre has squandered in a failed attempt to fix its LEAP database -- not to mention the cost of eavesdropping on each other, cabinet members, their wives and staffers – forking out $6 million for a walloper who can actually wallop would represent good value for money, even if that individual were to be assigned, like so many of his comrades, to nothing more demanding than issuing speeding fines to operators of speed cameras.

The real Six Million Dollar Man, the man who owes his restored health entirely to taxpayers, is the irrepressible, unsinkable Andrew Jaspan, the former Phage editor whose performance was so poor, even by Fairfax standards, that he left “to explore other opportunities”, which is corporatespeak for staggering onto the employment market with the knife still jammed in your throat. Life might have been miserable for Wee Andy, whose employment options must have been chilling. He might, perhaps, have scraped together an income by representing Islamic head-loppers, who do owe him something of a debt.

“I was, I have to say, shocked by Douglas Wood’s use of the ‘arsehole’ word, if I can put it like that, which I just thought was coarse and very ill-thought through … As I understand it, he was treated well there. He says he was fed every day, and as such to turn around and use that kind of language I think is just insensitive.”

Turning off lights to save the world (allowing that a ladder was provided to reach the switch) might have been another possibility, but he had long since devalued the currency of his usefulness by doing precisely that for no-payment-whatsoever. Why buy something you have already enjoyed for free?

If dolphins and seaweed carried wallets and suffered from advanced paranoia, those species might have covered the Jaspan mortgage by engaging him to spread scare stories about the imminent demise of Port Phillip Bay. Once again, trouble is that he had orchestrated just such a PR offensive in 2007, when the Queen of the Netherlands arrived to dredge the mouth of the Yarra and the Heads, and the Phage pushed relentless front-page scares about environmental vandalism (and don’t skip the caption). Today, with the dredging done, even the dimmest varieties of marine life understand that only Fairfax shareholders had anything to worry about.

Fortunately for the little chap, there is a species even slower than seagrass, which at least has the wit to bend with the tide. Not so the people running Australia’s universities, who remain pointedly oblivious to growing public scepticism about the great climate scare. You can’t blame them, really, as there is no institution of higher learning in this wide, gowned land which has not snaffled at least a little cash to build departments that have repaid the favour by going to the mattresses in support of the idea that high, green taxes need to be imposed on their students’ fee-paying parents. God help all those warmy rappers and climate bitches if common sense were ever to derail the global warming gravy train. A sales job behind the cosmetics counter at Myer might be an option, especially for the more comely, twentysomething hot-weather hos, but the prospect of retaining such a position must be rated slim. Shouting abuse and obscenity at the people who pay your bills is appreciated on Hungry Beast and at the ABC, but paying customers won’t generally accept such behaviour face-to-face.

That is where Jaspan’s vestigal usefulness comes in. The man has cred with the people who no longer have any, so it was only a question of time before what you might call the New Establishment put him to work, after a fashion. At the Conversation, he is repaying the debt in spades. As at the Phage during his tenure, the rather peculiar definition of public debate holds that one side, the publicly funded one, advances a point of view which advocates of any other perspective are excluded from countering. Such is the Conversation’s reputation for fairness that Viscount Monckton insisted his written response to questions from one of Jaspan’s juniors be published in its unedited entirety or not at all. Monckton concluded his note with the following request: 

Finally, a question of my own. Please disclose the sources and amounts of your website’s funding and, in particular, please state how much funding the website has received directly or indirectly from taxpayers’ funds. This is a Freedom of Information request.

Monckton is a visitor to our shores, so he can be excused for not being up to speed on the latest trend in Australian tertiary education, which amounts to paying cash-on-the-barrel for the best kind of press coverage, ie., the sort you write yourself. Last year the Australia Literary Review, a monthly supplement in the Australian, struck a funding deal with the Parkville Asylum and seven other leading universities. This involved a new editor, formerly the education reporter – a good one, too -- and reportedly the chap who lined up the sandstones’ funding. Since then, academics have dominated the ranks of reviewers, with the July edition featuring ten epistles from the ivory tower out of 14 main reviews, many of which, in any given edition, are likely to be books by other academics. Amongst the regular contributors is Melbourne Vice-Chancellor Glyn Davis, who laments at great length in the current edition  “the troubling new literature” questioning the alleged benefits of a modern university education. Davis’ anxiety is delicious, given his own institution’s enthusiasm for varieties of wisdom never known to have lifted graduates’ employment prospects in the wider world.

But leave that for Davis and colleagues to discuss over fair-trade tea and organic bikkies. More relevant is his column’s penultimate thought, “We might believe universities deliver public benefit,” he writes, “but need to show how.”

Apart from the money Davis has channeled into the ALR, the centrepiece of his plan to demonstrate universities’ worth is, wait for it … Andrew Jaspan! Here is how Davis hailed the Conversation’s launch back in March:

Publications such as The Conversation offer an opportunity to … share findings and ideas, and provide a public space for discussion, disputation and evidence. It can become a virtual campus, a set of discussions in electronic hallways, a shaping and influence that may travel eventually beyond participants to a wider world.

Sounds lovely, eh! A Socratic chinwag under the digital plane tree, all contentions examined without fear or favor, truth above all, etc., etc. That Jaspan might be the man to lead such an endeavour, given his record at The Phage, must strike any reasonable person as grotesque. By Davis’ professed standards, what sort of value are the Conversation’s backers getting for their $6 million of other people’s money – a sum that includes, if rumours doing the rounds at the Parkville Asylum are correct, Jaspan’s annual salary of as much as $400,000?

Not well, not well at all – and it is the treatment of Christopher Monckton which most handily illustrates the site’s failure to meet its own stated goals. According to Dyer, remember, the Conversation is about “discussion, disputation and evidence”. So how does the Conversation treat Monckton and what he has to say? By setting up a special page – Monckton Watch – where assorted warmists’ assaults are compiled for easy reference. If you’re going to win one of Davis’ “disputations”, it really helps if the neither disputer nor supporters are invited to the debate.

It would be easy to fill post after post chronicling the Conversation’s monoculture, regardless of subject. The NT intervention? Against it. Individual freedom? Not keen. A nice roast dinner? Planet wrecker! Democracy? Not for bogans and proles.

So let the matter of bias and mindset go through to the keeper. There is a larger cause for disquiet about the Conversation, and it is this: When the current Labor government is banished to the opposition benches, as it surely will be, what tools are available, what pressure can be brought to bear, to make the Conversation honour its proclaimed standards? As an individual player, the site is not, and never will be, an organ of great influence. But as another brick in the wall the New Establishment has erected around ideas it dislikes, it will carry its share of the propaganda load.

To see the future, consider the Conversation’s recent batch of articles defending climate-change dogma, climate change science, and, not to put too fine a point on it, climate change hysteria. Published to coincide with Gillard’s big push to get its carbon tax enacted, it was immediately spruiked by that other, publicly funded partisan, The Drum. Next came the CSIRO, which is both a Conversation backer and a committed advocate of spending more on climate research, especially at the CSIRO. All told, the Conversation published 13 pro-tax stories on the subject, all of which were tweeted, re-tweeted and/or republished by aligned outlets.

And that is why a twerp like Jaspan and a $6 million joke like the Conversation is worth more attention than its content warrants.

It will be all very well and good to see an adult Abbott government, but its opposition – it’s real opposition – will not be the represented by the union hacks and elevated ambulance chasers of the ALP. It will be the publicly funded mouthpieces whispering their corrupt, self-interested talking points into the sympathetic ears of the ABC, Fairfax (allowing that it still exists) and anyone else who might help spread the word.

Dyer and his mates have every right to fund the Conversation and keep Jaspan in the manner to which he believes himself entitled. They do not have the right to make the rest of us pay for it. After scuttling the carbon tax, PM Abbott must make de-funding the left his next priority. The Conversation is all the evidence he will need.

UPDATE: At Catallaxy, Judith Sloan also finds the Conversation less than impressive.  


  1. ***turning off lights to save the world (allowing that a ladder was provided to reach the switch***


    Twenty four carat gold.

  2. Can someone please point Jaspan out in the pic as I can't see the homunculus.,0.jpg

  3. The irony is that the self indulgent onanists at The Conversation are driving reasonable people away from their views.

  4. Change its convenience tag from "The Conversation" to "The Conversation Lies".

    For Anon @0537hrs:


  5. I actually thought the idea behind the Conversation was a good one, even though it came from Jaspan.

    I should have known - the first article on the Middle East I encountered repeated all the same tropes about Israel and the Palestinians, which came down to "It's all Israel's fault."

    I"m sure there are some articles worth reading there - you just need to step very, very carefully amid the boggy paths...