Sunday, September 30, 2012

An Age Reader Writes...

FURTHER TO the post below about Fairfax’s policy of publishing toxic nonsense and driving away sane readers, it is worth noting the sort of people who still harken unto inanity’s trumpet. The top letters in today’s Sunday Age, all commenting on Chris Berg’s column of the week before, make a very good example. In case you missed it, Berg was explaining that the increasing wealth of many has bestowed the ability to live in the sort of homes they like, and if those abodes happen to be outer suburban McMansions, so be it.

This sent a gaggle of quintessential Age readers to their keyboards, eager to broadcast how very good they feel about themselves for limiting their carbon footprints, living frugally and, presumably, not patronising the shops and products of the Age’s remaining advertisers. Here is one letter summing up that perspective:

Not always a solution
I AGREE that it's unfair to label the people who live in McMansions as inferior, but to argue that their houses are a healthy sign of wealth is ludicrous. Chris Berg's logic seems to be that ''because we can'' is justification for anything. The flaw lies in the underlying assumption prevalent in much of society that physical assets are, in and of themselves, a good thing; and that the more we have the better off we must be.
        Berg has previously argued that it's OK to use it/spend it/build it now because human ingenuity has and always will find a way to solve any problems we might encounter. Funny thing is, I remember reading about another optimist who happily announced ''peace in our time''. I believe in human ingenuity, too, but perhaps we should consider the possibly that it might not always solve every problem.


Writer Jamonts lives in one of Williamstown’s nicest streets, no one’s idea of a cheap address, and earns his crust as a management consultant, by no means a minimum-wage gig. One guesses he regards his own plush digs in Toorak By The Bay with affection and pride, no doubt seeing his address as one of the just rewards accruing to his career as a seagull* with a clipboard. Those bogan cretins in unfashionable suburbs, they are different. As Jamonts writes, it would be “ludicrous” to suggest the fruits of their hard work -- you know, building things etc., -- are “a healthy sign of wealth”.

At some point, when a history of Fairfax’s last days is written, the author will need to establish just when managers and editors came to the conclusion that their papers’ future depended on becoming one with the Jamonts of this world while not merely ignoring, but actively denigrating, the far larger pool of potential readers in those despised McMansions.

* OLD JOKE: Why are management consultants like seagulls?

A: Because they fly in, make a lot of noise, crap on everything and leave a huge mess when they go.

It Was the Crap, Stupid. It Still Is

ON RADIO NATIONAL this morning there was an extended report on what went wrong at Fairfax, the gist being that the company stuck its head in the sand while Internet ads ate its lunch. No doubt that observation is valid, but it is only a partial explanation, as the broadcast comments of a former head of the publisher’s online unit establish beyond doubt. Apologies for not taking down the speaker’s name (Higgins?) or the direct quotation, but the Billabong’s toaster had just set off the smoke alarm and it was very difficult to catch the finer details. What he said is still worth paraphrasing because it points to the bigger problem that has driven Fairfax to the very brink of death.

All Mr Unintelligible’s approaches to management, all his urging that the Web was the future, fell on deaf ears, he lamented. There he was, blazing a trail into the e-future and eager to do wonderful things, and the bosses simply would not listen.

And those wonderful things that were achieved, what were they? He did not mention it, but one notable innovation was the promotion of Margo Kingston and the original Wed Diary as the faces of Fairfax’s presence on the Internet, and we all know what that produced: The Jews run the media, the Bali bombing was not terrorism but an exploding gas bottle, Australia was helping to liberate Iraq because it wanted access to the Yank’s anti-gravity machine, unflushed toilets are saving the planet. They were just some elements of Fairfax’s addled bid to make its bones on the Web.

When you get past the bitter griping about an ex-employer’s lack of vision, the fact remains that Fairfax laid itself low by packaging crap in industrial quantities, both in pixels and on paper, and promoting those who could not tell the difference. It is that simple.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Get the Picture?

THERE is a picture that is said to be of Arthur Adrian Ernest Bayley, accused killer of Gillian Meagher, at Aussie Criminals. Pop across, have a dekko and then read this recent story in The Age.

Now take a look at the Identikit picture of the offender sought in that St Kilda incident. Here it is:

Legal niceties be buggered! The Bailey picture is already on the Web and all over Google Images, so here it is for an easy comparison:

(Image altered: This will guarantee a fair trial)

And here is another interesting thing: In the Age story, the victim recalls how her attacker warned  that a bad man was following her and that she should get into his car, where the assault took place.

Now recall the bridal shop security video, especially those seconds after the man in the blue hoodie is seen approaching Ms Meagher and telling her something. What does she do next? Looks behind her, back the way she came.

ADVISORY: The storm that was supposed to obliterate Melbourne this afternoon has turned out to be a bit of a squib. The sun is even out -- yes, this is Melbourne -- and there is time for nine quick holes. Feel free to comment, but readers' observations will not be posted until much later. And thanks to the modest reader who pointed to the Age story and its Identikit picture

WEATHER UPDATE II: No sooner did club strike ball than the sky opened and the round was abandoned

and gratitude to Tom for noting that Bayley was re-christened Arthur. Blame that on an indecent rush to reach the first tee

Deter or Punish?

ON ABC RADIO this morning, much moving and heartfelt mourning for the broadcaster’s slain employee, Gillian Meagher, whose body was recovered, and alleged killer arrested, after what appears to have been a first-class job of detective work by Victoria Police’s Homicide Squad.

During the course of the long legal process to come – more likely at its end, when commentators will be released from sub judice’s strictures and free to weigh in – we can expect to hear much about sentencing and the judiciary’s obligation to keep nasty specimens off the streets. Some of this talk may even touch on the wisdom of slapping violent career offenders with slight terms, including those with priors for sex offences. This was a topic which drew the scorn some 12 months ago of Media Watch’s Jonathan Holmes, who took exception to a Sunday Telegraph campaign for longer jail terms and less tolerance for repeat offenders. When the Herald Sun also wondered how well our courts are serving citizens who pay judges’ salaries, Holmes took the bit between those death’s head teeth and went to town.

The show can be watched here, but for those with little time or less stomach for Holmes’ smuggeries, the view he advanced could be summarised thus: The public, simple souls, are apt to be stirred to intemperate passion by cheap and nasty newspapers whipping up outrage in the service of base commercial motives. As is his custom, Holmes quoted authority, and why not? When climate-change sceptics criticise the warmist establishment’s methods and motives, Holmes finds it rejoinder enough to quote those same settled scientists on the topic of their own veracity. On the subject of sentencing, it was more of the same, in particular an address by Mr Justice David Harper of Victoria’s Supreme Court, which provided the touchstone for Holmes’ dismissal of the newspapers’ concerns. Harper’s speech, delivered just days after blasting the press from the bench for criticising one of his sentences (see paragraphs 25 and more), can be read in full here, but the excerpt below would seem particularly germane to the post-trial debate that is destined to erupt when unfettered, post-trial discussion of Meagher’s alleged killer becomes possible:

… The article fails to acknowledge research which strongly suggests that imprisonment is not a deterrent, and is a huge impost on the public purse. In April this year, two months before the Sunday Telegraph editorial, the Sentencing Advisory Council of Victoria published a research paper entitled Does Imprisonment Deter? The Sunday Telegraph ought to have known where to find it. The research paper makes the obvious but important point that, “if a sentencing purpose is intended to result in a reduction in crime, then in order to determine what weight should be given to that purpose, it is critical to examine the evidence of whether or not – or the extent to which – that goal of crime reduction is achieved.”

The research paper then examines that evidence. It shows that people are frequently irrational. Even if fully mentally competent, they do not always make decisions that are in their own best interests. Their capacity to make appropriate choices, however, may be - and for those who engage in criminal behaviour often is - clouded by mental illness, or mental disorder, or the effects of drugs. Indeed, a 2003 report for Corrections Victoria found that two-thirds of all first-time offenders had a history of substance use which was directly related to their offending. This rose to 80% for males and 90% for women sentenced to a second or subsequent incarceration. The lesson is clear. People who have difficulty thinking rationally are difficult to deter.

The research paper concluded that, for a significant number of offenders, imprisonment did not act as a deterrent. This is evident from the rate of recidivism. I have already mentioned the figures released by the Productivity Commission. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, almost half (49%) of all adult prisoners in custody on 30 June last year in Victoria, and 54.6% nationally, had been in prison before.

Another conclusion drawn in Does Imprisonment deter? was that, while increases in the perception of apprehension and punishment have a significant deterrent effect, the threat of imprisonment, although having a small negative effect upon the crime rate, is generally insignificant as a deterrent."

So, sentencing is about deterrence, according to Harper, and stiffer sentences don’t do much to promote it. A curious perspective to the non-judicial mind, it is not an uncommon one. In the US some years ago, the New York Times marvelled that, while Big Apple criminals were being locked up in record numbers, crime rates were going down. The liberal mind, fixated on deterrence and root causes rather than punishment, finds the relationship rather hard to grasp.

In view of the grief to be heard in Jon Faine’s voice this morning, as he lamented his co-worker’s murder, one wonders if the social engineers' mindset that prevails at the ABC is now being reviewed, at least by some. The primary urge to save miscreants from themselves might, just might, be replaced by an appreciation that victims of crime deserve a good deal more consideration and protection than those who perpetrate it.

Beaks Need Trimming

IT USED TO BE said that doctors buried their mistakes, which has not been true for some time, not with TV ads every few minutes for class action lawyers and medical malpractice suits quite common before the courts. As their insurance brokers know, medicos who make the wrong calls are going to be run through the mill, a likelihood pointing to the real smarties of our modern age. That would be the legal profession, in case you had not guessed.

Ponder this note, just received, from a professional journalist:

“I’m listening to Neil Mitchell of 3AW and Faine on 774 and they both keep saying that no one should mention a thing about [an accused killer’s long criminal record]. What they should be saying is how bad the restrictions on reporting courts are … every day we get at least a dozen suppression orders emailed to us banning mention of defendants’ names or other details.
“… last year a Melbourne magistrate banned publication of a sex attacker’s ethnicity. We could use his name but not the country he came from. Why? Well magistrates don’t have to explain; they can literally lay down their law as they please”

The correspondent goes on mention other bizarre rulings, including the decision some years ago to prohibit broadcasting the original Underbelly series in Victoria, even though it was being shown north of the Murray and readily available on the web.

And there is another thought as well, particularly on this grey Melbourne day as our city mourns the victim of a particularly vicious crime: Why do our courts believe Australians are so simple-minded they cannot be informed of defendants’ criminal records without proceedings being hopelessly prejudiced? Are Americans so much smarter than us, because no such prohibitions exist there and juries still seem to make informed decisions? Indeed, as O.J. Simpson could testify, avalanches of negative publicity, speculation and damning character profiles in the press can still result in an acquittal.

One of the few core responsibilities of government is seeing justice done while making sure that it is seen to be done. This should take place before the gaze of the public which pays significant sums for the service of judges and magistrates, the key word being “service”. Keeping the populace ignorant of matters of great public interest, and doing so for arbitrary reasons, suggests that the collective bench has lost sight of that obligation.

The legal profession has taken a lucrative delight in reminding doctors of their obligation to get it right. Physician heal thyself, as they say.

The Majesty of the Law

A MUCH-CONVICTED criminal on parole, a man with a record of sexual violence, king hits a young bloke for no reason outside a Geelong cafe and puts him in hospital with a broken jaw. In court, the magistrate notes the accused's sorry history, summons the full authority of the law and sentences the 40-year-old thug to .... three months behind bars. Yes, just three months -- if he served the full term, which is most unlikely. Indeed, the basher may well have been back on the streets before surgeons removed the wire from his victim's jaw.

That attack was in January. Nine months later, the courts have another case to deal with.

Something else: The magistrate in the Geelong matter was appointed to the bench in 2002. His background was in WorkCover cases and personal injury law.

UPDATE: Legal advice has been received that the link originally included in the first paragraph of this post might not be kosher, so the Geelong Advertiser's report of Senior Constable David Vanderpol's account before Geelong Magistrates Court of what transpired in Little Malop Street, as reported by Karen Matthews on February 28, has been removed.

UPDATE II: Not only has the link been removed from this post, the Geelong Advertiser has flushed its report down the memory hole as well. The public has a right to know -- to know what it is told. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Dirndls Are So This Year

WHEN the new owners of  the Australian Women's Weekly march into the executive offices of what was once the Packer family’s stable of ACP magazines they will be encouraged to discover a long-standing affinity with the Fatherland. From 1936:
I have been told that a more lenient feeling toward the Jews is growing in Germany, and I certainly heard several Germans regret the persecution of these people.
        While I was in Germany it was a common sight to see numbers of well-dressed Jews dining in expensive restaurants….
         ….Leaving Germany I took with me the memory of simple-mannered, charming people; of bands of boys and girls in the uniforms of the Hitler Youth singing as they march through the country…
Indeed, such links with the past may even inspire a fresh editorial emphasis.

It may well be, for example, that no miracle diet will ever again be published under any headline but Battle of the Bulge.

A mad Spring Carnival fascinator garnished with colourful strips of satin? Why, that will be known as a Ribbon Trop.

And those stories we see from time to time of women finding their better selves via meditation and yoga, all will be said to represent The Sound of One Hans Clapping.

Readers are invited to contribute their own rootin' Teuton innovations in comments.