Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dead Wrong

CLIMATE SCIENTISTS, being the settled bunch they are, have decreed with a degree of certainty lesser soothsayers would not dare match that sweaty and premature death awaits a good many more of us than would be the case if only temperatures could be kept at current levels. 
Without international action on climate change to limit temperature rises to 2C, the number of predicted temperature-related deaths in Australia is predicted to rise from just over 6000 in 2020 to about 10,000 in 2070.
Such wisdom is very hard to doubt, as it is more of Tim Flannery’s handiwork and he is widely recognised as being incapable of error, even when he is wrong. Still, those numbers do give you pause to wonder if, before Flannery & Co. go back to tweaking their computer models, they might be well advised to purchase a simple a pocket calculator and a copy of some recent Bureau of Statics projections.

In 2020, according to the ABS, Australia will be home to some 30 million people, of which Flannery insists roughly 6000 will be carried off by dengue fever and other curses that thrive in the heat. By 2070, the same ABS projection posits a likely population of between 46 million and 54 million, depending on which curve you choose to track.

So let’s see how that works out: 6000 deaths per 30 million means a 1-in-5000 chance of being done in by nasty weather as of 2020.

And 10,000 deaths in a 2070 population of 54 million? Well that comes in at 1-in-5400 climate casualties.

So the warmer it is, at least by Flannery’s reckoning, the safer and healthier we will be.

Even if you take the middle curve (forget the lowest one, which is nonsense) and go with a projected population of just 47 million, the mortality rate is only slightly worse – a 1-in-4700 chance of falling victim to climate carnage. Unless they are members of the St Kilda Football Club, those 300 additional lives would be a dreadful pity to see lost. But in the grand scheme of things it is not much of a change. Not much at all.

So we can conclude that climate change is at best a trivial threat to health – and may even be good for us. That’s both official and incontrovertible, vouched for by no less an authority than Tim “my wife is taking notes” Flannery.

Who can doubt a word the great man says?

UPDATE: A very informative comment by an anonymous reader in the comment thread. Very interesting stuff on where they find these people who look at thermometers (and grants) and see only death (and talk of death).

AGGRIEVED UPDATE: Generally speaking, the more grandiose the title of a blog the smaller the mind behind it. Applied Hermeneutics makes the point rather nicely, while its proprietor demonstrates, apart from two-fisted wanking, that other hallmark of the left: an eagerness to lay false charges.

The Peter Meter

JULIA GILLARD has been given quite some grief of late for appointing Peter Slipper to the Speaker’s chair, with gossipy sorts quite keen to learn how he managed to run up a $300+ cab charge in the course of a single night’s travels about Canberra. Now this really is a remarkable achievement, the ACT being a pocket handkerchief roughly 50 kilometres from border to border at its widest point. As the current tariff for cab trips after 9pm is $2.19 per kilometer, Slipper would have required three full trips from end to end in order to present taxpayers with such an invoice. The new Speaker has pointedly declined to explain where he went and what he was up to, a stonewall that can only lead the curious to wonder if the waiting-time tariff of $49 an hour might have contributed to the total sum. In the absence of a word from Slipper, speculation that his cab and driver sat outside some establishment or other until he had zipped up whatever business propelled him into the evening remains valid. While there are few certainties in politics – other than that Michelle Grattan will always find something to admire in our “devilishly clever” PM – it is the surest bet that Slipper’s nocturnal mystery mission will continue to be raised.

An ongoing headache for the government? An open sore subject to painful probing? Yes, that is likely, but it need not be. If our PM were to hunker down with spin-gali Bruce Hawker it would take but a few minutes to produce a strategy that could only enhance Slipper’s standing while doing the government that slipped him into the Chair a world of good.

First, there is the need to settle on a destination. Gillard and Hawker might persuade the Speaker to reveal that he is a pokies junkie, spent the evening losing money in Queanbeyan and is proof positive of the need for the state to regulate inappropriate individual behaviour.

The problem with that scenario, of course, is that Slipper would object to being identified as a degenerate gambler.

So why not sell him on the virtues of casting himself as a simple, straightforward, old-fashioned,  garden-variety degenerate?  If it were put to him that the cab was left waiting while he engaged in a de-briefing session with a carnal consultant, relativism would be his shield. Indeed, if judged against some parliamentary colleagues, he would emerge the very picture of probity.

Unlike, say, Craig Thomson, there would be no need for tall tales of a priapic doppelganger (with an identical signature, no less) who lingered in houses of pleasures while hospital floor-moppers and toilet-scrubbers picked up his bill. Who could object to the taxpayer covering transport costs if the remainder of the evening was drawn on the Speaker’s own pocket?

And it gets better. With earnest hand on heart, Slipper might then avow to never having bumped groins with a 12-year-old, as Tasmanian colleague Terry Martin was yesterday convicted of having done, apparently as a result of being exposed to medications for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. The judge declined to incarcerate Martin, thereby establishing with the full authority of the bench the lower limit of what these days is deemed acceptable conduct. If Slipper were to say all his girls were 18 or older, even the dirtiest of his sheets would come with a wonderfully clean smell – relatively speaking, of course.

None of this is to suggest that Slipper was gambling or schtupping. Indeed, for all we know, he might just as easily have been overcome by the sudden urge to find sacred ground, rattle of a quick rosary, say novena or two, perform an act of contrition and stuff a fistful of unused Commonwealth taxi vouchers in the poor box.

But it would be a mistake to admit as much. Just ask Tony Abbott how the press feels about Catholics.

Tell Laura They Love Her

FURTHER to the earlier post in regard to the Walkley Awards, reader Bob on the Murray writes to point out that this year’s winner of the commentary & analysis division was none other than Laura Tingle of the Financial Review.  “Have you read any of the columns she submitted?” he asks. “I had a bit of a look and they’re shockers.” 

The supplied URLs led to three pieces of work by the AFR’s piece of work. Bob wasn’t joking. This is the temperate and reasonable way Tingle begins the first of three submitted articles judged to represent the best political writing of 2011:
There are two possible explanations for how an opposition presenting itself as an alternative government could end up with an $11 billion hole in the cost of its election commitments.

One is that they are liars, the other is that they are clunkheads. Actually, there is a third explanation: they are liars and clunkheads.

But whatever the combination, they are not fit to govern.
The AFR was once an eagerly anticipated guest in the Billabong’s brekkie nook, but these days it is seldom given the opportunity to make toast taste bad. Indeed, since Peter Ruehl’s death, only two or three copies have darkened the doorway. The dismal circulation figures, which have shed some 17% in three short years, suggest it has worn out its welcome in many other households and offices as well. 

Do you think the likes of Tingle might have something to do with the rejection? Nah, that couldn’t be the case, not when her peers judge her to be the best there is – unless, of course, the collective esteem for a harpy and partisan hysteric reflects a mindset that might also explain the judges’ own publications’ current ills? 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Lot Of Tosh

IN THE current issue of The Spectator, not available online, columnist Neil Brown QC addresses the recent lecture by Fairfax’s Fifty Grand Vizier Greg Hywood, whose curious assertion it is that his newspapers’ declining sales are of no consequence whatsoever. While some might see Hywood’s remarks as confirming that Fairfax has entered the final of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of dying (acceptance: “I don’t want to struggle anymore”), Brown prefers to focus on the folly of surrendering news coverage to angry, aggrieved adolescents, many of whom are well into middle age. As any parent knows, it is folly to argue with a teenager. They change the subject, ignore logic and evidence, are never at fault, always know so much more than their unenlightened elders and, most annoying of all, cannot conduct a conversation without recourse to ad hom assaults. In a domestic setting the solution is straightforward: tell the little snot to pack his bags and get out, an approach that worked wonders when Young Master Bunyip was going through those difficult years.  In Melbourne, the populace has delivered much the same message to The Phage, which is no longer welcome in the homes of citizens who prefer not to be hectored and have their trust abused. Unfortunately, that has not entirely removed the aggravation, as the paper continues to linger on the front porch, screaming and whining and demanding to be re-admitted in order that the lecturing and sermonizing (and the financial support) might continue as before.

There is prime example of that racket in this morning’s edition of the Phage, which features a report by environmental editor Adam Morton on the great savings to be achieved by going ultra-green. His example is a $100 million “eco-village” to be built at Cape Paterson, which he reports has been given a wondrous endorsement by the author of a study “backed by a state government agency.” If Morton was just a little older, a bit more of a big boy and better able to embrace fact above sentiment, he would have noted that Victoria’s environmental bureaucracy was packed and stacked by the former Labor government and that many of its public utterances and private leaks should be taken as the voice of the now-Opposition.  While the absence of that background information is an unfortunate omission, it is small organic potatoes when judged against another, rather more important item of information missing from Morton’s handiwork.

The chap he quotes, the author of that government-backed study, is a gent called Anthony “Tosh” Szatow, whom a reader unaware of how The Phage these days prefers to report matters close to its green heart might assume to be an independent analyst. Szatow’s message, as transcribed by Morton, is certainly compelling:
The 220-house Cape Paterson proposal aims to be operationally carbon neutral. It promises a minimum 7.5-star rating, solar photovoltaic systems big enough to cover energy needs, high-efficiency lighting, heating and cooling, solar hot water, rainwater tanks and a fleet of electric vehicles.
According to a review by energy consultant Anthony Szatow, funded by government agency Sustainability Victoria, the carbon-neutral approach could save an owner more than seven years and $120,000 in mortgage payments compared with a new six-star house.
Savings on energy and water bills were expected to top $200,000 over 25 years.
So who is Tosh Szatow? Let the eco-village’s developers explain (emphasis added at the Billabong):
Anthony Szatow, known to most as Tosh, will be joining the Cape Paterson team on a full time basis from July 2011. For the last two years he has led the national intelligent grid project at CSIRO. The project aimed to understand the value proposition for local energy solutions Australia wide, and how that value could be most efficiently realised. His research has increasingly focussed on the role of business model innovation in reducing emissions and transforming the energy market. Originally attracted to the Cape Paterson project by the holistic approach to sustainability, he aims to help demonstrate the power of business model innovation as part of the development, with a view to making clean energy more affordable than the alternative. He hopes the project can set a new benchmark for best practice residential housing development and catalyse innovation across the property sector.
Worth noting, although The Age does not, is that the same project almost perished last year, when an independent study recommended against its approval on -- wait for it -- environmental grounds! That suggestion was ignored by Planning Minister Matthew Guy, who must have a blinding constellation of seven-star ratings floating before his wide, green eyes. One day, like Young Master Bunyip, Big Ted’s government may grow up and realise that it was elected to dispute and dismantle Labor wasteful enthusiasms, not endorse them in order to curry favour with a dying newspaper.

Especially a newspaper that presents as an independent voice a green careerist who crunches improbable numbers to assert that his full-time employer’s controversial project is – Surprise! Surprise! – a huge money-saver for the prospective home owners on whom its financial success depends. What’s next, the unquestioned echoing of Chris Scott’s appraisal that the Cats’ hold a mortage on the 2012 premiership? Without, of course, any mention that Scott is Geelong’s senior coach.

Given that he is trousering $50,000 a week to helm Fairfax, you might think Greg Hywood would feel obliged to do some house cleaning. Then again, with so much muck in the stable, perhaps no amount of cash can cover such heavy lifting. 

Best to brand such Mortonesque brochuresmanship as more of that “quality journalism” -- and then Hywood can go straight back to the pleasant business of gloating over his latest bank statement.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Asians Suffer Most?

AUSTRALIA, as we all know, was founded as a penal colony, so the cherished idea that informing on neighbours and workmates is antithetical to national spirit and heritage just doesn’t ring true. Anyone who has had any dealings with the Criminal-Australian community will know that dobbing in underworld associates is as much a part of doing business as is making off with other people’s property. A friend, now dead, who did a little time for being far too fond of opiates and petrol stations’ takings, learned this while cooling his heels at the Bluestone College. As he told it, prison authorities were going through the motions of making the premises drug free, a crusade that cannot have been pursued with too much enthusiasm, as it was warders who were said to be chiefly responsible for running contraband. But someone had to take the fall and, as luck would have it, another incarcerated junkie nominated the Billabong’s buddy as the chief source. He did extra time for that and never again spoke of honour amongst thieves.

Dobbing has now gone mainstream, with ads like the one below urging citizens to help put malefactors behind bars. Few would object to that, as few find much to enjoy in coming home to find the new flat screen, little woman’s jewelry and anything else easily pocketable have gone missing.

Still, look at this ad for Crime Stoppers and wonder if there might not be another message, a subtle one, woven into the narrative. The bash artists are white and the victim Asian. He is welcomed to his thumping with the announcement that he has journeyed to “the wrong place.” Toward the end of the video, when the voice-over is urging people to phone their tips to Crime Stoppers’ operators, the images are overwhelmingly of various ethnic minorities.

Look, it may be one Bunyip’s hyper-sensitive perception, but was it really necessary to cast a simple incident of theft and assault with an entirely unneeded underscore of racism?

Readers are invited to share their perceptions of the ad in comments.

Inky Retch

THE clotted cream of unionised Australian journalism gathered last night for the annual Walkley Awards, which it turns out are something akin to the Academy Awards, just recast with dumpy gals in school-social satin and men who didn't pass the screen test for Brokeback Mountain. Well the guys looked caring and sensitive anyway, and these days that is probably enough to get ahead or, more realistically, to secure regular appearances in Good Weekend, where women outnumber men 15-to-1 on the list of people, published near the front of each edition, who labour weekly to bring out that magazine insert. Everyone had a lovely time, apparently, and if there was any discord when the ladies reclaimed the plates on which they brought their lamingtons and sausage rolls, well it doesn't figure in the official results. They say politics is Hollywood for ugly people, and it seems journalism is something similar: a celebration of bravery and independence for the craven and co-opted.

There were some oddities and oversights about this year's categories and winners, however.

Where was the award for best excoriation of the Zionist Entity by a reporter married to a leading Palestinian activist? If only that category had been included, the annual lauding of Paul McGeough would not have been interrupted.

And where was the award for the media company chieftain who makes more money than his newspapers, which actually aren't making any money at all? Indeed, there might even have been a minor, associated award in that category: The CEO who won't reform his organisation because $50,000 a week is a very nice screw for doing nothing much.

Not that fairfax was the only organisation to be stiffed. You would think departing News Ltd supremo John Hartigan warranted a couple of nods. He would have been a natural to he honoured for the remarkable achievement of standing tall without the benefit of a backbone, and also for the sustained, running-scared dash after a single irate call from our no longer quite-so-young-and-naive PM. Those awards could have been presented by Glenn Milne, who could use the work, and whichever law firm it is that will not be handling the abandoned appeal against Judge Mordy's dutiful denunciation of Andrew Bolt.

And finally, where was the award for bad subbing in support of bug-eyed notions -- a category that has seen Fairfax this very morning leave all potential rivals in its dust, thanks to a multi-part video series purporting to expose the real truth behind the destruction of New York's World Trade Centre. Here is how one of those videos is described, and do please note the professionalism, grammar and compelling logic of the blurb that introduces the 90-minute expose of George W. Bush's covert demolition initiatives:

About this episode

9/11; the actions that took place on this single day in 2001 effected the greatest changes to modern civilization, global politics and human interaction more than any other. However, the media assault and political spin that raged during the aftermath has also given 9/11 the dubious honour of being the most disputed story of the 21st century. This documentary feature film presents a series of arguments which - if true - suggest that the unprecedented events of 9/11 were an orchestrated stepping-stone designed to provide the US government a pretext for their declaration of War on Terror.

 Marvellous, ain't it? The boss pockets $50,000 every week  while his semi-literate minions promote Truther crackpottery.

Well, there will be an award for that achievement soon enough. The receivers will be stopping by to present it in person.

Monday, November 21, 2011

An Idiot With A Rumbly Tummy

IN this morning’s Australian, Cut & Paste runs at some length the insights, such as they are, of Silly Editor-in-Chief Peter Fray. Apart from baring the mindset that leads his southern sister publication to print propaganda of the kind addressed in the post below, it will alert investors that, even at a lowly 82 cents as of Friday’s closing, Fairfax stock still has plenty of room for shorting.

The best part, the one that demonstrates the editor’s immense remove from his potential audience, comes when Fray describes what makes a great editor, a category he sees, presumably, as including himself: “A great editor has a kind of instinctive feel and that's where the gut thing comes in."

WE do have to do more to reveal the processes behind the mastheads. We do have to show the public more about how we make that sausage. That ain't always pretty . . . There is a tendency at the Herald to be, you know, in Mount Herald, a lofty, nice place to be. We all love it for that reason. And we don't pay enough attention to what happens elsewhere, partly because we would have to pay attention to what the Murdoch press is writing, and so there's a kind of professional pride thing there

. . . A great editor has a kind of instinctive feel and that's where the gut thing comes in . . . You know, Lady Gaga comes to Sydney, and the FM radio stations will be full of Lady Gaga. . . and the Herald might write something, dare I use the word, because it's a very elitist word, "intelligent" about Lady Gaga, what she means and other angles that she throws up by way of engaging with the same issue. I mean, not that we're ignoring Lady Gaga; she's a very interesting person.

. . . I like the concept of the pro-am, kind of citizen journalists. I mean wouldn't it be powerful if you said to your listeners: "Go and do x and come back to me" or if we did the same. Powerful stuff. And that's kind of much more interesting than, you know, kind of bunch of feedback noise . . . I think it's the way you approach the citizen journalist question. I think our role in that is what we want to find out? What is it we want to do? So it can't just be "we love you, you should love us a bit more, have a hug". It really needs to be about "we want to do this thing, and this is the goal. We want to enlist you to do that."

I think we probably have reached a point where we've cut as many pages out of certain parts of the paper as we should. I think the Monday to Friday newspaper is going to stay more or less like is it is, but I'd like to increase the amount of pages in the weekend papers.

Like Good Weekend: it isn't that long ago that Good Weekend actually did some literary fiction in there. But now it's only 32, or 38, or whatever it is, 38 pages: you can't do it. And the other thing is that we have to take more risks . . . We're in the process at the moment of trying to re-imagine the Sunday paper and we're heading that way. You know, when I started to do the fellowship, I did actually think for a little while of turning this whole thing into a kind of what-would-Sydney-be-like-without-the-Herald sort of thing. And the more I looked at it, the more scared I got. I did think that was a valid thing to say.

I mean, can you imagine Sydney without the Herald? I think there was a period, about a year or a year and half ago, when some people actually dared to imagine that, and that is a really frightening thing. So we've got to get smart about it. We've got to be really clear about what any pro-am arrangement is. It is fashionable to talk about the death of newspapers. I hope I have shown that predictions of demise are both premature and immature.

The “gut thing”, eh? Fray attributes it to instinct. Former Fairfax readers will understand it as intellectual dysentery.

UPDATE: It just gets better. The Silly is fair and unbiased. It is a daily work of exhausting dedication. Its editors and journalists "just say no" to having an agenda. Have you ever read such a crock in all your life?

UPDATE II: No trace of an agenda at The Canberra Times when Fray was in the editor's office:

Fowl Stuff

THIS journalism business, particularly the quality journalism we have been hearing so much about, good heavens but it is hard for a simple reader to figure out! We know it is “quality journalism” because it is in The Phage, and by the definition favoured by Robert Manne and others, that is enough. But for the baffled rest of us, well it can be a real head-scratcher.

Take this morning’s Phage, for example, which reports with breathless credulity that conditions inside the Baiada poultry plant, now at the centre of a rather nasty industrial dispute, are both unsanitary and unsafe. The article is supported by a portfolio of pictures, including the one below, which are published online above a caption that asserts without qualification that they are “bad conditions”. 

The Age neglects to explain where it obtained the images, but it is reasonable to assume they were provided by the strikers – a provenance that might raise a question or two about whether or not they were stage-managed. The snapshot above, for example, just happens to have a couple of plucked fowls photogenically displayed atop a bag of other processed birds. And in the foreground, framed for maximum impact, is a bank of shipping cartons with the Baiada name prominently displayed.

Another snap (below) captures the Dickensian hell of the modern poultry industry with its pair of wheelie bins standing in front of an emergency exit. 
 Now some might see the photo gallery and raise an eyebrow. The dispute has been rancorous in the extreme, with arrests, punches, even allegations of industrial manslaughter. So all of a sudden, rising to the surface of this poisoned well, an album of one side’s alleged sins is offered to the Age, which publishes them with a condemnatory caption.

Well, you might think, the Age should have explained its informants’ possible motivation or, on a very good day, questioned the pictures themselves. Perhaps it might even have published a story noting that the dispute has now become so toxic that the strikers are attempting to ruin their employer’s reputation. Do poultry plants really leave uncovered chickens strewn about the shop floor, it might have asked, noting that food processing plants are visited regularly, often without warning, by health inspectors and the like? At the very least, the Age might have wondered how difficult it might be to drag two rubbish bins in front of a fire door, take their photograph and then wheel them back to somewhere safer?

They are questions an adult, even a reasonably dim adult, might be inclined to ask. But at the Age, no trace of healthy suspicions.

That’s quality journalism, folks. Quite a mystery, ain’t it! 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Toe The Line!

LEADING journalism academic and trainee court reporter Margaret Simons is auctioning her sandals for charity, a noble gesture and potential boon to poor unfortunates in two different varieties of sheltered workshop. The first, your more conventional kind of lunatic, may soon benefit from additions to their institution’s supplies of basket-weaving materials. And the second, well that would be any Fairfax reporter or editor sufficiently astute to recognise the career-boosting benefits such footwear might bestow.

They could, for example, be worn proudly in either the Silly or Phage newsroom, where open toes would be taken as firm evidence of the new owner’s belief in rising global temperatures. With Fairfax reporters attempting daily to outdo each other in demonstrating their faith in the catastropharian creed, those pre-worn Birkenstocks would leave all but Melissa Fyfe’s jogging shoes in their dust.

Or – and this might be the better career strategy -- they might be used for paddling office heretics. If some undiplomatic soul strays from the groupthink that characterizes all the Fairfax papers, whack!, six of the best, followed by an open invitation for ideologically sound colleagues to examine the welts.  Administer that sort of punishment and the office disciplinarian will be put on the first plane and sent off to cover any number of international events.

And no need, either, to fret over consequences. In the unlikely event of the police being summoned, the office windows at both the Phage and Silly are sealed shut.

A Nigerian In The Woodpile

IT HAS been a bad week at the Billabong, computerwise. The old and formerly trusty Dell began to do some very peculiar things late last week, but much the same observations have been made of the Professor so the eccentricities were excused and indulged. But then notes began arriving from the ISP asserting that the machine was infected with a several species of devilish malware, which were blitzing innocent third parties with spam and other annoyances. No problem, the resident technical adviser asserted, slipping behind the keyboard with all the expansive confidence to which only the young and unbruised are entitled. The Professor did not pay for an expensive private school education without expectation of dividend, so Young Master Bunyip's assurance that a little tweaking and updating of the security software would soon set things to rights seemed a fair return on investment.

Several hours later, a round of golf with Doctor Yowie having resulted in The Professor being obliged to pick up the tab for lunch, the news at home was even more distressing. The curse, the young fellow explained, was something called a rootkit, formerly assumed to signify nothing more sinister than a nice meal, a bottle of rose and some Perry Como on the gramophone. Apparently there is an electronic variant, and it thoroughly stuffs any dot-squiggly stuff to which it becomes attached. Removal is a tricky business, the youngster explained, but he had given it his best shot.

Indeed, it is and he had. As a consequence of his efforts the wireless link no longer worked, the invader was still making mischief and the computer continued to annoy innocent third parties, a fact a further round of correspondence with the ISP established.

The old Dell has been quarantined, an even older laptop pressed into temporary service and the hunt for a replacement model is on in earnest. As the stand-in unit is buggy, cursed with a battery that cannot be recharged, has no wireless capacity and crashes when attempting to open .pdf files, posting will light until a new model is broken in.

Apologies -- and a question: could this infection have been transmitted by a USB memory stick? Young Master Bunyip admitted to plugging one in when his own laptop was elsewhere, and the problems began not long after.

Also, if readers have any suggestions on which model to buy, they would be much appreciated.


BLONDE economics writer Jessica Irvine explains:

Fact is, Australian capital city detached house prices are off just 3.4 per cent over the year to September, according to RP Data-Rismark. Housing is still as expensive as it ever was.

Except that it is 3.4% cheaper.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

All Over Town

FIRST they were in the City Square. Then they flirted with the Edinburgh Gardens before settling for a spell in the Treasury Gardens. Now, like an eruption of boils, the Occupiers' latest digs are being lanced and cleaned.

The protesters are whining but must be secretly relieved at the timing of the operation.Booted early in the day, the campers will still have time to get home, have a shower and report to their jobs.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Back Later

THERE is a little family business that demands attention, so there will be no fresh posts until later in the day.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Stapel Diet

NOT  a good day at Fairfax World Headquarters.

First, Peter Roebuck tosses himself off for the last time. And now one of the paper’s trusted sources, psychologist Diederik A. Stapel, has been revealed as a statistics fiddler and serial academic fraud. The formerly revered and much-quoted Dutch psychologist demonstrated an uncanny knack for research that always seemed to confirm the things newspapers like the Silly prefer to believe. You know, business leaders are sleazoids and the always popular assertion that a little Klansman lives inside every nice, white heart.

Expect a couple of corrections any day now.

Saint Spanky

TO: Julia, Wayne, et al
FROM: Bruce Hawker
SUBJECT: Hit ’em for six!

As you know, the latest polls show our evolving strategy  is bearing fruit. We are now just 10 points behind Abbott’s mob, which is giving our people something to work with at last. Michelle Grattan, Michael Gordon, Peter Hartcher have the talking points and are banging the drum about the growing pressure on Abbott and how his own backbenchers vomit spontaneously at the mere mention of his name. Malcolm Turnbull, the guy we can beat, is onboard to resume Opposition leadership so long as Goldman Sachs gets to trade carbon permits, which won’t be a problem if Bob B. can make Rhiannon shut her yap about Jews running the world.

Pretty soon we’ll switch our media assets to Abbott’s woman problem (again) and we’re also bringing out the big guns. Anne Summers is working on a fresh Monthly investigation of Abbott’s background which will reveal (a) that he is still a Catholic and (b) a real scoop, his lifelong links to fascism.

Turns out Abbott was born in London just two miles from the former home of Oswald Moseley. Anne is just wonderful! She pioneered this line in her attack on Andrew Bolt, which noted his mum lived as a child in a Dutch town with a Nazi mayor during WWII, and nobody raised an eyebrow. Thank God for modern journalism trainers like Matthew Ricketson, who urged people to buy Quarterly Essay and read Little Bob's investigation of News Ltd. We have put Ricketson on the press inquiry (he’s very grateful), so we should now consider appointing him and Summers to whatever regulatory body we institute when the final report comes in, as requested, with a finding that News Ltd is a threat to democracy and Rupert personally abducted the Beaumont children. (Summers working on this too; seems Rupert has historic ties to Adelaide and once owned a Valiant with a very big boot. Love that gal!)

So things are looking good – and about to look a whole lot better, thanks to Peter Roebuck. Hold on to your hats because this is dynamite stuff: Abbott killed Australia’s leading cricket writer. Don’t you just love it!

Our people will push the line that Abbott hates alternate sexualities and drove Spanky over the balcony with his intolerance. ABC already understands this, and no problem selling the line to Fairfax, which will be bronzing the cricket writer’s ping pong bat and awarding it every year to the most promising young sports reporter who manages to conflate cricket with right-wing intolerance.

Summers working a related angle too – penchant for budgie smugglers apparently an indication of Abbott's suppressed homosexuality, plus the statistical likelihood he was buggared by Jesuits as a schoolboy. Posse of climate scientists standing ready to assert their computer modeling proves Abbott was penetrated on precisely 14.3 occasions; they reckon they can prove he enjoyed it too, but that would mean slipping them another $10 million in research grants. Cheaper alternative: Get Flannery to say Abbott owns a Panasonic vibrator and is very happy with it. Wink. Wink.)

To recap: Things looking good for us at last. We have always had the media, now we have the martyr and the message.

Onward and upward,

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pain In The Arts

IN THE current edition of Quadrant, James Paterson suggests a strategy whereby Tony Abbott might win the culture war which John Howard lacked the stomach to prosecute with the resolve that campaign warrants. An appointment or two to the ABC board, the placement of a bona fide literary scholar in the Australia Council’s bookish precinct and a bit of eye-rolling at some of the “arts community’s” more ludicrous, publicly funded exercises in onanism and aren’t-I-so-daring indulgence – that was the sum of Howard negligible achievements. Paterson’s solution is simple: choke the funding. The luvvies will howl, but then they are always howling about something, so our next PM should not worry too much about aggrieved members of the Wanker-Australian community calling for his head or, because the Speedo uniform of volunteer lifesavers seems to amuse them so very much, burning bathing costumes on the front lawn of Parliament House.

They will do all of that and worse, but if Abbott sticks to his guns those demonstrations of artistic fury will do much to make his case and, as a guaranteed bonus, boost his standing with the electorate. The proof is in this morning’s edition of the Sunday Phage, where arts editor Raymond Gill has a look at the ten artists who “actually matter”, the ones “continually pushing boundaries, investigating new methods, forging new forms of expression, influencing their peers and shaping the way artists, curators and audiences might look at art in the coming decades?”

They compromise quite a crew, starting with “urban sculptor” Stuart Ringholt, who “explores the idea of embarrassment”, not to mention grants, by getting about in public “in the nude or with snot hanging from his nose.”
 Ringholt: Your taxes at work
Then there is the woman, Bianca Hester, who installs live horses in galleries, exercises in expression whose significance Gill neglects to explain. Is the horse the art form or its manure? Perhaps, while Ringholt drips mucus and scratches his nuts, Hester could put trousers on the beast as an investigation of the bourgeois fixation with appearance. Hey, why not? If she were to leave large wads of cash sticking from Dobbin’s pockets, it would remind her audience of the government largesse that is so much part of her oeuvre. The Sunday Phage regards this pair and the other eight transgressive treasures as being figures of such interest and importance the introduction to their profiles needs to be plastered across the entire top half of the front page.

And that is the aspect of the art world Abbott PM needs to heed even more than the dubious works successive governments have funded. Simply put, there are no votes to be lost by cutting off the cash flow. The people who care are Age readers, of whom perhaps 1% might be tempted to vote Liberal. Back in 2005, when he was locked in a luvvie tussle with Robyn Archer, arts maven Gill unintentionally captured that delicious isolation from (and ignorance of) the broader community when he celebrated the government funding that is the mother’s milk of so many snot dribblers and horse installers:
….Archer overlooks some fairly obvious changes in Australia—changes she has herself brought about in her role as director of many of our arts festivals. She fails to note the proliferation of arts festivals around the country in the past twenty years, festivals that have brought work here that I would consider to be, in the main, innovative and tough. Such work has exposed audiences, critics and artists to ideas and work that they would otherwise have to travel as extensively as Archer to see. At the same time, substantial funds have been made available to festivals to commission, from local artists, new work that is precisely not the sort of ‘mainstream’ work we are used to seeing our state and national companies present in their annual seasons. There are now scores of artists who make work solely for festivals, not only in this country but around the world; another factor that helps bridge the gap between Australia and the rest of the world.
There is no enemy more vulnerable than one whose fortress is built upon a foundation of conceit. These people will be sitting ducks for a government carried into office on a wave of repulsion for the squandering and lecturing elites we have had to endure since late in 2007. Go ’em, Mr Abbott. Only The Phage will hear their whining above the cheers of those who must get up every workday morning, report to jobs many dislike and then see the confiscated fruit of their toil redirected by luvvie mates to luvvie mates. 


Burn, Eco Baby, Burn

ELECTRIC cars cut emissions, right? Not really, because something still has to be burned somewhere to generate the electricity they draw from the socket in the wall. But still, they have teeny, tiny carbon tyreprints, right?

Sort of, but only until the vehicle catches fire.

Attention, Owl Lovers!

ENOUGH of politics, dishonesty and hypocrisy, at least for the moment.

Consider instead something absolutely magnificent, the rufous owl. The one in the clip below lives in Taronga Park Zoo, where it recently laid an egg -- much to the surprise of its handlers, who had been labouring under the misconception they were raising a boy owl. Appealing as the video might be, the place to appreciate this most overlooked of  Australia's birds is up north, way up north, where there are accounts of the creatures carving chicanes through forest top storeys in pursuit of fruit bats, which they are said to sometimes bring down in midflight. Now that would be something to see!
 Now check the link below, which is beyond the Professor's ken to embed. It is an eagle owl, one of the largest species, which lives and hunts mostly in Europe and Northern Asia, but its quarry would not have time to make that distinction.. All it would see is death.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Incomparable, Unstoppable Julia Gillard

A BEAUTIFUL day has dawned in Melbourne. Gentle sunshine, magpies singing, fluffy white puffballs in a cerulean sky – it is such a lovely and so gentle a morning the only complaint might be that the English language contains no adequate word to describe it. This is our PM’s fault, of course. When she endorsed Bob Brown’s proposal to examine means by which the press might be overseen and regulated, she needed to go further and also reform the dictionary. Yes, efforts have been underway to do that, but they are piecemeal and entirely unsatisfactory. Judge Mordy, for example, has done sterling work to redefine white as black, but there is only one of him and the dictionary is replete with other words in urgent need of fixing.

So here is a small suggestion: Let us from now call days such as this “gordonian”, which should be taken to mean the boundless optimism of those whose team spirit blinds them to all but the bluest of blue, blue skies. Its inspiration, The Age’s Michael Gordon, is putting the case for the word in this morning’s paper: 

“Suddenly,” he writes, “the Prime Minister appears to be building momentum and, finally, her opponent is under pressure.”

Is Gordon correct? If not now, the chances are that he will be sooner or later, because the “imminent” Gillard revival has been the staple of his political commentaries at least since last year’s election:

AUGUST 11, 2010: Has Tony peaked? ….Julia Gillard's strongest 48 hours since she called the election has left her where Paul Keating used to say he wanted to be 10 days out from polling day: one out, one back and, finally, with a hint of momentum.

After that, a series of unvaryingly cheerful updates on the gathering Gillard revival: 

March 14: Labor has lost the first round of the carbon tax debate comprehensively. But is it the knockout defeat some have already called, or has Gillard simply been shaken by the ferocity of Tony Abbott's ''bad-policy-based-on-a-lie'' assault? My instinct says it’s the latter.

June 18: if the sky doesn't fall in and the boats stop coming, Gillard will be given a level of kudos for having the courage of her convictions 

July 8: Why is Gillard privately buoyant? And why is Combet positively upbeat? Because, after more than four months of bleeding in the face of Tony Abbott's unrelenting assault, they now have something besides slogans to sell. 
July 18: If Gillard can demonstrate I'm-not-for-changing tenacity and grit in the grim months ahead, voters might be inclined to afford her respect

September 12: Julia Gillard has her best, and perhaps her last, chance to turn the tables on Tony Abbott in the asylum seeker debate today.

October 17: Tony Abbott forces Gillard into an embarrassing retreat on her plan to process asylum seekers who come by boat offshore, and he records his lowest net approval and highest disapproval since becoming Opposition Leader. (Gerard Henderson has more on this innovative interpretation of the polls). 

Very shortly the Professor will be off to the tackle shop, because the urge to teach the trout another lesson is rising, and then it will be on to the golf course. There are more important matters that really do need attention – a rickety back fence in need of bracing, a sink of dirty dishes and the blocked drain that is keeping them that way. But on such a day what claim has grim reality on optimism? Let Gordonian principles prevail!

Who needs reality when, after a week of storms and torrential rain, there is finally an indication of salad days ahead? So let us embrace Michael Gordon’s blue sky fixation and wear smiles wider than a dying broadsheet -- at least until Judge Mordy redefines that colour as well.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Gone Cold On Global Warming

IT MUST have been exhausting, these past years, for poor Jon Faine, who this morning on ABC radio heaved a weary sigh and cut off a discussion that was veering into the validity of climate science. Poor lamb found the topic oh-so boring, he told John Roskam as some airhead woman chirped background interruptions about conservatives “ignoring evidence” and not caring about her children. She was still reading from last week’s script, from before the Senate approved the tax imposed by the government Julia Gillard does not lead and PM Brown went all huggy with Mother Milne and Adam Runt.

But not Faine. His catastropharian advocacy, the unctuous reverence for grant-snafflers and propagandists, the hanging judge adjudications at all those stage-managed “debates” he directed – no need for any more of that. Now he can wish away the entire subject, banish it with an oh-so-bored wave and take his ease.

Enjoy, Jon, for there will be another luvvie crusade along shortly, another set of talking points to be memorised, more loaded questions to be put. Sure, history will not be kind, but in the meantime the pay is good and prominence flatters the ego. There is no rest for the sneery.

A Friday Night Suggestion

BASEBALL is a mysterious game, over and done by the time cricketers are only just thinking of oranges. If you want to understand the sport, skip the new film Moneyball, based on the book by Michael Lewis. You will be little wiser about the on-field action when the lights come up, certainly no better versed in "bunting" or why first base is, apparently, the hardest position to play.

But none of that really matters, because this flick is actually about productivity, specialisation, how markets work, misconceptions that distort them and how a smart operator can ... well, just go see the flick.

Brad Pitt is terrific as the tormented manager of the Oakland Athletics and Philip Seymour Hoffman is as far removed from Capote as you can imagine.


NOTE: According to the young fellow who arrived at the Sun Theatre in Yarraville from training with the Newport Rams baseball team, "bunting" is a way of striking the ball and not making it go very far, thus confusing the fielding team and allowing the batsman to dash for first base. It has nothing to do with grandstand draperies. His attempts to explain why you must never slide into first base, or why the fieldsman in that position need not have a strong throwing arm, were less successful. If you happen to read this post, many thanks for your efforts to banish ignorance and good luck on the weekend..

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Birds Of A Feather

WHAT is it with the Jones family and meat production? Lateline/Q&A host Tony's missus, Sarah Ferguson, was the reporterette whose Four Corners' show on abuses in Indonesian abbatoirs knocked the live-cattle industry for six, accusations that a slaughterman was paid to abuse cattle for the activists' cameras emerging only much later.

Now it's the head of the household's turn to wrap dead flesh in another of those unique ABC perspectives. The injury outside the Baiada poultry plant came about, to quote Jones, when "a security guard tried to drive through the crowd."

Watched the video? So what do you reckon? Was it the monstered security guard who caused the trouble by trying to report for work, or do you think it might, just might, be the howling mob that surrounded his vehicle, kicked in its door, tore off the rear-view mirror and, just for good measure, threw quite a few punches through the open driver's window?

If Jones had been handling his wife's Four Corners cattle scoop he would have reported that the cow incited all that kicking and mistreatment.

Assoc. Professor Hirst Responds

ASSOCIATE Professor Martin Hirst has responded to the post citing his opinion that America's First Amendment is an anachronism.His observations can be found in the comments thread of the relevant post, but as they may inspire Billabong visitors to share their own thoughts, they are also pasted below.

Feel free to comment -- politely, of course -- and let us thank Professor Hirst for demonstrating what free speech is all about. It's a nice little system, the civilised exchange of ideas. Pity if anything were to happen to it.

ethical martini said...

    sorry, I am semi-literate and I think I know the difference between anachronism and irrelevant, but I'm happy for you to enlighten me in your special way. 'Anachronism' something that is of a previous time that may not be quite so relevant (so there is perhaps a link?) in the modern contemporary world.

In relation to the first amendment I think the fact that it is always being tested in the courts shows that it is contested and shows that it may well display the characteristics of an anachronism - that is, it it showing its age. Further, societies move on, this is not America of the revolutionary years anymore. When the 1st amendment was drafted it was a frontier country, young and flexing its muscles. America today is a very different place full of decay and exercising imperial power across the world. the first amendment has not saved it from that malaise.

Our values have changed and so have our ideas. I also note that the 1st amendment is not absolute, it bans certain things too: The Supreme Court has often defined certain speech, also known as “at risk speech,” as being unprotected by the First Amendment:

* Burning draft cards to protest draft — prohibited because of superior governmental interest.
* Words likely to incite imminent violence, termed “fighting words.”
* Words immediately jeopardizing national security.
* Newspaper publishing false and defamatory material — libel.

We may today in our enlightened way agree or disagree with some of these bans. I for one don't agree with the ban on burning draft cards as I do not support the idea of a higher national / state interest in such matters of political dissent. I do however support the ban on 'fighting speech' and this is the essence of the Racial Discrimination Act, for example, in Australia.

So, in the context of the tweet that this blog found so outrageous (you can read above) my comment that the 1st amendment is anachronistic should not be read as an attack on the right of free speech. My comments at the media inquiry on Tuesday (mainly answers to questions from the inquiry chair that I did not know were coming as I was there to talk about something entirely different) will be published in full in the next 48 hours, read them for yourselves and then judge me on that.

I have never met the 'professor' nor he me. But he launched an attack on my person without provocation and then reacted in a very snippy way when I responded in a light-hearted fashion. It seems he is infringing my freedom of expression to denounce me and my reputation in such a manner. It was, IMHO, troll-like behaviour.

I have no problem with a conservative viewpoint being put, but you guys get very personal very quickly and are at the same time provocative and defensive when people like me try to stick up for themselves.

I spoke at the media inquiry about the need for civilised discourse - that is engaging with ideas, not slandering your opponents, - try it. Take a deep breath and exhale, close your eyes, relax and repeat after me - a trotskyist is not a stalnist; trots do not eat babies, permanent revolution doesn't mean gulags we're all individuals.

BTW: I can quote orwell too.

NOTE: In pasting Assoc. Prof Hirst's comment a technical glitch stripped all the paragraphs. The text has seen been re-set. If the breaks above are not those of the original comment, be assured no malice directed the "enter" key.

AND A RELUCTANT UPDATE: It is not good manners to invade the stage, push the speaker from the microphone and disagree with his or her points while offering no opportunity of immediate reply, so an hour's reflection and two cups of coffee have been invested in considering whether or not to address Associate Professor Hirst's four key points. This post represents his turn to spout off, and commenting on his comment might strike some as a a taking unfair advantage of the "publish" button. Whatever Hirst might say, the opportunity will always be there to enjoy the last word.

That said, and after much reflection, readers' appreciation of his four asterisked points would benefit from a little background on relevant US Supreme Court rulings, which can be found here. As the author notes, the court's logic has been all over the block, although a general retreat from the "fighting words" ruling is evident

The four points and where they run aground on reality:

* Burning draft cards to protest draft — prohibited because of superior governmental interest.
The court did not examine free speech, (dubiously) rejecting the notion that it is relevant to the burning of draft cards. It did, however, safeguard Americans' right to burn their flag.
* Words likely to incite imminent violence, termed “fighting words.”

This ruling sprang from the arrest of a street-corner orator and his refusal to leave the soapbox when, in the officer's opinion, further remarks were likely to inspire a riot. By contrast, SCOTUS also stood by a Klansman's right to burn his cross, in part because that act was not an incitement to "imminent" violence and, perhaps more importantly, because advocating violence in theory is protected. Relevance to the Bolt decision: Zip
* Words immediately jeopardizing national security.

The key word is "immediately". See the Pentagon Papers, whose publication the court refused to sanction

* Newspaper publishing false and defamatory material — libel.

US libel laws defend news organisations' right to get it wrong so long as those mistakes are not the fruit of malice. As a result, it is virtually impossible in the US for public figures and officials to win damages. Again to mention the Bolt case, Judge Mordy's ruling is inconceivable in the context of New York Times v. Sullivan

Associate Professor Hirst is right, however, to cite US standards, even if he fails to grasp their meaning. In regard to free speech, Australia would be a better place, and its democracy healthier, were we to import US laws and attitudes as a job lot.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Attack Of The Towering Trot

THE next poor fellow to divorce the former Mrs Bunyip will learn rather quickly that harsh words come in two varieties. The first sort hurt but their effect is muted, as hearing grim truths about one’s poor habits and regrettable activities tends to encourage silence rather than anger, silence with sometimes a dash of shame. The other kind, they’re the barbs that can escalate the simplest spat into what attending police will log as “a serious domestic”.  It is one thing to hear genuine vices proclaimed – screamed, actually – but quite another to be heaped with convictions for offences no more than contemplated, a category that includes all those misconceptions about what went on that night on the mooring with Joan (who was drunk, going through a difficult time and just needed a little help with her self-esteem).  The thing about legal papers and lawyer bills is that, eventually, they turn those bitter moments into memories. Slowly the temper cools, blood pressure medications can be chucked and it becomes possible as anger subsides to fall asleep without balled fists and grinding teeth.

Such has been the happy state at the Billabong for the past few years, but not last night. When the light was dimmed and imagination re-ran the day in its sepia stutter of mise-en-scenes, it was the spectre of a snarling Martin Hirst that rose from the drowsy subconscious. And once again, as he did through most of yesterday afternoon, he was flinging terrible, unjust slurs and charges. Wearing one of Mrs Bunyip’s less-fetching aprons, wielding an ice pick in one hand and a fashionable martini in the other, the phantasm's words were honed by cruelty and cut with a rapier’s slash.

The Billabong  is “a low-rent rightwing blog” and the Professor “a troll” cum “dribblejaw” who feeds faux “facts” to Andrew Bolt. This death-beast percolation fires up the jackboot media, yesterday inspiring a garden-variety reporter to call Deakin University’s Associate Professor of Media Studies (just as he was settling down, no doubt with a chic martini) and grill him in that evil, Murdoch way.

ethicalmartini ethicalmartini 

#mediainquiry I just had a call from #thedAilytelegraph on a witch hunt for reds under the bed. Weds #newslimited papers doing a hatchet job

Vile, foul remarks, but there were more and worse memories to haunt last night’s dark hours. When a tweeting admirer urged Associate Professor Hirst to spurn a “fascist” Bunyip and pay no heed at all to posts about the academic’s proud Trot pedigree, he rejected with a revolutionary’s zeal the very notion of staying schtum. He is out for blood, he explained in his response, replying that “baiting them is fun. They are nasty and don't have a sense of humour or social justice.”

In the case of a mild and inoffensive Bunyip, Hirst might be right about the social justice bit. But nasty? No sense of humour? What a hurtful man he is to say such things, so hateful it requires a real effort to extend good fellowship’s hand and remind him, gently and calmly, why empty vessels will always make the most noise. It is no more than logic, really. If a sense of humour is lacking at the Billabong then something else must be responsible for the chuckles at his expense that he sense, and a process of elimination nominates him as the source of all that mirth.

If Hirst would but spike tweets like this one, that would be a big step toward his goal of being taken seriously – quite a challenge for a fellow who works at Deakin, of which a modest commenter notes: “ATAR entrance cutoff in 2011 to the Deakin faculty of Media and Communications at the Geelong Campus was a stunning 59.05”.
ethicalmartini ethicalmartini 

#mediainquiry #newslimited asks are you now or have you ever been a #Trotskyist nothing about my opinion. As a #socialist I am not allowed

Associate Professor Hirst, it is not that you are a socialist. There are still quite a few of those about, especially in the common rooms of universities until recently devoted to the useful disciplines of wool classing and crutching. The real problem is that you are a Trot, which in this day and age suggests, you know, a self-absorbed preciousness.

Advocating the hopeless cause has always been a fine way to stand out from the pack, to wrap  ego in the pure and burnished glow of inspirational otherworldliness. Mainstream Left and dominant Right? Why, don’t you know that each is wrong, and ’tis only from the throne of theory and Trot abstractions that the shortcomings of all others’ agendas can be divined and, with a contemptuous wave, dismissed. It is the playground of your noxious, know-it-all teenager -- an expanding demographic which has come to include university-supported Peter Pans of the middle-aged variety. And best of all, the Trot creed cannot fail because it will never be put to the test, meaning Associate Professor Hirst can remain the smartest and most interesting guest at any inner city barbecue. He will think so, anyway, which really is the most important thing.

Still, it remains something of a mystery why the Press Inquiry made Associate Professor Hirst its lead witness. Trotsky was, after all, an advocate of doing away with censorship, as he explained in 1938:
“Any workers ‘leader’ who arms the bourgeois state with special means to control public opinion in general, and the press in particular, is a traitor.”
Since the inquiry’s other witnesses have been rather keen to fit free speech with overseers, hobbles and reviewers, not to mention generous, grant-bestowing “parents”, Hirst would seem once again to have been cast as the loneliest voice in the room.

But then, when you recall what else Long Winded Leon had to say about free speech, the genius of kicking off a show trial with a thinker of Associate Professor’s stature becomes crystal clear:
Once victorious, the proletariat may find itself forced, for a period of time, to take special measures against the bourgeoisie, if the bourgeoisie adopts an attitude of open revolt against the workers’ state. In this case, restrictions to the freedom of the press go hand in hand with all other measures used in preparation for a civil war. When forced to use artillery and aviation against the enemy we will obviously not tolerate this same enemy maintaining his own centers of information and propaganda inside the camp of the armed proletariat.
The revolution, Associate Professor Hirst’s revolution, is not yet upon us or ever likely to be, so those restrictions are needed now and, to all intents purposes, forever after.

It all makes perfect sense to the superior mind, especially after a few martinis.