Monday, August 31, 2009

David Burchell, a bit of FDR bashing, and a yearning for Mr. Chips

You can always tell when someone is feeling their age. They revert to history and the good old days, though the good old days were never that good, or perhaps never that bad.

But if properly burnished they can be held up as a fitting lament to these current times, as well as a dire guide to future lamentations, though personally I think it's because the old realize that they'll not be around to enjoy those future times. Youth envy is an eternal aspect of this unhappy troubled world.

What else to make of David Burchell's wrap up for his piece History, but only as we chose to remember it?

No school is going to turn down a learning centre (whatever exactly that may be) or a technology hall. But they would probably rather have teachers who were once the stars of their own schools, and literature set texts that have some standing as works of literature. And in that regard, sad to say, the generation of the 30s do seem somehow to have stolen a march on us.

Where to start? With the fey refusal to understand what a learning centre must be? Or the obligatory damnation of hall, by adding that fatal word technology in front of it? As if, you can almost hear him harumph, there was nothing wrong with woodwork and metal work and tech drawing and sewing in the old days.

Or the fateful yearning for teachers doing a Robert Donat in Goodbye, Mr. Chips, a yearning which seems to hit every generation, with the Dead Poet's Society doing it decades later. As if "teacher as star" is the best way to teach, and impart knowledge, rather than result down the track in a rather dire musical version with Peter O'Toole.

Or the notion that somehow the generation of the thirties taught literature set texts, Harold Bloom approved representations of the canon, as if (a) no decent works of literature have since been written; (b) none have been read; (c) it's gosh darned foolishness to waste student time on such idle cultural matters as the cinemah, the stage, or even television, though Shakespeare himself might have seen some merit in The Wire.

No, when you're determined to pronounce everything rooned, well it damn well better be rooned.

Yet funnily enough, Burchell is determined that we only remember history the way we choose. I guess in much the same way as he choses what he thinks about the present and the future.

Cue nostalgia, and fond memories Eric Williams's The Wooden Horse, though I did have to hold back a choking chortle when Burchell said he spent his time reading semi-literary wartime stories by authors who dreamed of being Siegfreid Sassoon or Wilfred Owen.

I presume he's not referring to the Sassoon who penned entirely bleak works about World War 1, after being shot in the head in a friendly fire incident, and then spending the rest of his life in a post war gloomy funk.

Or Wilfred Owen, who wrote some of the most memorably bleak poems about war you might wish to read before slashing your wrists, killed one week before the armistice 1918.

I can't remember Captain W. E. Johns thinking of those two when he wrote the Biggles books.

Still I guess we choose to remember history the way we prefer, so it's fitting Burchell broods yet again about the relationship between baby boomers and their war time parents, before settling on a kind of partial attempt to replicate recent right wing American attempts to discredit or diminish Franklin D. Roosevelt (though he doesn't quite go so far, as some have, to credit Roosevelt for planting the seeds of the recent GFC).

As another example of our creative powers of memory, take the controversy around the federal government's frantic, improvised responses to the global financial crisis. Since most of those who experienced the Depression are dead, we're free to invoke the imagined spirit of the dole queue, or Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, without fear of contradiction. Yet even a casual student of the 1930s would have to admit, if they put their hand upon their heart, that the legislative response to the Depression in the US was at least as arbitrary, opportunistic and ill thought through as anything our own would-be FDRs could possible envision.

Well yes, I suppose, in much the same way as Churchill's strategies and responses in the second world to sundry crises was at least as arbitrary, opportunistic and as ill thought through as anything our own would-be generals could possibly envision when it came to fighting the war in Iraq, and now manage in the fighting in Afghanistan.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, especially when designed to abuse someone for doing what they can without knowing quite how things might work out. But enough, time now for the character assassination:

Roosevelt, who nowadays has come in some circles to assume the character of a saint, was in life as crafty and temporising a politician as was ever born. His economic policies (what his earliest and most un-illusioned biographer, James MacGregor Burns, described as the economics of the "broker state") required endless doses of improvisation, along with "a host of energetic and ill-assorted government programs and economic betterment without real recovery". And his governing style involved balancing the interests of the strongest interest groups at the expense of the weaker ones, in the process buying "short-term political gains at the expense of long-term strategic advance". None of this is exactly unfamiliar.

Come to assume the character of a saint? Well I guess you have to set up the straw man so you can set it on fire. But I can't imagine anyone the adulterous Roosevelt was a saint, at least by bourgeois standards, after his affair with his wife's social secretary (which meant that Eleanor refused to come back to his home and live with him in 1942 when his health deteriorated). But then Burchell is given to banal observations, and dressing them up as if they're powerful insights. Like the news that FDR was a politician:

Like the democratic cynics of our own day, FDR happily pursued at all times, with almost geometrical precision, a path calculated to secure the maximum political advantage for every dollar of economic stimulus spent, all the while harmonising the electoral cycle to the fiscal one.

No way, I thought his first job would have been to implement policies and programs that ensured he was defeated by Kansas Governor Alf Landon in 1936. Wanting to stay in power? How outrageous and outlandish. Yep, luck favors the devil:

But then, what should we expect? As the era's sage, J.M. Keynes, happily pointed out, the good fortune of the slump was to have made economic expansion and political expediency into siblings.

So what's the real point of taking a jaundiced look at FDR? Well of course it's actually to take a jaundiced view of current politicians and their delusions about nation-building. Compare and contrast:

In one sense, the chief economic legacy of the Depression to us is merely that hard times can be made to license a species of policy exuberance that might in other times be labelled as carelessness.

It was FDR's great advantage over our would-be FDRs that his programs really were nation building, in a practical and material sense. Then there were roads where roads had never been, while dams brought electricity to candle-burners.

Whereas that national broadband network is made up of digital thingies and widgets and what nots, and do we really need to spend all our time on the intertubes, wasting lives staring at empty screens? As opposed to building a good solid road and a bloody big dam?

Now you might wonder if any of this old infrastructure might need replacing or at least restoration - bridges in the United States, for example, have a habit of falling down - and you might also wonder whether during the grand days of John Howard we might not have pissed a lot of the mineral boom against the wall rather than fixing up failing infrastructure and preparing new infrastructure in readiness for a shifting, changing world. You might especially think this if you have a child in a public school, where teachers struggle and children face realities far removed from a well fed private school.

But you would of course be deluded in Burchell's eyes:

Our would-be FDRs, by adopting the mantle of nation-building without really comprehending its original purpose, have in effect played a joke upon themselves and us.

Never mind old chum, just be grateful - if all you can think of as nation building involves dams and roads - that the times have moved along, that the old ways are rapidly changing and your children will in due course be beyond your control.

And that even if current decisions are made with the usual mixture of haphazard ignorance and guessing and half assed planning, at least they're being made by people a bit more wired into the way the world is at the moment, and the way it might work in the future.

What? Steady on. Come back Mr. Chips, come back. We need our Greek and our Latin. How else are we to understand your joke about Lex Canuleia, the law that allows patricians to marry plebians. But then you might recognize the eternal appeal of the imagined conservative past in this dialogue:

Headmaster: Look at that gown you're wearing. I happen to know it's a subject of amusement to the whole school. A year ago, I told you that I wanted the new style of Latin pronunciation taught. And you totally ignored it.
Chips: Oh that! Nonsense in my opinion, nonsense. What's the use of teaching boys to say Cicero [with a hard C] when for the rest of their lives, they'll say Cicero [with a soft C], or say it at all?...
Headmaster: There you are. I'm trying to make Brookfield an up-to-date school, and you insist on clinging to the past. The world's changing, Mr. Chipping.
Chips: I know the world's changing, Dr. Ralston. I've seen the old traditions dying one by one. Grace and dignity and feeling for the past. All that matters here today is a fat banking account. You're trying to run the school like a factory for turning out money-making, machine-made snobs! You've raised the fees, and in the end, the boys who really belong to Brookfield have been frozen out, frozen out. Modern methods! Intensive training! Poppycock! Give a boy a sense of humor and a sense of proportion and he'll stand up to anything! I'm not going to retire. Do what you like about it.

So it goes. But Chips is right about a sense of humor. You need it when reading David Burchell.

(Below: FDR thrashing the fiscal lion. Never mind that in 1921 at the age of 39 a fever produced a paralysis of the lower extremities, which he did his best to hide, and to ignore, during the course of his political career. Ah to be sure, he was a saint of a man, no matter how they try to kick away his crutches and put him in history's wheelchair. Well if Burchell can blather one way, why not blather the other?)

Paul Sheehan, three cheers for discrimination and remember the sarsaparilla

(Above: the Lebanon club, a New York working-mens coffee house in 1880. Spot the women. More images from the NYPL digital gallery here).

I only have dim memories of the grand old days of Australian male pub culture.

When you speak to young things, they look at you in a disbelieving way, as if you're talking about some long lost dark era of discrimination. But the land so effectively evoked in the Australian feature Wake in Fright isn't so far behind us that the living can't testify as to its truth.

In the old days, women and children often stayed in the car while the menfolk nipped inside for a quick shout or two. You could no more take a woman into a public bar than you could take one into a shearing shed.

By definition, any woman who went in to a public bar was a slut or a prostitute, or both, unless of course they were stationed behind the counter serving out the beer and listening to the men whine about life.

So discreet women with social ambitions either went into the lounge bar, or stayed in the car outside the pub, and had a lemon squash delivered to them as a consolation prize. That way you avoided the loose women you could also find in the lounge bar.

Funny when you think about the wording - a public bar where fifty per cent of the population weren't the public, or welcome, while they could lounge in the lounge bar if they liked.

I remember thinking it was vaguely peculiar, even a little off putting. Were women (and children) so alien, foreign and useless that they couldn't go where men might freely go, and assemble for their collective pleasure?

Well of course in those days, the pubs were tiled so that the mopping up of the vomit from the six o'clock swill or the ten o'clock swill could be more easily handled. And they talk about binge drinking today. They have no idea, these newly sensitive gits who think binge drinking was invented last week, or a year ago.

But what capped it for me was the day my father brought out a sarsaparilla drink as my reward for sitting in the car furnace as it gently began to bake. Not a ginger beer or a lemon squash, or any of the other soft drinks you might acquire, but a strange, exotic brew you can mainly find in root beer concoctions beloved of Americans and Australians.

So not only was I banned, but I had to take what I was given, even if it had a flavor closely related to fizzy castor oil.

Happily, everything must pass, and so it came about that women could go into public bars to have a drink without it being taken as a sign they wanted to fuck every man with a beer in his hand, and they could, if they wanted, indulge in binge drinking in a way that would make my metho drinking uncle cringe. Ah, the joys of equality.

But when I see the kind of crap dished out by Paul Sheehan in Three cheers for discrimination, I still feel the taste of sarsaparilla in my mouth.

You see, Sheehan is all for discrimination. That's what his header says. As clear as day.

Now sure he dresses it up with lofty rhetoric the benefits of elitist clubs and institutions for women, but the message remains the same. And the fact that women discriminate makes, by a magic, dexterous flip of the hand, all discrimination quite fine:

I've never been to the Lyceum Club, and it would never admit me as a member. Rightly so. The Lyceum Club has rigorous standards. I commend the club for its discrimination and its elitism, both admirable qualities. Besides, as Groucho Marx once said, ''I would not join any club that would have me as a member''.

On Thursday the Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, was made an honorary member of the 97-year-old club, which is for women only.

Members must also be university graduates or have distinguished themselves in the arts or public service. The club is self-consciously exclusive, much like the equally venerable Queens Club in Sydney or the century-old Brisbane Women's Club, which also benefit from the absence of men.

It is of course the oldest trick in the rhetorician's book. How women benefit from the absence of men, how clever Groucho Marx is, and of course when you come to think of it, how men can sometimes benefit from the absence of women.

Come to think of it, ain't it splendid how discreet country clubs in America benefit from the absence of negroes and Jews, and ain't it grand how negroes benefit from being able to go to their own clubs to listen to their kind of music and eat their kind of strange soul food.
It all works out for the best, as Bill O'Reilly once explained:

You know, I was up in Harlem a few weeks ago, and I actually had dinner with Al Sharpton, who is a very, very interesting guy. And he comes on The Factor a lot, and then I treated him to dinner, because he's made himself available to us, and I felt that I wanted to take him up there. And we went to Sylvia's, a very famous restaurant in Harlem. I had a great time, and all the people up there are tremendously respectful. They all watch The Factor. You know, when Sharpton and I walked in, it was like a big commotion and everything, but everybody was very nice.

And I couldn't get over the fact that there was no difference between Sylvia's restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it's run by blacks, primarily black patronship.

Why lordy, next thing you know, we'll discover blacks are really people. It might take a little longer for women to be afforded that status, but never mind.

Back to Paul Sheehan. After celebrating the glories of a toffy, poncy club of distinguished women, he suddenly discovers an attitude problem which brings out the best in his always curmudgeonly grumpiness:

The Governor-General was once the Australian Human Rights Commission's Sex Discrimination Commissioner. The present occupant of that position, Elizabeth Broderick, has used the occasion to offer her opinion that it is ''not smart'' for any such institution to lock out half of the population.

No, what is not smart is Broderick's sanctimonious, gratuitous intervention. It is emblematic of the commission's hunger for relevance.

Well actually what is not smart is Sheehan's sanctimonious, gratuitous intervention in the matter of discrimination on the basis that he thinks a club for 'women only' is as fine as a club for 'men only' is as fine for a club dedicated to whatever other group wants to exclude another group to make a social, cultural, economic or political point.

But actually Sheehan isn't interested in a discussion of discrimination, though if you go to the NT, you'll see active white and black places and pubs in operation around the clock, designated by social and cultural rules rather than the law.

What he's interested in bagging is the Calma report and the Human Rights Commission and the current president of the commission, Catherine Branson.

Well they can look after themselves, and respond as they will to Sheehan's talk of cultural cyanide.

Me I can still taste the sarsaparilla in one way or another on a daily basis, and Sheehan can rabbit on as much as he likes about the way exclusive clubs are good and just and right and proper, but he's just mounting an argument so beloved of the pigs in Animal Farm:

It was about this time that the pigs suddenly moved into the farmhouse and took up their residence there. Again the animals seemed to remember that a resolution against this had been passed in the early days, and again Squealer was able to convince them that this was not the case. It was absolutely necessary, he said, that the pigs, who were the brains of the farm, should have a quiet place to work in. It was also more suited to the dignity of the Leader (for of late he had taken to speaking of Napoleon under the title of "Leader") to live in a house than in a mere sty. Nevertheless, some of the animals were disturbed when they heard that the pigs not only took their meals in the kitchen and used the drawing-room as a recreation room, but also slept in the beds. Boxer passed it off as usual with "Napoleon is always right!", but Clover, who thought she remembered a definite ruling against beds, went to the end of the barn and tried to puzzle out the Seven Commandments which were inscribed there. Finding herself unable to read more than individual letters, she fetched Muriel.

"Muriel," she said, "read me the Fourth Commandment. Does it not say something about never sleeping in a bed?"

With some difficulty Muriel spelt it out.

"It says, 'No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets,"' she announced finally.

Curiously enough, Clover had not remembered that the Fourth Commandment mentioned sheets; but as it was there on the wall, it must have done so. And Squealer, who happened to be passing at this moment, attended by two or three dogs, was able to put the whole matter in its proper perspective.

"You have heard then, comrades," he said, "that we pigs now sleep in the beds of the farmhouse? And why not? You did not suppose, surely, that there was ever a ruling against beds? A bed merely means a place to sleep in. A pile of straw in a stall is a bed, properly regarded. The rule was against sheets, which are a human invention. We have removed the sheets from the farmhouse beds, and sleep between blankets. And very comfortable beds they are too! But not more comfortable than we need, I can tell you, comrades, with all the brainwork we have to do nowadays. You would not rob us of our repose, would you, comrades? You would not have us too tired to carry out our duties? Surely none of you wishes to see Jones back?"

And so forth and etcetera.

Well, a pox on all elitist discrimination. Some might say remember the Alamo, but I say remember the sarsaparilla.

(Below: For Men Only January 1955).

Mark Day, Chairman Rupert, the anti-siphoning regime, and foolish people power people

The ongoing campaigning of the Murdoch empire for total control is a restless, wondrous, ever moving kind of activism, a marvel of singing from the one song sheet in the search for market dominance.

It isn't just the need for the population to pay for newspapers online, so that the empire can carry on its self-appointed task of monitoring politicians (while not minding too much whatever malfeasance business can manage).

No, it's also vitally important that the populace must be persuaded of the efficacy, nay joy, of paying for television.

Now there's a problem with this. Some people are happy with public broadcasters, while others accept the trade off between commercials and free to view content. This kind of indolent, ungracious preference of joe public for free use of airwaves considered public property and licensed to a few owners to make money is a serious problem.

We might call the problem "people power". Because as we know power to the people is a dangerous leftie delusion, sloganeering off the back of democratic populism of a kind that promises we'll end up with a ratbag demagogue like Silvio Berlusconi.

Oh wait, got that wrong. He's a media mogul and nothing wrong with that. Just like Rupert Murdoch, who owns a significant share of Foxtel, along with Telstra and Consolidated Media.

Well James Murdoch has already kicked the BBC can, and received a little return fire (Peston responds to Murdoch's BBC bashing).

So where better to learn about the problems of "people power" than to turn to Mark Day in The Australian, a News Corp rag, in Yankalilla TV woes:

People power is a wondrous thing. There is no constitutional right that says we should all be able to watch the football grand finals or the Melbourne Cup live on free TV, or even that we should get a TV service at all, but it’s a popularly held belief and woe betide any politician or government seen to be meddling with that “right”.

I saw people power in action last week when I joined more than 100 residents demanding their “right” to digital TV.

Oh vexatious democratic demagogues. You have no right to anything, unless of course you pay Uncle Rupert for it. After all, as we all know, the only safe way to guarantee the delivery of anything independent is the profit motive. (You know, like a serious critique of the power and influence of Chairman Rupert. You'll find that at least once a week in the Murdoch press).

Ostensibly Day is concerned about the citizens of the exotic hamlet of Yankalilla:

Three months ago I wrote about the mayor of the Yankalilla District Council whipping up a scare campaign in his region by telling ratepayers they were about to lose their TV services. It’s nonsense. It’s not going to happen.

The cleverness of Day is that he uses the distraction of Yankalilla's 'black spot' plight in relation to the delivery of digital television to carry out a more important task - argue for the removal or limitation of the much hated pay-TV anti-siphoning list. The meat and potatoes is in the second half of the column:

Meanwhile, the Productivity Commission’s review of anti-siphoning measures will be presented today to Assistant Treasurer Nick Sherry.

There is no reason to believe the commission’s view has changed greatly from its draft report that calls for a substantial reduction in the events listed.

This list, the bane of the pay-TV industry, is a classic example of people power in overkill.

Pesky dangerous stirring democratic demagogues in action once again, caring about their pockets and the god-given right of Australians to watch sport for free, while moaning about (or being entertained by) the advertisements jammed into the prime viewing spectacle. So prime that sporting events have had to switch their times to suit the FTA broadcasters. How dare the people power people talk about free.

During the protracted arm-wrestles between free-to-air broadcasters, the nascent pay-TV industry and regulators in the 90s, politicians imagined the hue and cry that would follow if, say, Foxtel snapped up the rights to AFL or NRL and took everyone’s favourite sport off free TV.

Now why on earth would they think that, given that Chairman Rupert is ever so caring and sharing?

They took their cue from events in Britain, where BSkyB (part-owned by News Corporation, publisher of The Australian) snapped up rights to the English Premier League football (soccer) and used its popularity with viewers to drive subscriptions.

That was an example of the commercial markets working in an unfettered fashion, but it was too much for the local pollies to contemplate, so they created a list of sporting events that had to be shown first on free TV.

You see? Greed and commercial cupidity is just the markets working in an unfettered fashion. As if sport has any other meaning than to tickle the till.

It remains the most extensive list in the world, with 1300 nominated events, and the most stupid, given that 77 per cent of the protected sporting events are not shown on TV at all.

The free-to-air operators now want to use their secondary digital channels to show sport. This is currently banned under the same logic that kept sport off pay-TV: that audiences for digital channels were too small.

Yes, and there's the rub. The sporting channel One, operated by the Ten network, is having an impact. Why last night if you were Tim Blair, you could have seen the grand prix live, while the main FTA channel ran the event on delay, pitching the result to much later in the viewer evening.

In these days of remote controls, even the dummies can learn to roam up and down the mushrooming FTA channels, which are starting to look more and more like - gasp - a free equivalent to the mushroom channels gathered together on pay TV. So many channels, so little to watch.

The Productivity Commission says the anti-siphoning list is overly burdensome, anti-competitive in that it “directly limits competition between subscription and free-to-air networks”, denies revenue to sporting bodies as a result of that lack of competition for rights, and has a limited effectiveness.

“The list appears to be unnecessary to meet the objectives of wide consumer access to sports broadcasts,” it says in the draft report, adding “it may actually reduce consumer access”.

Oh yes, a thousand new sports will blossom, and money will rain down on all sports, and it will all be spent on making children healthy (as opposed to wasting it on star power sporting types paid huge amounts of moola because of their drawing power). Provided of course that you're prepared to pay for your access. Stand by for the wrath of those foolish, disgruntled people power people.

The commission says the option to abolish the anti-siphoning regime should be explored, but as an interim measure “the burden imposed by the regime should be alleviated by substantially shortening the list and simplifying the process”.

The anti-siphoning rules are to be reviewed by year’s end and any changes will come into effect at the end of 2010.

And why should politicians embrace the Productivity Commission? Easy peasy:

When these rules were constructed, pay-TV had penetration levels in single figures and there were no digital multi-channels. Now more than 50 per cent of houses are digitally enabled, and pay-TV levels are about 35 per cent. Both figures are rising.

Soon, any political rationale for an anti-siphoning list will be gone.

Well you might ask exactly what digital enabling has got to do with it all, and of course we're back to this new capacity for FTA to run much more sport than it did in the old five FTA channel days. But they'll have to pay for the pleasure, and in the meantime, with the anti-siphoning list abolished, cherry picking as a way of establishing a 'must have, must watch' element in programming will become a key part of the game.

The Productivity Commission recommendations should be embraced forthwith and the list abandoned at the end of next year.

I'd allow no more than three months after that for the first scandal to erupt, where the good people of Yankalilla rise up in arms to complain about a much loved sporting event switching codes, so to speak, and ending up in the outstretched, ever loving, high paying arms of cable TV.

And who will benefit? Why the established sports on the 'must watch' list and their already highly paid prima donnas. If tiddly winks thinks its world championship in Melbourne will get televised, tell them they're dreaming (no, to my knowledge there's no such event scheduled for Melbourne, but I'm throwing it out there, just dreaming and wishing and hoping).

Yep, you can't make a leopard change his spots, and the desire to do a BSkyB here to drive subscriptions will be irresistible. And then people power will erupt - you know, those foolish people who think in a democracy they somehow have entitlements and rights, when the only right they have is to fork over their cash to Chairman Rupert. Let that be a lesson to you. There's no need for a Bill of Rights in this country when the only right that matters is the greater good of News Corp.

And then the politicians will skitter and dance, while the tech heads will have already discovered the best way is to use a proxy server to get hold of the internet stream. Well if you can do it for Hulu, you can do it for the Blackburn Rovers.

Oh intertubes, you and your foolish people power. You've already ruined everything by somehow suggesting people can get content for free, including Chairman Rupert's content, and caused Mark Day no end of restless sleeps and nightmares.

Please just shut up and pay the Man what he's owed. On a regular weekly basis. You'll hardly notice the lightness in your wallet, the sense of freedom in your purse.

And all will be quiet and well in Yankalilla, with the government delivering the digital connection and Chairman Rupert delivering the content ... for a price.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Alex Jones, Stephanie Pasco, and tell the world it's an emergency, the seed pods are coming!

(Above: Four Yorkshiremen. Funny when you're young and funny when you're old. And nothing to do with anything, except it's Sunday. Now in my day on a Sunday we were up at four am ...)

Things being slow on a Sunday in our domestic loon pond, time to stride the vast world of the intertubes in search of treasure.

And in only a few seconds, there's more than enough for a lifetime of study comes tumbling down the pipes courtesy of Alex Jones, host of an eponymous radio show syndicated with Genesis Communications Network in the United States, and also available on the intertubes.

You can read as much as you'd like about Jones by trotting off to Wikipedia here, but we have smaller fish to fry today.

You see in a bid to save the United States (possibly even the world) Jones has a web site going under the title Alex Jones', (there's a war on for your mind!), and if you pay a visit, you're likely as not to stumble on such epics of advanced thinking as Stephanie R. Pasco's The Move to Depopulate the Planet.

Yep, at a time when most are projecting that the population of the earth over the next thirty years is likely to spiral from plus six billion to around the nine billion mark, Ms. Pasco has discovered an alarming plot to depopulate the planet.

The depopulation agenda is based on nature worship, or Gaia worship. In Genesis, God clearly told Adam and Eve, and then Noah and his family to go forth and multiply to fill the earth. Nowhere in the Bible does God rescind that clearly spoken commandment. Therefore man is attempting to supercede the command of the Lord God in heaven: The Creator! I ask you, who knows more about the state of the earth, the created, or the Creator?

Okay, you catch the drift. Ms. Pasco flings together an assortment of quotes ranging from the Club of Rome through Mikhail Gorbachev and Aldous Huxley to Jacques Cousteau, Bertrand Russell, Henry Kissinger, David Rockefeller, Sir Julian Huxley, Theodore Roosevelt, sundry UN treaties, and so on and on, until we land on the news that Prince Charles is involved. Yep, our very own aspirational tampon, our future king:

In 1990, Prince Charles formed The Prince of Wales Business Leaders Forum to bring together 50-60 of the world’s topmost multi-national/transnational corporations to start buying up governments around the world. This is Public/Private Partnerships: This is the very definition of fascism.

Oh no, and maybe someday he'll be our king, long may he reign over us, send him victorious, happy and glorious, and so on and yadda yadda. Eeek, he's a quintessential fascist! Lordy, those genes from that philandering nineteen thirties Duke of Windsor must run deep in the blue blood.

The piece concludes with a moving call to arms:

I must stop here. At the rate things are now moving, I could add to this daily. But, December 31 is not so far away now, only 4 months. I must get this out now. Time is short.
If you find this to be worthy, please, spread it everywhere you can. Email it, blog it, post it on forums; mail it. Do what you must. People are asleep. They must be woken up. Forced immunizations are right around the corner. These things will come to pass. It is our job to warn people. Please, I ask you, warn them.

Golly, that's better writing than the end of Don Siegel's version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, when the word spread that trucks were on the move with the most peculiar things you ever did see. Seedpods!

Where was the truck
coming from?

Santa Mira.

Get on your radio
and sound an all-points alarm.

Block all highways
and stop all traffic...

and call every law enforcement
agency in the state.

Operator, get me the Federal
Bureau of Investigation.

Yes, it's an emergency!

Well I've done my bit. I've drawn your attention to the unfolding disaster. Any failure to act is now entirely your fault.

Now while I'm at it, let me draw your attention to this important announcement: TV is Pentagon Designed Mind Control.

Not to mention the Trailer for the upcoming 'Fall of the Republic: The Presidency of Barack Obama', a first glimpse of Alex Jones' most powerful film yet which shows how the globalists want the Republic to fail, and are trying to use their newest and slickest ever puppet to destroy the last vestiges of America's freedom, Constitution and economy, all while helping the bankers loot the country clean.

Nor should we forget the way Kurt Nimmo easily disposes of sundry conspiracy theories about right thinking people in Media Matters Hit Piece Attempts to Link Alex Jones and Glenn Beck:

On August 28, Media Matters posted a hit piece on Glenn Beck. In the article, Oliver Willis attempts to link the Fox News disinformation operative Beck to Alex Jones. “We’re used to Glenn Beck being ‘out there’, but today’s show was special,” writes Willis. “Beck’s hour (the second day in a row in which he didn’t say a thing about the passing of Sen. Kennedy) was all about the supposed secret army being built by President Obama. This secret army idea, not supported by any facts, though possibly written in invisible ink that Beck can interpret, is a pet cause of fringe radio host Alex Jones.”

In fact, during the election last year, Obama admitted his desire to create a national security force, what Mr. Willis calls a “secret army.”

Enough already, stop it, I'm having an anxiety attack. Secret armies, the Pentagon controlling my thoughts when I watch television, the dark agenda of the invisible empire, aka the New World Order and their dark vision, medical fascism, and so on and on while relentlessly peddling paranoia inducing products to the paranoid.

Well I value freedom and choice, and I guess the freedom to choose to be a loon is one of the most valuable rights a country can offer its citizens, with the world-wide population of loons thereby growing at a faster rate than the actual population of the planet. Which is great, because my own stealthy and cunning plan to turn loon pond into an over-arching system of world government is now recruiting troops on a daily basis.

Now sing along to our national anthem - you there in the back row, I'm watching you, no mumbling. Sing along with gusto, like you mean it:

And they're coming to take me away ha ha
They're coming to take me away ho ho he he ha ha
to the funny farm where life is beautiful all the time,
and I'll be happy to see those nice young men in their clean white coats
and they're coming to take me away ha ha

And they're coming to take me away ha ha
They're coming to take me away ho ho he he ha ha
To the funny farm where life is beautiful all the time,
and I'll be happy to see those nice men in their clean white coats

They're coming to take me away ha ha
To the happy home with trees and flowers,
and chirping birds and basket weavers who sit and smile,
and twiddle their thumbs and toes
They're coming to take me away ha ha ha

And they're coming to take me away ha ha
They're coming to take me away ho ho he he ha ha
To the loony bin with all you can eat perscription drugs like torizine,
and lithium, and electric shock and insulin
They're coming to take me away ha ha

Why am I suddenly reminded of that excellent cartoon series Pinky and the Brain?

Pinky: "Gee Brain, what do you want to do tonight?"
The Brain: "The same thing we do every night, Pinky—try to take over the world!"

Try? The loons are on the march, and we will succeed. Hear a knock on the door? Go on answer it, it's probably one of our operatives waiting patiently to enlist you in our cause ...

(Below: colorful tees available from Alex Jones' online shop in a range of colorful paranoias and demented sizes. Never let ideology get in the way of a sale. Ah America, land of Willy Loman).

Piers Akerman, Noel Pearson, James Anaya, the Calma report and point scoring as a lifestyle ...

(Above: credible rumors suggest that James Anaya flew around the Northern Territory in a specially chartered UN black helicopter).

Piers Akerman in the Sunday Telegraph under the header Right to a future free of UN meddling - it wouldn't be sunday in one small part of Australia without the mind rot of the Sunday Telegraph - moaning about the naughtiness of UN rapporteur on indigenous human rights, James Anaya, turning up in country and being critical of the NT intervention:

As for his call for greater self-determination, Ms O’Donoghue nailed that one, too, when she said that self-determination had set Aboriginal Australians on the downward spiral.
Her people, Anangu Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara, were better off when missionaries looked after their welfare, she said.
Professor Anaya’s report notwithstanding, missionaries would still offer a brighter future that any UN human rights formula.

Noel Pearson in The Australian under the header Calma approach proves too timid:

Those on the liberal-conservative side, on the other hand, have also failed on responsibility, for two reasons. First, when it comes down to it, Australian liberal-conservatives are still big believers in government. They think overwhelmingly that it is government that needs to be the main actor in the salvation of the indigenes. Like their social democrat opponents, they see it largely as a matter of state service delivery rather than what we have come to call in Cape York Peninsula supported self-help.

Second, while they are keen for individual responsibility, they would prefer to ignore any group, community or people as holders of responsibility. Their aversion to collectivism makes their position too extreme. So they want to abolish indigenous organisations, and replace them with what? Large, mainstream, welfare-delivering non-government organisations like the Smith Family, Mission Australia and so on? As if they do a better job of delivering welfare.

Well yes, Piers says so. More Piers Akerman:

Forget the reality of the situation which Australians can witness with their own eyes, a reality in which every move toward Aboriginal self-determination has led to more rapid self-extermination ...

...The naivety is staggering. Professor Anaya _ who has spent a total of 11 days visiting the Northern Territory to look at the effects of the intervention _ says he was impressed by the ``strength, resilience and vision of indigenous communities despite having endured tremendous suffering at the hands of historical forces and entrenched racism’’.
It’s a fair bet those ``hands of historical forces’’ inflicting tremendous suffering were not black in Professor Anaya’s politically correct report, though some violence in the black community now and historically has been caused by other blacks.

Noel Pearson:

It is true that the great majority of indigenous Australians, including those who have been closely involved in contributing to Tom Calma's blueprint for a new national indigenous representative body, largely function as individuals in the Australian mainstream. These are said to number 400,000 while another 100,000 live in discrete communities, usually in remote areas. While vast gaps in social and economic conditions exist across this spectrum, it is plain that the crises in the discrete, remote communities are of a particular kind.

My point for the moment is this: the liberal-conservative Right cannot just wish away the people dimension when it comes to discrete communities in particular. To continue to insist on utter assimilation is madness, and it's the wrong idea anyway.

The fact is that rather than there being two choices: individualism or peoplehood, what has to happen to Aboriginal society is what has happened to all traditional societies on entering the modern era. Aboriginal individuals need to split in two: part of their life must be conducted as individuals pursuing their lives in the modern world. They must be animated by their own self-interest and their families must be their first priority. They must be able to have access to opportunity without going through collectivist procedures and they need to have a private life that is separate from collectivist politics. Their pursuit of their individual interests must be fully legitimated as the best (and only) means of social and economic uplift.

The other half of the Aboriginal individual's personality will constitute their identification with their people: their lands, their languages, their traditions, their heritage. This is not a sphere of life that provides any chance for socioeconomic development. It serves those more intangible human needs for culture, spirituality and identity.

Of course Akerman really isn't that much interested in black culture, spirituality and identity. He's more interested - in no particular order - in slagging off the black helicopters of the United Nations, the Rudd government's alleged push for an Australian bill of rights, Rudd and his UN-obsessed minions, the UN's self-important bureaucrats, UN human rights protocols, Professor James Anaya, the Greens and the difficult blacks, not to mention ATSIC and all the other examples of the difficult vexatious blacks causing trouble for Australia. And of course the Calma proposal for a new body to represent Aboriginal Australians. While of course defending Mal Brough, John Howard and quoting Tony Abbott as if he were god, when in fact all Abbott does these days is refract Noel Pearson through his own peculiar Catholic sensibilities.

By way of contrast, Pearson takes time out to slam both sides - progressives alongside liberals and conservatives - and sees the Calma proposal as a failure of nerve:

The recognition of indigenous Australians as peoples should be a matter for commonwealth legislation at the least. If there were problems with the arbitrary interferences and changes by governments, then the search should have been for solutions that protect against such events. In any case the need for government funding still leaves the most decisive power in the hands of government. The erstwhile representative company may still survive, but without government funds?

The position of indigenous Australians is reduced to that of a representative function of approximately the status of the Australian Native Grasslands Protection Association or the Australian Philatelic Society (if there be such organisations). Except that it will have the formal role of complaining about the torment of powerlessness afflicting Australia's first peoples.

Pearson gets up the nose of a lot of people, but he does it for a reason. He cares, and he thinks about the issues, especially those confronting people living in remote communities. And he doesn't write with the ideological zealotry of an Akerman. So if you're going to read something this weekend online, why not try Pearson and forget about Akerman?

There's only so far you can go on the journey of life if point scoring is seen as the main or only purpose ...

(Below: apologies to the United Nations and Professor James Anaya. Information from Snopes suggests that UN black helicopters are an urban myth. Or are they? xkcd!)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Tim Blair, the poley bear, the dodo, and bloody wankers

Why do I sometimes think about the dodo, apart from its tremendous usefulness in the phrase "dead as a dodo" and "dumb as a dodo", and its straightforward handiness as an epithet, as in "jeez, he's such a fucking dodo."

The dodo, I suppose, teaches us much about the extinction of a species.

Now you might think that their passing was all the fault of humans. And it's true that the dodo was, being a dodo, fearless around people, and with flightlessness thrown in, easy prey. But the dodo was tough eating, and it was all the other creatures that humans brought to Mauritius - dogs, pigs, cats and rats and crab-eating macaques - which did a lot of the damage, by hunting and eating eggs in the nest.

Sure humans destroyed the forests in which the dodos lived, and indulged in some mass killings to provision ships, but bring me that bowl of water so I can ritually wash my hands of any guilt or blame concerning human kind's involvement in the murderous affair (you can wiki the details here).

You believe me? Good, you're about ready to go join Tim Blair on his blog.

The entirely human response to the plight of the dodo? To make those ugly birds the butt of jokes. No one cared about the dodo, and no one much does today. Extinction is just so hilarious, a bit like the laughs you can get by delivering a chinese burn or a wedgie to the weakest kid in the class.

So the plight of the polar bear in current times is hugely funny to the clowns in the class. The story went around a few days ago that polar bears were doing it tough, in any number of ways, with the reduction in sea ice possibly even affecting the average size of polar bear skulls - you can read an ABC transcript of the story they did last Wednesday on The World Today, or listen, by going here.

Tim Blair's response under the header Bears improved?

To joke about the poley bear shrinking and squinching down from a human-chomping, truck-molesting brute to ever so cute baby poley bear, to the cutest of all poley bears:

Laugh? Sure did. Cackled, howled, slapped my thighs, dropped a big load in the saloon spittoon. Split my guts like a woodchopper slicing open a wolf.

Oh and everybody chortled and had such fun thanks to the class clown. Here's one wag:

I’ve been looking anorexic
And I guess I’m eating less,
And my coat has lost its lustre,
Which I think is due to stress.

But I’ve got to laugh at people
So concerned about my fate
While they’re buying semen takeout
From the lower forty-eight.

Oh jeez, my stitches. I'm coming apart. Stop it, we'll all go blind.

Happily no match for the wag who went on an extended ramble into childish gabble, with the punchline:

... daddy are you really Really sure I am a Weal WEAL poley bear? Weally Weally Truely?
Yes son you really really are a real poley bear. Why do you ask?
Little bear says. I just wanna know why I’m Fweezing wucking COLD is all. sniff.

Laugh? Cacked myself. Why I've had to leave my panties in the pre-wash for a week I laughed so hard.

Then we got serious:

Methinks that the only thing that is shrinking is the size of these scientists(?) brains. You know it’s amazing, scientists are mentioned but it is never revealed who these “scientists’ are or who the report came from or who commissioned the report. Every week we are inundated with some Looney Report from some Looney Tune Scientist(s) revealing some farcical report from some unknown source stating some idiotic statement, such as this one, with no substantiated facts as to how this outcome was achieved. And yet the other side of the argument is never or very rarely reported....WTF.
Repeat a lie often enough and it will soon become the truth........BLOODY WANKERS!

Well actually you don't have to look too far. Below is a photo of Cino Pertoldi, and here are his contact details in Denmark, together with a link to a list of his publications. He has a masters degree in natural science from the University of Milan, and a PhD from the department of ecology and genetics, University of Aarhus. Oops, two strikes, must be dumb. Couldn't read The Punch for starters. His research focuses on empirical conservation and the evolutionary genetics of animals.

Why if you wanted to you could even head off here, though you might have to get serious and stump up some moola for access, so you can consult the actual study as printed in the Journal of Zoology - unless of course you read the abstract and your poley bear brain begins to hurt:

A morphometric study was conducted on six skull traits and seven teeth traits of 282 polar bear Ursus maritimus skulls sampled in East Greenland from 1892 to 2002, the polar bear material originated from two distinct periods: one period covering 1892–1939 and the other from 1961–2002. The first period being before the introduction of organochlorines in the Arctic environment and having more extensive sea ice cover when compared with the later period. Admixture analysis, followed by multivariate analyses provided evidence for morphometric differences in both the size and the shape of individual skulls collected in the two periods.

There's loads more, nano seconds away on the full to overflowing intertubes.

Why then you could even write a learned rebuttal disputing the methodology deployed and getting it ready for publication in the Journal of Zoology, as a way of showing Pertoldi et al what fools they were as scientists. And charge people to access your own tremendously scientific and insightful paper.

Though be warned, you might have to pass a few tedious tests, like having to convince people you have the foggiest clue about what the fuck you're talking about. Trying to convince a few referees along the way that you aren't in the grip of loonacy might not be that easy, not when you manage to imitate the shape and sound of a prize gherkin so naturally.

Yep, it's so much more easy to spend a nano second writing a flip note in a blog like a cretin with a post graduate degree in ultimate stupidity.

What's the words I'm thinking of? Bloody wankers?

No, fucking dodos.

(Below: Cino Pertoldi, the cause of all the fuss about poley bear brains. Sheesh, academics, can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em).

Christopher Pearson, Benjamin Law, Truganini, Woureddy, a storm in a Tasmanian teacup and Godwin's Law broken once again

(Above: a fair average watercolor by Adolf Hitler. If you want to buy a work by the Nazi leader, expect to pay around ten thousand dollars or so, depending on size, the extremely variable and always ordinary quality, and the often suspect provenance. See here for details of an auction this year).

A very quiet day on loon pond, so it's time for a round up of a couple of disappointments by usually stalwart players.

Over at The Sydney Morning Herald, Miranda the Devine sets the standard for cunning deviousness by attacking Nathan Rees and the NSW Labor party over the state of NSW. We need Rees like a hole in the head, she shouts, and after a few crocodile tears, spends the rest of her column sinking in the boot. What's to argue?

About the only thing worth noting is that she's still peddling Frank Sartor as Rees's successor, which is even more cunning and devious, since if Sartor gets up, the Libs might do well enough to set up the prospect of a two term government - a rarity in NSW politics.

Even the reliable Christopher Pearson disappoints, as he takes on a storm in a teacup involving the impending auction of a couple of plaster busts by nineteenth century artist Benjamin Law of Truganini and her partner Woureddy.

Works of art pressed into another service, he worries, as he details Tasmanian indigenous protests over the sale, and argues against the rhetoric deployed by activists. You can get the full flavor in the Mercury under the header Anger over bust auction:

"Sotheby's is auctioning two busts of Aboriginal people who were abused while alive and held up as entertainment after death," said Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre secretary Nala Mansell, who will protest the auction in Melbourne.

"The significance of the busts is that they depict, for racists, the myth of the extermination of Aborigines in Tasmania. They are held up as trophies as the ultimate racist plot -- if physical extermination fails, kill them off through images ...

"These busts are not art. They are images of the dead associated with a racist plan to exterminate a people.

Gee, you have no idea how I hate to sound like Pearson, but the busts are art of a kind.

They might not be art you like, they might not be art you consider good, they might look like the art you'd expect from a man considered by many to be Australia's first professional sculptor, but there were up to thirty casts made, and at least eight remain in public collections around Australia and overseas, including the Melbourne museum, Melbourne University and the British Museum. Apparently the pair for sale have been on loan at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery since 1983 and were shown at Canberra's National Portrait Museum this year.

Here's the curatorial response in the National Gallery, as edited from a text from Daniel Thomas and available in full here:

Law’s bust of Woureddy gives no hint of the decimation of the Tasmanians. As noted by Mary Mackay, it shows Woureddy ‘as hunter, warrior and man-in-command, a Greek hero in kangaroo skin’.

Law’s bust of Trucaninny, who saw her mother killed by a white settler and her first husband murdered by two sealers, is probably the most emotional colonial portrait of an Aboriginal person. According to one colonial account, she is ‘sorrowing, mourning the slain members of her family and race’ ...

... Benjamin Law’s busts of Woureddy and Trucaninny, two of the most celebrated Tamanian Aboriginal people of the 1830s, are the earliest major pieces of Australian sculpture. Woureddy sat for Law at the start of 1835 and, by April, his bust was ready. Trucaninny probably sat a few months later, though Law may only have completed her bust the following year.

Law’s contemporaries recognised that these busts were accomplished works of art but valued them primarily as ethnographic records.

Hmm, smells like art, looks like art, curators quack about art, might even be art ...

Apparently Law knew his subjects back in the eighteen thirties, but the rhetoric about their meaning and their fate has turned surreal.

As for the notion that the images propose that these are the last Tasmanian aborigines, surely that's an absurd statement. If physical extermination fails, kill them off in images! What on earth does that mean?

I guess Tom Haydon's documentary The Last Tasmanian will now have to be banned and removed from the indigenous section of the South Sydney library. Oh wait, in its re-release, the controversial and offensive bits were deleted, as censorship never stands still. But how on earth did the title survive the trimming?

But then the rhetoric gets cranked up even further:

"We wonder if people would likewise make money from Nazi images of attempted genocide of the Jews ...

"It is disgusting that commercial gain is placed ahead of stamping out racism, and the hurt to the feelings of Aboriginal people.

"The dead are not here to defend themselves, so we do it in honour of their memory."

Dearie me, Godwin's law broken yet again.

Well as for making money out of Nazi images of attempted genocide of the Jews, perhaps you should talk to the hand or at least to Steven Spielberg. Last time I looked Schindler's List - which mainly works because Ralph Fiennes is such a nasty Nazi - had won seven Oscars and grossed well over two hundred million world wide.

Now while you might argue that Schindler's List is not the same as buying some of the lamp shades allegedly from human skin found by soldiers from Patton's Third Army when they reached Buchenwald in 1945, neither are the sculptures by Law.

Perhaps we could settle for a compromise and think of Law's work as a sculptor as a close approximation in the trade of works by Adolf Hitler, which given his mediocrity as an artist is an eternal surprise, but also surprisingly brisk, with auction rooms constantly turning over his work.

Second thoughts, the closest parallel to this kind of Tasmanian activist thinking is that of Islamic fundamentalists seeking to control the image of Muhammad, and thereby control the past, and their history and culture.

More sensibly, historian Lyndall Ryan noted that the market for these sculptures had collapsed and it would be a good opportunity for the TMAG or some other Tasmanian institution to acquire them for a reasonable price, rather than see them sold off to a private collector for well below their value.

Bottom line? Sotheby's withdrew the two sculptures from sale. And the motivation behind the rhetoric?

... their owner, a descendant of Hobart convict turned businessman Judah Solomon, decided to keep the busts and expected to fetch up to $700,000 at the Sothebys auction.

Mr Mansell now wants laws forcing museums to hand culturally sensitive items back to Aboriginal people.

"Sothebys decision to withdraw the busts of Woureddy and Truganini from sale gives us breathing space," Mr Mansell said in a statement.

"It won't be long before the busts are sold and lost to Aboriginal people again because we can only make a moral claim."

Mr Mansell wants Tasmania to buy the busts and set up an Aboriginal cultural centre where images and objects for continuity of culture and identity can be held.

"Not all collections about Aborigines need to be given up by institutions," he said.

"We seek items that should not be out of Aboriginal hands such as images of our dead, baskets and rock carvings.

"It is offensive to display images of the dead inappropriately (for example, for sale at a Sothebys auction)." (
NIT, Sothebys defends Aboriginal stance and withdraws Tasmanian works).

Well as for moral claim, let's not conflate and confuse the notion of an artist's moral rights to his work, or copyright, with the newfangled Mansell established notion that a subject or an object can lay moral claim to a work in which they were neither the artist nor the subject, except by an extended connection of being of the same racial group.

And as for it being not offensive to display the works in a cultural centre, after purchase from Sothebys, as opposed to being offensive to display the works at Sothebys and then be bought by someone else - say the government - on behalf of the indigenous community?

With the purchase used to gear up the said culture centre?

It's only a shakedown, when all's said and done ...

Well having put up images with the potential to offend Christians and Islamics, time to round out the quadrella with images from Adolf Hitler and Benjamin Law ...

(Below: Benjamin Law's busts of Truganini and Woureddy).

James Murdoch, the evil BBC, a chilling Orwellian landscape and give me choice, lots of choice ...

(Above: Spike Milligan and fan Chuck Windsor).

Who better to turn to than the BBC to read up on James Murdoch's attack on the dominant BBC?

Murdoch attack on 'dominant' BBC, notes the header, as it goes on to report the highlights of James Murdoch's presentation of the MacTaggart lecture 20 years after his father.

Well he would say that, and here's the rub. News Corp's desperate plan to organize an oligopoly of media organizations prepared to charge for content over the intertubes faces a few regulatory problems, but also, and perhaps more importantly, the problem of publicly funded news organizations.

So it was only a matter of time before News Corp lackeys would start doing a Peter Costello and rail about the free content provided by public broadcasters, and James no doubt milked a tear of gratitude from his father's eye as he moaned and groaned:

Mr Murdoch said that organisations like the BBC, funded by the license fee, as well as Channel 4 and Ofcom made it harder for other broadcasters to survive.

"The BBC is dominant," Mr Murdoch said. "Other organisations might rise and fall but the BBC's income is guaranteed and growing."

What to do? Well of course it's about time to socialize the losses and make sure that sundry anti-trust and competition acts in sundry parts of the world are suspended, because poor News Corp is fighting with one hand tied behind its back.

News Corporation lost $3.4bn (£2bn) in the year to the end of June, which his father, News Corporation boss Rupert Murdoch, said had been "the most difficult in recent history".
Other media organisations are also struggling as advertising revenues have dropped during the downturn.

There's no such thing as a free lunch in the world of the Murdochs, nor free news, though I'm not quite so sure why the health of News Corp is in any way tied to my consumption of content. I stopped reading Murdoch - or at least paying - for Murdoch publications long before the intertubes came along.

But the shout of "no fair" is loud, and will get louder, so alternative news sources will cop a bucketing for a tendency amongst certain consumers not to pay for the stuff that News Corp provides (never mind that the day I pay to read Janet Albrechtsen, they've prized the cash out of my estate's cold dead hand):

Mr Murdoch said free news on the web provided by the BBC made it "incredibly difficult" for private news organisations to ask people to pay for their news.

"It is essential for the future of independent digital journalism that a fair price can be charged for news to people who value it," he said.

Not really. News is now superabundant, and I have no real interest in ambulance chasing stories, but if that were my fetish, I'd be able to find plenty for free. If it's exposing the failings of government, then I take most of those stories as read, while I've still yet to read a decent analysis in a Murdoch rag exposing the failings of the system that led to the last global financial crisis. Just more "capitalism is good" while "socialistic government is two legged baaad" (but please, no mention of George Orwell).

Never mind. Blathering on about people wanting to charge a fair price for news to people willing to pay for it is already available the market place as a business opportunity. The reality is that a lot of people don't value the kind of news or journalism on offer, and don't want to pay for it. That's the nub, and who can blame them.

Sure this kind of wishful thinking is essential for the future of News Corp's plan to start charging for its content, but if that company thinks it can take out public broadcasters (or more bizarrely get them to charge for their content in a double dipping way), then the company is in for the mother of all wars.

News Corporation has said it will start charging online customers for news content across all its websites.

It owns the Times, the Sunday Times and Sun newspapers and pay TV provider BSkyB in the UK and the New York Post and Wall Street Journal in the US.

And how did News Corp establish its forward looking, futuristic embrace of new technology on the intertubes? James Murdoch back in April 2008, as reported in James Murdoch attacks BBC iPlayer service:

He claimed the BBC was using its market power to squeeze competition in the broadband TV market with its iPlayer service. He described the service as a big step and "pre-emptive intervention" that was "squashing a lot of competitors."

He added: "I'm not saying it's a bad product but I am saying it does crowd out competition and innovation."

The BBC itself has been surprised by the success of a new service that enables viewers to download BBC programmes screened over the previous seven days. Last month, iPlayer handled 17.5m requests for downloads less than three months after its launch.
Just over £130m has been earmarked by the BBC for investment in on-demand services over five years.

Well where's the News Corp iPlayer, or iView, where's the Murdoch Kindle designed to bring us into a new world of portable electronic news reading, where's the flexibility and digital interactivity of a company that seems to think a blog like The Punch is some kind of exciting on line initiative?

So it went, so it goes and so it will continue, with the rhetoric ratcheted up a notch or three, as reported in more detail in James Murdoch launches attack on the BBC:

James Murdoch, the heir to his father Rupert’s global News Corporation empire, tonight accused the BBC of undertaking a “chilling” land-grab of the media that posed a “serious and imminent” threat to the future provision of news in Britain.

Murdoch junior, who is News Corp’s chairman and chief executive for Europe and Asia, warned that the dominance of the BBC risked creating the type of news media which George Orwell described in the novel 1984. “As Orwell foretold, to let the state enjoy a near-monopoly of information is to guarantee manipulation and distortion,” he said.

Delivering the prestigious MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival, James railed against the “authoritarianism” of the Government and its watchdog Ofcom in regulating the broadcasting industry. He criticised rules designed to uphold impartiality in broadcast news and advocated the system of self-regulation which applies to the press.

Orwellian? George Orwell should get a dollar each time his name is abused, and having recently purchased a new copy of one of his rarer works, and presumably with a dollar now travelling to his estate, can I just say that if any empire could be described as Orwellian, it's one that cheerfully houses a demagogue like Glenn Beck.

Self regulation? Come on down Kyle Sandilands, all is good.

Be in no doubt that the Murdochs are feeling the chill:

The corporation’s governing body, The BBC Trust, had an “abysmal record” in overseeing the organisation’s activities and cited a series of examples of the BBC’s expansionism. “The scale and scope of its current activities and future ambitions is chilling,” he said. “Being funded by a universal hypothecated tax, the BBC feels empowered and obliged to try and offer something for everyone, even in areas well served by the market.”

The growth of BBC Radio 2, he said, had damaged the radio industry in general by taking listeners that were already well-served by the commercial sector. “Performers like Jonathan Ross were recruited on salaries no commercial competitor could afford, and audiences for Radio 2 have grown steadily as a result,” he said. “No doubt the BBC celebrates the fact that it now has well over half of all radio listening. But the consequent impoverishment of the once-successful commercial sector is testament to the corporation’s inability to distinguish between what is good for it and what is good for the country.”

Or perhaps the consumer's inability to distinguish between what is good and free, and what is average and expensive, and that what is good for News Corp is necessarily good for the country.

He also criticised the BBC’s “nationalisation” of the Lonely Planet travel guide, which the corporation bought, as “a particularly egregious example of the expansion of the state into providing magazines and websites on a commercial basis.” The BBC Trust had shown a “total failure” to “ask tough questions about what [the BBC’s] management was up to”.

But when his bile gets into the institution itself, he's on shaky grounds. My appreciation of British humor, and a cheerful regard for Britain itself was shaped around listening with my father to The Goons, with its cheerful Wallace Greenslade opening "This is the BBC." Even now, if I'm somewhere in the world, I only have to hear the BBC to feel an overwhelming, quite absurd nostalgia. Come to think of it, I don't have to travel, I only have to listen to ABC news radio.

Sure, it took an Australian comedian to explain the English sense of humor to the English, but that's the charm of a BBC willing to give things a go.

Chuck Windsor and I have so much in common, him being such a big Goons fan and all. My father also brought home the Daily Mirror, then a Murdoch rag, now long gone. The tones of Wallace Greenslade still ring affectionately in my ear, while the damage the Mirror did - by turning my mind tabloid - still hasn't been fully assessed.

He (Murdoch) claimed that authoritarian control had “always been a part” of the British media and even questioned whether the BBC had been founded as a force for good. “The early years of British broadcasting were dominated by concern about the potential of the new technology for creating social disruption. To deal with that perceived threat, there were two responses: to nationalise broadcasting through the BBC, and to ensure that any other provider was closely controlled and appropriately incentivised.”

Well News Corp, as a result of a belated failure to adjust to the new world, a dinosaur still wondering how and why the meteor hit, is now flailing around at everyone, and especially the spectre (special executive for counter-intelligence, terrorism, revenge and extortion) of socialist fiends and socialism:

Murdoch also warned that the recent demise of local news media should not be allowed to become an opportunity for state-supported journalism. “I saw recently an article in which the editor of The Guardian (Alan Rusbridger) suggested that the government should fund local news coverage of court proceedings and council meetings, a profoundly undemocratic and ruinous idea.”

Twenty years ago, Rupert Murdoch’s MacTaggart Lecture was characterised by his claim that television was a business and should not be the preserve of a publicly-supported duopoly of the BBC and ITV. Yesterday his son, ended his own speech with a similar homage to capitalism in the media. “There is an inescapable conclusion that we must reach if we are to have a better society,” he said. “The only reliable, durable, and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit.”

Whoooo, I'se chilled to the bone. But I do so love capitalism, and above all I love consumer choice, and it strikes me that if we are to reach and to have a better society, it would be so much if it were without Fox television. The only reliable, durable and perpetual guarantor of independence is choice, and between News Corp and other sources of news, I choose other sources of news.

And if News Corp thinks it can shut down all those other sources, while charging for its own continued dominance of the marketplace, let the war begin. I'm sure all those terrified of the state and of government and of public broadcasters, already feeling the chill sweeping around the world, will rally to the cause and fork over billions to restore News Corp to its pedestal. Or not.

Right now we're in the huffing and puffing phase. But as things get more desperate and desperate companies start to do desperate things, expect the media world to get ugly as it eats its own.

So enough with the phoney (phony?) war phase, with the speech making and the pamphlet dropping, and bring it on. Let's get out the calculator, start the charging for content, and may the best provider win.

Gee, it's hard to compete with free ... but I'm sure News Corp will manage.

(Below: and a final message from the Goons).

Friday, August 28, 2009

Bob Ellis, Ted Kennedy, Timothy Brown, and a bill of rights that doesn't include Crikey readers isn't any use to anyone

(Above: guess which one is Bob Ellis. And who's that other dude stroking temple and clutching beer?)

Is this the end of Crikey?

First came the desperate desire to engage with female readers, about which we'll pass over in discreet silence, until we get to Jim Wallace.

Bob's source? A friend of an intimate of the Kennedy clan. Put it another way:

This story was told to a close political friend of mine by Dun Gifford, a Bobby Kennedy staffer who wrestled the gun away from Sirhan Sirhan on the fatal night of his boss’s assassination and is now, in the American way, a prominent food writer.

Yep, not even a failed attempt to contact Dun Gifford and get a confirm or deny, just a bit of idle gossip from an unnamed source. Of such gossamer stories can be spun.

I'll leave you to read the story and the comments - wouldn't want to steal Crikey's thunder - and with any number of people ready to point out the holes in the story by golly it brought out a fine flurry of loons. Here's this from Most Peculiar Mama:

This piece of fatuous garbage is only topped today by the announcement by Barry Yobama that he will deliver the eulogy at Ted’s funeral.

This is the same Barry who worshipped at the feet of William (Billy) Ayers and his trog wife Bernadine Dohm,

This is the very same couple who dedicated their communist manifesto to - amongst others - Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin of Ted’s older brother Bobby.

Nice company you keep there Mr President.

Most peculiar momma. Downright weird in fact. More than a match for Bob Ellis. Must have strayed away from Tim Blair's patch, but how have the loons started to find their way to Crikey?

About the only comment I liked was the guy who thought Marcus Einfeld was driving. But of course he got that wrong. It had to be Professor Teresa Brennan, not the dead one, but the other one.

Then elsewhere on the site Timothy Brown offers up What a liberal Bill of Rights could look like.

Timothy is a researcher at the Institute of Public Affairs, but his three main proposals for inclusion in a bill of rights - obviously intended as a bit of provocative shit stirring and liberal bear baiting - are so fatuous, inane and silly, it's impossible to mount the energy to discuss them. All he could manage for his efforts was ten frenzied comments at time of writing, and yet again a loon - this time a person by the name of Madeinaustralia came out of the woodwork to tackle the resident intelligentsia. Again more heat, no light.

About the only inspiration here was one chappie proposing to buy a block of land next to any owned by Mr. Brown and built a very large apartment block, then see how he liked them apples, because bleating to council or courts would be a most unhelpful way to honor the individual property rights proposed by the humbugging Brown.

By golly, if it wasn't for First Dog on the Moon and Ben Sandilands excellent blog on the aeroplane industry (if you're an aviation nut), Crikey would be falling down the must read list. You can already get that kind of dump, tepid, torpid conversation at The Punch.

You'd almost suspect it was a cunning plot to get people to pay up - see, this is the crap we give away for free, but then you see that tucked away behind the pay wall is a piece by Jim Wallace titled Bligh is right to resist abortion radicals.

I could write the rest of the piece in my sleep, but won't because I know it would only turn into a feminist nightmare. Oh yes let's keep abortion a crime in Queensland, it's the only way to go.

I guess it's hard for a web site running on the smell of an oily rag to sponsor serious investigative journalism, but this kind of lowering of the standards smacks of desperation, as did the special pleading to get women involved, which resulted in a piece by Eva Cox on equal pay for women - more than counter-balanced by giving Wallace space to mouth off his standard fundie Christian anti-choice routines.

Generating controversy might help bring new readers, but it might also alienate punters expecting a certain larrikin tone, backed up by some useful insights into the ways of the world.

So how did Wallace get a gig? The Age usually gives his stuff a run every now and then, but weren't they interested and did Crikey step into the breach? And put him behind a paywall? What, I should pay for Wallace, and you give away First Dog for free? Something's not right here.

Some wise words from a rogue, and no Bob Ellis didn't write the lines:

Good name in man and woman and online newspaper, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
’Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands:
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed.

So it goes. And so it might went.

(Below: guess which one is Bob Ellis. And who's that other dude? Why doesn't he have the devil's horns and cloven hooves you'd expect of a man more devil than human, posing as a lover of writers and writing, but determined to ruin the Australian publishing industry and civilization as we know it).

Caroline Overington, Peter Costello, Mark Scott, the ABC and onward Christian soldiers

(Above: Mark Scott standing in front of a Sydney Institute sign. Hmmm).

Reading Caroline Overington today - the chores of loon pond are tedious, vexatious and troublesome - reminded me of the current fearless leader of the ABC, Mark Scott.

In Slings and arrows keep raining, Overington spends a little time on Peter Costello's column griping about the ranks of the ABC being filled with socialists - except for one man in Perth - and then equal opportunity time abusing the Australian media for the hard time offered up to Australian politicians.

But one thing spiked a memory deep in the hard drive:

Costello went on to say there is only one known conservative at the ABC, a fellow who works in Perth but actually, there might be one other. During his time at Fairfax Media, it was generally accepted that Mark Scott - then a reporter, now the bloke who runs the ABC - was a hard-right conservative.

I once asked a colleague how this was known. He looked at me and said: “He goes to church.” The whole shirt and tie thing bothered people, too.

Well not just a church but a kinda clap happy church of the sort Peter Costello would surely love (and yes I know the church, no I'm not telling). Yep the hunt for conservatives and liberal leaners within the ABC is now game on with a vengeance.

Now I don't have a problem with Mark Scott. Compared to Jonathan Shier (the Wiki stub needs help), he's a model at avoiding controversy, managing the unruly beast, and tickling up the government for money. I don't think much of the drama department or its output during his regime, but I also don't believe in pushing managerial responsibility up the line when the malfunctioning drama department can take the blame (and little credit) on its own.

There's also a fundamental misunderstanding of the ABC's demographic at work in most discussions of the organisation. It has a large rural constituency, and its city audience consists of people who hate advertising, love BBC drama and comedies, or take an interest in current affairs. It serves up classical music, and caters to a younger music demographic with that cockroach of the airwaves triple j, and even Radio National carries a country hour along with its grab bag of poetics and dialectics (and, groan, Phillip Adams).

It's a broad church, united mainly in a lack of interest in its audience in commercial broadcasters. If you were to change the programming, especially in television, by inserting more blatant propaganda of a prejudiced kind, there'd be all kinds of protests or switch offs. As it is, the current affairs area on television is carefully quarantined - to a half hour after the news, to a much later combo of news and interviews, and to Sunday morning, with Four Corners and Media Watch taking up little more than an hour on Monday.

The rest of the time you can get very conservative, suitable for cardigan wearers and librarians, entertainment of a best of British, or tree hugger, sea changer kind (usually with Richard Roxburgh, designed to make middle aged women drool, though he represents a drool proof factor to me). Why they even make a comedy about librarians. Lordy, how racy is that. A socialist comedy about socialist book workers serving the community with government purchased books so unemployed dole bludgers and working class stiffs don't have to go buy stuff.

Not good. Because you see ideologues obsessed with ideology expect people to share their desire to sit through shows designed to support their world view.

You can assess the commercial appeal of this kind of notion by looking at how many overtly right wing and ideologically obsessed programs you can find on commercial television in Australia. Zip all. Unless you think Kyle Sandilands is a libertarian devoted to Ron Paul.

Radio is a better fit, because it allows for shock jockery and demagoguery, but even here you find specialist ranters have a very specific market appeal - for which the ABC and hits and memories stations provide shelter for listeners anxious to avoid the storm.

A few ABC shows have dressed in obligatory right wing types, which is fortunate because it means I've been able to cut Sunday morning television out of my viewing habits since the likes of Andrew Bolt and Piers Akerman started to turn up and berate anyone within ear shot, compounded by Nine's death wish to remove its last quality program - Sunday - from the tube.

All things considered, I'd venture to suggest that any hard right loon who took over control of the ABC would - if insisting on a fierce balancing of the books - see audience numbers drop.

But back to Mark Scott, who's been adept at steering the ship through the kind of blather regularly delivered by the likes of Peter Costello. If you go here, you can read up on his approach to faith, as provided by the Melbourne Anglican:

At the end of the day, “common garden variety Christian” is the title he bestows on himself, a boy raised in a Christian home who grew up in the Presbyterian Church, and is now a member of an independent church in his adulthood and married to the principal of a Sydney Anglican School.

Mark, a regular churchgoer, admits he dreads critical mention of the media in sermons. He accepts however that sermon illustrations do often make a valid point: “I would say that I think the media would much rather cover religion than they would faith,” he says.

Now start to throw in a few other details. Like this from the ABC's Sunday profile, here:

A book published last year, God Under Howard, quoted a Baptist pastor as saying Mr Scott was "yet another of God's secret agents trying to bring the life and light of Jesus into one of the most hostile parts of our society, the media".

Asked if that was fair, Mr Scott said some church people who thought they had a "pretty tough time" from journalists were excited to find a Christian in a senior media role. "I am who I am, but I don't view myself as a secret agent."

Then remember that Scott once worked for a state NSW Liberal Education minister, Terry Metherell, and even thought briefly about a political career with the Liberals, but never pursued it because the factionalism put him off:

...I worked for Terry in the Greiner opposition as it then was for about fifteen months before the election. The Liberals had been out of power for a long time in New South Wales. There was a young energetic leadership team under Nick Greiner so I got a taste of politics through there and then when they won the election I was in my mid twenties and I was an advisor to Terry Metherell and I remember there was this massive protest around parliament house, 80 000 to 100 000 people protesting, the police calling in and saying, "Please keep them out of line of line of sight of the window because we can't guarantee his safety." And there was this feeling of, "Well what have we done here. You know all these people are so angry." And for someone in their mid twenties to be operating in that environment was quite intense, you grow up pretty fast, I think you have to get to be politically savvy, you learn diplomatic skills, you learn to perform under pressure and it was a terrific experience for me. I never seriously pursued developing a political career for myself, I never did the numbers or...

JULIA BAIRD: But did you court the idea?

MARK SCOTT: Look I think there were, I think it could have been said that I had some skills that could have been valuable in a political career, I could give a good speech, I could talk pretty well, got on well with people and knew my way around some policy elements but there are other part of the political life that I didn't appreciate at all. I mean I was never a factional player and the prospect of wheeling and dealing and doing deals to win a seat, to get pre-selection for a seat - you know, it just wasn't me and I think at times, I look at the cost and the brawling around, pre-selections and factions and the like and in a personal sense I'm all the more glad that I never went down that road.

JULIA BAIRD: Would it have been for the Liberal party?

MARK SCOTT: Probably, I think I'd have been a staffer for the Liberal party but I'd even say to you that the Liberal party even in that area was a broader church in a sense than it is today.

There's plenty more you can find on Mark Scott on the full to overflowing intertubes - he did a number of 'get to know me' interviews when he got the gig - but let's cut to the chase. No matter how you try to present him, the current CEO of the ABC is no mad ravening socialist.

And if you applied the Tim Blair test - who did you associate with in your past, even if for a millisecond - then he probably comes up slightly Liberal, a lot Christian, and a worker in private enterprise from his days tilling the soil as editor in chief at Fairfax.

So as you'd expect, the comments on Overington's page continued to trot out the conspiracy theories as fomented by Costello.

Can I just suggest an alternative view? One that allows a little bit of room for rural folk, and classical music, and BBC programs, and doesn't get too antsy about the asterisk that represents the listening audience for Radio National (oh okay it breaks the blip but not by much).

The ABC is in fact deeply conservative, and shows like AM and PM are in fact the first port of call for many politicians and many commentariat columnists who want to find out what's happening. And since getting published in a fawning, worshipful way is an important part of a politician's career, they hate it when they get criticized. Or even asked intelligent questions. Which they can't answer. In an intelligent, coherent way. Like: "Are you retiring or running deep in a bid to become leader of the opposition Mr. Costello?"

It's not the job of the ABC to promote the world view of Peter Costello. It is indeed the only real home for political junkies in terms of coverage - unless like John Howard you preferred to cosy up to Alan Jones - but dare I suggest that, if anyone cared passionately enough, they could set up a rival network featuring the best of Australian conservative thinking.

And everybody in Australia, being so starved of such intelligent thought, would just up and pay for it, which would be a great relief because you wouldn't want a capitalist think tank funded from the public purse, now would you. The contradiction would be just too much to bear.

Unless you can stand the sight of the right wing commentariat stumping up for a bit of cash from Aunty while biting the hand that feeds them.

In the meantime, let's also agree that some ABC users think Peter Costello is a dickhead. In much the same way as John Howard did. And who could argue with that.

(Below: more First Dog on the Moon here).