Saturday, February 20, 2010

Piers Akerman, Sir John Houghton, a quote's a quote, and a touch of the Divine ...

(Above: if it's national tilting at windmills day, there must be room for Picasso).

It's a year on from the Victorian bushfires, and that makes it a year on from Miranda the Devine's celebrated column Green ideas must take blame for deaths.

It wasn't climate change which killed as many as 300 people in Victoria last weekend. It wasn't arsonists. It was the unstoppable intensity of a bushfire, turbo-charged by huge quantities of ground fuel which had been allowed to accumulate over years of drought. It was the power of green ideology over government to oppose attempts to reduce fuel hazards before a megafire erupts, and which prevents landholders from clearing vegetation to protect themselves.

So many people need not have died so horribly. The warnings have been there for a decade. If politicians are intent on whipping up a lynch mob to divert attention from their own culpability, it is not arsonists who should be hanging from lamp-posts but greenies.

Memorable. It is not arsonists who should be handing from lamp-posts but greenies. And through one of the ironies the content codecs in Google ads produces, here's the ad that lingers beneath that header.

No surprise, he Devine's at it again today, in Fire prevention a burning issue, foreshadowing and pre-empting the outcome of the bushfire royal commission.

Once again she delivers a greenie bashing - this time they're fools - which I suppose is an advance on them being ripe meat for lynch mobs.

Strangely it's also just over a year ago that one customer felt the need to pen Miranda Divine is the Reason I Unsubscribed from the Sydney Morning Herald.

Well we'll forgive the spelling of Devine - perhaps a subconscious desire to pun with the divine - and just note the outcome:

Over the years I have enjoyed reading the Sydney Morning Herald, but have watched it become increasingly focused on lifestyle and opinion over the news and reportage that most interests me. I still have the weekend papers delivered to my door but find that I am leaving large sections wholly untouched every weekend. But after this article, I am cancelling my subscription. If this is where the future of newspapers is going, then they can go there without my interest or patronage.

Of course, I may end up being scornfully quoted on the Herald site in response. But by then, I will have been long disconnected from the Sydney Morning Herald and all who write for it.

Meanwhile, in other news, Piers Akerman has responded to the Malicious bullets fired by the global warminsts' guns.
In doing so, he's surely offered English teachers a boon as they try to drum an understanding of the meaning of words and sentences into their charges.

Can you spot the difference in meaning between these two sentences, as encapsulated by Akker Dakker?

Sir John now denied ever having said “Unless we announce disasters no one will listen”, reporter Steve Connor informed me. He asked where I first saw or heard the quote.

Now the second:

Yesterday I was forwarded an article published in The Sunday Telegraph (UK) on September 10, 1995, in which Houghton told writer Frances Welch: “If we want a good environmental policy in the future we’ll have to have a disaster.”

Yep, in the first the speaker is announcing disasters, in the second the speaker is talking of consequences arising from disasters. The meaning is entirely different. Akerman's explanation?

How that remark came to be slightly paraphrased in the quotation sent to me we shall probably never know. It’s possible that someone, somewhere in cyberspace tidied up Houghton’s original remark before including it in the material which was sent to me. That sort of thing occurs in the blogosphere.

Slightly paraphrased? Tidied up? It's all the fault of the blogosphere? As opposed to a featured columnist in the Daily Telegraph, a handsomely paid hack, even if the paper admittedly reads lower than a blog on a daily basis?

To start back at the beginning you have to read the piece in The Independent Fabricated quote used to discredit climate scientist. Poor Akker Dakker was beseiged by ratbags:

True to form, The Independent ran Connor’s story which said I had not responded to his queries and, just as reliably, two left-leaning Australian organisations eagerly followed, convinced that they could discredit first me and, more generally, the convincing argument against global warming theorists.

The little Crikey website had a defamatory reference to The Independent and me, clearly unsupported by any research. The ABC’s MediaWatch was next with a piece in which The Independent’s claim it had received no response from me was repeated.

Oh the wretches, and since Akker Dakker doesn't give the actual links, here's the Crikey Piers precipitating preposterous porkies? Potentially piece, and the Media Watch piece When The Quote Fits.

Of course the original fuss was about Akker Dakker not actually being able to find the quote he used in the book he claimed it was printed in. And after reading all of his elaborate defence, including further attacks not just on Crikey, the ABC, The Independent, the ambush journalism of Connor, he seems to make an almost sideways admission that he hadn't in fact read the original book, that the quote he quoted wasn't in the original book, and that it was an error induced by comparative similarity. Hence the befuddled quotation:

As it happens however, Houghton has made numerous remarks about catastrophic events that would flow from global warming, all of them now found to be baseless, and there is every likelihood that he wishes he never made them.

When I read the material on Houghton sent to me, I believed it because it was entirely at one with the quote he gave The Guardian when he equated global warming with WMD in a piece it published on July 28, 2003.

In that interview he said human-induced climate change was at least as dangerous as “chemical, nuclear or biological weapons, or indeed international terrorism”.

Well in this crazy world of the Internet, where plagiarism is as easy as dropping a hat and picking up a stray quotation, and inserting it because it's same old, same old, have standards now dropped so far that a journalist can explain away a misquotation on such specious grounds ... because it happens all the time on the intertubes, and even if he didn't say it, he says things like it all the time.

Yep, Akker Dakker is a sterling example of the dangers in a lack of rigour and befuddled thinking. As a result, he comes up with this schoolboy howler of an excuse, which is roughly equivalent to the dog ate my homework:

If The Independent, Crikey and the ABC had done some research they would have found the remark ascribed to Houghton which I was given was so little different to what was published 11 years earlier as to make their claims totally misplaced and devoid of anything but malice.

Que? Malice? Who is Akker Dakker to talk of malice and the malicious?

Naturally the Crikey team couldn't resist another jab, Poor Piers Perplexed by Paraphrase, in which they go on to note that the meaning in Houghton's 'other quote', as discovered by Akker Dakker so he can be righteous and sanctimonious, has an altogether different meaning, when placed in context, as it's done in this handy pdf of the first bit of the article Moral outlook: earthquake, wind and fire:

"If we want a good environmental policy in the future, we'll have to have a disaster. It's like safety on public transport. The only way humans will act is if there's been an accident."

The irony in all this is that Akerman is always on about climate scientists manipulating data and mangling quotations and missing the point, and he manages all this in fine style in his own scribblings.

The further irony is that Houghton is a unashamed Christian, but Akker Dakker doesn't dare go there, for fear of alienating his tribe of fundamentalists. The opening par of Houghton's interview with Frances Welch, which is sub-headed Me and My God, as partly contained in the pdf linked to above, runs like this:

Sir John Houghton, the former director of the Meteorological Office, has believed in God all his life. He believes that God has a personality and that He does not mind letting His errant children feel the whip. "God does show anger. When He appeared to Elijah there was earthquake, wind and fire. Our model is Jesus. He was a man as well as being divine and he certainly showed anger."

An expert on global warming and chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, Houghton warns that God may induce man to mend his ways with a disaster. "God tries to coax and woo, but he also uses disasters. Human sin may be involved; the effect will be the same."

And then this:

Houghton's work as a scientist has been enriched by his faith. He sees no clash between science and religion and has just written The Search for God: Can Science Help? in which he presents evidence of God's existence in scientific terms.

So if Akker Dakker had wanted to attack Houghton as a god botherer, who thinks god is active in world affairs, he would have had plenty of material. But he never does, because he never wants to upset an important part of his conservative constituency.

Instead he ladles out a 'slightly paraphrased, tidied up' quote from a newspaper article and parades it as a justification for his original error, a justification shown to be a further error when the newly discovered and paraded quotation is placed in its proper context. While around the new quotation lies evidence of catastrophist, apocalyptic thinking of a Christian kind, in which God might bung on a disaster.

It's just not fair.

Of course a bigger scribbler would have admitted the original error, and moved on, but Akker Dakker plays the game hard.

Still out of his inept stroke play comes a couple of important reminders for students:

1. Always check your quotes, and don't rely on second or third hand sources, or the lame excuse that the blogosphere stole your homework.
2. Make sure you read The Complete Plain Words by Sir Ernest Gowers, before attempting to explain how one quotation can be shoe-horned to suit the meaning of another. Luckily enough Gowers' work can be found here.

Gowers begins his work by quoting Cervantes and G. M. Young, and I note that I have not checked the source of his quotations, but am in fact using them as secondary quotations. You can take up the accuracy of the quotes with Gowers, or Akker Dakker. Who knows? Such fun:

Do but take care to express yourself in a plain, easy Manner, in well-chosen, significant and decent Terms, and to give a harmonious and pleasing Turn to your Periods: study to explain your Thoughts, and set them in the truest Light, labouring as much as possible, not to leave them dark nor intricate, but clear and intelligible —Cervantes. Preface to Don Quixote

The final cause of speech is to get an idea as exactly as possible out of one mind into another. Its formal cause therefore is such choice and disposition of words as will achieve this end most economically.— G. M. Young

Where would we be, without Miranda the Devine and Piers Akerman? Provided you don't pay a penny for their thoughts ...

(Below: did Gustave Doré foreshadow Akker Dakker and the Devine, even though he was illustrating Don Quixote a long time ago? Spooky).


  1. "so many windmills,so little time,and just us two miranda"

  2. Love it. Cartoon caption winner of the year. You'd be a shoo in for the New Yorker cartoon caption contest -
    if the bastards let foreigners join in the fun.
    Assuming of course you're not American and not already a winner!


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