Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Janet Albrechtsen, news 24/7 and Pay TV speaking to the nation that counts ... the ones that pay for Chairman Murdoch ...

(Above: Janet Albrechtsen on Q&A. Pay particular attention to the eyelashes and the peculiar thing draped around her neck, proving that ABC wardrobe has too much spare time on its hands).

Masochists with a strong enough stomach will have already visited this week's Q&A; sadists will of course have sent their resident masochists along for their weekly remedial and strength training.

So far as the pond is concerned, interest centres on Janet Albrechtsen's appearance in tandem with Barnaby Joyce - two treasured contenders for premium pond participants of the year.

Sadly, as the transcript will demonstrate - and is available here in the usual ABC way - the program was exceptionally dull, as the shadow of the Gillard coup loomed large over the participants.

All that emerged from Albrechtsen was that conservatives promoted women, that she listened to ABC radio, that she thought former Chairman Rudd very peculiar and a rotten leader, and cried for himself, and that Mark Latham had an astonishing insight - that Julia Gillard ain't no soccer mom. As Gillard isn't a mom, the news that she didn't take the non-existent ones off to soccer was most reassuring, because otherwise we'd be thinking about taking our delusional PM off to the loony bin.

I guess this is what passes for informed commentary in the commentariat. Oh and she thinks that Julia Gillard is a top notch performer, pretty first class.

All in all, it was a very average performance - there's a certain stiffness in Albrechtsen that alienates the cameras, and she exudes a certain tart discomfort whenever she speaks.

But all that dancing with the ABC - they love her so much she keeps on getting invited back, for no discernible reason, except she's the token conservative you have to have to keep the party seemly and balanced, like the mad aunt from the wrong side of the table you put down at the end next to the Fotherington Smythes or Wilson Tuckey - is really just an entree, for today's column Sky shames the ABC.

And here's where it gets juicy.

The ABC's Chris Uhlmann and Mark Simkin did a brilliant job breaking the big story on the 7pm news, which reported "leadership rumblings within the Rudd government". But if you wanted more news about Rudd's swift and dramatic downfall, you needed to channel surf over to Sky News.

That night Sky News became the default national broadcaster.

Um, could we add the default national broadcaster for the 34% of punters who bother to get Pay-TV delivered to their homes. While the other two thirds of us cruise along quite comfortably without.

Well a little background is in order here since you won't find any disclaimer at the bottom of Albrechtsen's column. The owner of the rag The Australian, for which she scribbles, is also the owner of BSkyB and thereby the owner of Sky News, and the owner, one Chairman Rupert, last we heard was seeking to increase his stake in BSkyB from the 39% current stake to a full buyout, only to be told he would have to tickle a little more than the twelve billion pounds on first offer.

Naturally the dirty digger also has his paw in Foxtel, the cable carrier of Sky News, with a 25% share, along with the 25% held by Consolidated Media Holdings and 50% owned by Telstra.

So when it comes to boosterism for Sky, a grain of salt should be added to the meal, any meal, dished up by News Corp.

But of course the irony is soon to hand, which is to say when seeking proof of her opinion of the ABC, where better to turn than to ... the ABC:

On Monday night, Media Watch dissected the ABC's Wednesday night failure in excruciating detail. In between normal programming, ABC television viewers were given 20-second updates here and there. On radio, listeners of ABC News Radio, "Australia's only national continuous news network", caught the business news from the BBC World Service and stories about the Solomon Islands Prime Minister. Over at Radio National, on Late Night Live, Phillip Adams was delivering the latest news from the central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan and a story on how cooking made us human.

Media Watch! Would that be the same Media Watch as the thunderer dismissed in an editorial back in 2007, Old tricks back at Media Watch?

Through bias, Media Watch has surrendered the right to pass judgment on other people's work

Why bother with a media television program that lacks journalistic integrity and conducts its affairs along the lines of an insiders' club that pushes its ideological prejudice at taxpayers' expense?

Indeed. Except of course when Media Watch is doing over the ABC, rather than The Australian or some other antipodean outpost of Chairman Murdoch's empire.

Of course the subtext in all this is the ongoing feud between Sky and the ABC about the ABC's decision to set up a 24/7 news channel - as noted by the ABC here in Sky falls on ABC's news channel. Then of course there's the ongoing feud between Sky and the ABC as to who might run the Australia Network, as outlined here in The Australian in ABC, Sky to contest diplomatic broadcast contract.

Of course the good thing about the cardigan wearing latte sippers is that they'll run a show like Media Watch, sometimes to the chagrin and ire of The Australian and other Murdoch lackeys.

You won't find that kind of freewheeling independent dissent and review anywhere within the corporate cogs of News Corp. And if you cared for a broadcaster treating its conventional programming as fodder to be interrupted at whim so it could track the latest shock horror news from Canberra, then surely the ABC wasn't up to the job on the night of the coup. Not that other broadcasters were so worried about the events:

To be fair, not every network did what Sky News did. But why couldn't the ABC?

Or put it another way, why couldn't the other networks? Could it be that they, or their punters, didn't care that much? No, no, no ...

The answer is all about culture. Wednesday evening was a study in contrasts between a network that gets the importance of delivering news as it happens and a complacent national broadcaster that doesn't get it. Worse, in the days that followed, a self-congratulatory national broadcaster tried to pretend it had not let down those Australians, like me, who look first to it for the best coverage of news and current affairs. And those who don't have cable TV were doubly let down.

Yep, you read it here. Or there. Janet Albrechtsen looks to the ABC first for the best coverage of news and current affairs. Not Sky, and not the offerings of Chairman Rupert. Suddenly I feel faint.

And Aunty let down the political junkies, so here we go again with a cry for Canberra navel gazing as the only way to live a life, or run a broadcaster.

But what happens to those who don't care, caught up in the middle of some program of interest? Well I know listening to Phillip Adams about Kyrgyzstan is in fact the only known certain cure for insomnia in western civilisation, but what if his somnolescent drone had just got you nodding off, and you get some news jock screaming in your ear that the PM had called a meeting in the morning? Nothing had been decided but you could spend the next hour working out that nothing had been decided, and casting and re-casting the runes and counting the numbers and talking drivel for minutes on end ...

Worse still, what if you'd woken up after Midsomer Murders had sent you spiralling into torpor, and just as the dreary inspector is about to name the murderer, you're sent post haste to identify the assassins at work doing a Caesar/et tu Brutus routine in Canberra? Sure it might have been David Stratton instead, but then at least you know you'll be soundly asleep and nothing could wake you ...

Well you see there's a double irony at work here.

On Wednesday night, ABC boss Mark Scott tweeted that the history making in Canberra was "conclusive proof why free-to-air TV needs a news channel. ABC News 24 almost here. Sorry it is not ready tonight." Instead, as editor-in-chief, Scott could have made the big call to deliver rolling coverage on Wednesday night, setting an example to those lower down about the importance of news. Not old news repeated in regular convenient cycles. Fast-paced, breaking new news.

Yes of the kind you put on a separate news channel, not as a way of interrupting the programming for those who couldn't give a stuff about the shenanigans in Canberra.

But you see as soon as you argue for a 24/7 news channel so that political junkies and commentariat perverts can indulge to their hearts' content, you tread on the toes of Sky News.

Oh lack a day, what to do? Well first stroll down memory lane to the good old days of David Hill and his hands on ways, rather than the clap happy cheerfulness of the current incumbent, and then have an acid flashback of clear Q&A proof that the ABC is over-indulged:

Aunty already has three channels - ABC1, ABC2 and ABC3 - and buckets of money. I was reminded of that on Monday when, sitting in a flash make-up room prior to an appearance on Q&A,I was politely asked by an expert make-up lady whether I wanted a few false eyelashes to enhance my eyes for the cameras.

Memo to make up person at Q&A. Make sure next time Albrechtsen looks like a bat out of hell. And tell wardrobe to forget making suggestions, let her dress the way she likes. Oh she did? Sssh, say no more ... (but what is that thing draped around her neck?)

And then back to the party line, which is to explain how a dedicated news channel isn't appropriate, or needed, and even if there were to be a news channel, the ABC would mismanage it:

While vast resources will be spent on creating the brand for a slick 24-hour ABC news channel, the ABC shouldn't need a new channel to report on a critical night in our nation's history.

The question is whether the ABC will look at its failings or focus only on its successes.

As a former director, I found it endlessly frustrating to hit the wall of ABC suspicion where legitimate, thoughtful criticism is invariably waved away as the ravings of ideological opponents. Yet, the ABC will grow stronger by responding to criticism that is aimed at making it better. It will cement its legitimacy if it can spot its own flaws rather than wait for others to point them out.

After Wednesday, is the ABC asking itself whether it has the energy and team spirit that kicks in so readily at its poor cable cousin at Sky? Does it understand the urgency of 24-hour news, where mistakes will be made and quickly corrected? Or will the monolithic ABC, even with a 24-hour news channel, fall victim to its culture of bureaucratic paralysis and infighting between fiefdoms?

Well actually there's nothing in Albrechtsen's column that wasn't better said or better demonstrated in the Media Watch program dedicated to the matter. Do yourself a favour and take a look. Meantime, Albrechtsen keeps yammering on about how an evening's entertainment needed to be ruined so we could cut to the palace to witness not the ritual killing - that was done in the morning - but the frantic preparations for the ritual killing:

Last weekend on SBS, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy was asked what he did on Wednesday night. He recalled "getting all these phone calls from journalists asking 'What's happening? What are you doing?'." He replied: "Well, I'm sitting in my office all alone watching Sky News like you are." What a disgrace that the federal minister who funds the ABC could not get the story from our national broadcaster.

Whoopee, QED, roll on a 24/7 news channel, and leave the rest of the programming unharmed and untouched by the relentless navel gazing of the political junkies who spend way too much time contemplating Canberra when they could have a life. And how can they fund it? Well surely by dropping Q&A, the most tedious aggregation of squawking and preening you'll find anywhere on television ...

Now before we go, there's just one last question. Is Albrechtsen a split personality? Here she is watching Sky:

Via text messages and phone calls, government ministers used Sky as the conduit to tell the nation what was happening. Operating under the old Sky UK motto of "you're never wrong for long", Sky journalists shared the text messages, reporting the night's big developments. .

The rawness of it was riveting. Sky News became a case study of how less is more: the shoestring budgets, the do-your-own-make-up, the journalists who come to the car park to greet you before you go on air. There are no airs and graces at Sky News. Only a hunger to deliver news as it happens.

Yet here she is watching the ABC at the same time and it would seem for the same duration:

After the 7pm news broke the nation's biggest story and The 7.30 Report mentioned it in passing before moving on to Afghanistan, wind farms and renewable energy, we were treated to the usual Wednesday comedy, drama and movie reviews. By the time Lateline rolled around, we heard some more about the history happening in Canberra, then more on Afghanistan and whaling, with a weird interview from a clueless Peter Garrett in Morroco. (sic)

Is she like Elvis Presley, who as any visitor to Graceland will know, had three or four TV sets lined up so he could watch all the networks at once, and had some sixteen in all scattered around the house?

But perhaps the most offensive Albrechtsen remarks are reserved for the folks of the eastern suburbs and Toorak - yes I've battled the drivers in the Toorak village supermarket carpark and survived to tell the tale:

Sky News is like one of those annoyingly smart, efficient little cars zipping in and out of traffic, getting where it needs to be quickly. By contrast, the ABC resembled a lumbering, shiny, four-door Bentley from the 1960s, a smug driver behind the wheel unable to manoeuvre the pace of modern traffic.

Oh no, it's the secretary v. the company director and Albrechtsen comes out in favour of the secretary! Lordy, and worse still one of those smart arsed newfangled electric beep beep cars with their energy efficiency and greens righteousness about them ...

Sssh, keep it quiet. Next thing you know the ABC will be interrupting its regular programming with a news flash: "We interrupt our regular programming to advise that Janet Albrechtsen now believes in climate change and favours smart efficient little cars zipping in and out, and has banned viewers from driving Bentleys and Rollers, gold plated or not ..."

Come on down Randy Newman:

They got little cars
That go beep, beep, beep
They got little voices
Goin' peep, peep, peep
They got grubby little fingers
And dirty little minds
They're gonna get you every time

Hey, we're sorry, we love short people. Julia Gillard's a short person. And now it seems we all must endure a 24/7 spin cycle:

... I think we’re just victims to technology. I don’t think anything is going to change. If anything, it’s going to get more fast paced. You only have to look at how things unravelled over Wednesday, Thursday, to see how quickly things changed in Australia. You know, Bill knows more about this than I do, about the fast paced news cycle, where I think, you know, for Julia Gillard to say that she’s different as a politician, that she doesn’t fall for spin, that she recognises that Australian’s don’t like spin, I think that’s a bit rich. You know, politicians live on spin. It’s their daily exercise, and I don’t think there’s any way of getting around that. That’s some fact of modern life now.

Spare me days, no thanks for that Janet. Isolate the virus. Bring on the ABC's 24/7 news channel and treat it like a gulag wherein all the commentariat commentators can frolic at their leisure, and perverts can dip in to the spin at their perverse pleasure. And if they must take Q&A with them ...

And take that Sky TV ... since if you speak for the nation, you seem to have lost some two thirds of the non-paying sheep in your care ... and the political junkies are demanding their fix, from, shock horror, the ABC no less which should be the supplier of the best news and current affairs in the land. Vale Chairman Rupert ...

(Below: the TV room at Gracelands. Shag pile carpet, and eight track and slide projector screen. Every home should have one. Along with the news of the day, Elvis loved pills and burgers. They kind of go together).

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Comrade Conroy, nobly delivering on election commitments, excluding Chairman Rudd, and thinking of the children ... again.

(Above: an exceptionally tedious comrade Conroy doorstopper, but we thought we'd drop it in for the record).

Meanwhile, in a galaxy far away, valiant Luke Skywalker fights valiantly on against Darth Vader, while maintaining exceptional vigilance in his care and concern for the children.

You see, poor old Senator Kate Lundy, one of the Canberra Labor mob, has been humbugging comrade Conroy about the virtues of an opt-in filter, as opposed to the comrade's draconian measures, and you can read about it here in My thoughts on an opt-in filter.

There was some hope going around that a brand new shiny atheist red headed messiah might not fall for the kind of nonsense long peddled by Conroy, but true to form, the comrade came good with a doorstepper insisting it was his way, or yahweh, or no way at all.

“We have got an election commitment to deliver,” Conroy told journalists in a doorstop interview in Sydney this afternoon ... “Just because [Greens Senator] Scott Ludlam says it’s been shelved, doesn’t mean it’s true.”

Which makes you wonder about election commitments, if a PM can be lightly overturned in the quest for votes, as if he was some kind of votive offering, while a policy scribbled by a thumbnail dipped in tar remains firmly nailed to the masthead.

Oh yes the resolute hard man from Victoria, the thinking woman's block of granite - oops, sorry, no disrespect to granite, a noble building material, intended - is on hand to make sure that Australia maintains its drive towards Victorian standards - oops, no disrespect to Victoria, from where the comrade hails, but Victorian England, where the standards of censorship were high, and the number of child prostitutes on the streets of London also high.

How did the comrade dispatch any lickspittle revisionist nonsense to the boundary?

“I’m not into opting in to child porn,” he said.

Thereby confirming that Conroy's more the rough equivalent of a bit of jarrah or perhaps iron bark.

Naturally Conroy's observations didn't go down well with the geeks that care (stories here and here).

It would have been nice to make an emotional vote for Australia's first woman PM, having strayed from the realm under the onerous rule of Chairman Rudd, and while many consider the filter a secondary issue, I'm afraid it's enough to keep my vote on tilt.

I'd rather vote for a herd of camels than vote for a government which keeps Senator Conroy at the helm of communications policy, not least because deep down I do think that the NBN has the potential to turn into a giant monopolistic rort of the kind which saw Telstra aka the PMG keep this country in the dark ages in terms of communications for decades. (Sob, there I said it, I'm at one with the chattering commentariat).

It needn't be that way but with the great big filter and the great big monopoly at his fingertips, who would trust a Conroy or a subsequent politician to do the right thing?

Call me unhappy, call me Ishmael, or call me a former Labor party voter, I don't mind. But the ALP will have to prise my vote from my cold dead hands before Conroy will get a sniff of it ...

And now, since I need cheering up, here's a picture of a sensible politician I like, who in a just world would be the Minister for Communications ...

(Well that's what the geeks are saying, in How Gillard can save the comms ministry, but can Darth Vader be so easily defeated?)

Yes, let's give another woman a go ... one who clearly doesn't want to pander to the Christian fundamentalists ...

Bettina Arndt, Julia Gillard, and too much advice from too many people about role models ...

(Above: a couple of Forum covers from way back when, as edited by Bettina Arndt BSc MPsych. Note the key question - is marriage a meal ticket?)

In the welter of silly commentary surrounding Julia Gillard's ascending the federal throne, could there be a more fatuous and sublimely stupid offering scribbled by anyone than the piece offered up by Bettina Arndt in Shacking up is hard to do: why Gillard may be leery of the Lodge?

It's hard to know where to begin, so Victorian and arcane are the stupidities on offer, but it's easy to see why the Herald loves rich ripe smelling tripe, since it had dragged in near 300 comments by mid morning, and the day is young.

Let's go no further than the opening par, which is a supposition built on a suggestion:

Julia Gillard doesn't want to move into the Lodge until she gets a democratic tick of approval. Or so she says. Maybe the real reason she is stalling is to test the waters about public reaction to moving her first bloke in there with her.

Yes, confronted with an obvious political reality - the sight of poor hapless former Chairman Rudd and his family being thrown out into the snow by a cruel redhead, close kissing cousin to the pale blonde witch in the The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - Bettina Arndt naturally prefers a blindingly stupid interpretation because it suits her general thesis.

And what's her generally stupid thesis? Why it's the dangers of being a de facto couple, never mind the deceptive, relaxing, perfidious approach of the media or the actual way of life of actual Australians:

Most media commentators are relaxed about a de facto first couple. Why not, they say, everyone's doing it. What's the big deal about living together?

They are right about the fact cohabitation - what some call ''marriage lite'' - is changing the social map. Census figures show the proportion of adults in de facto relationships more than doubled between 1986 and 2006. With other countries showing similar shifts, many social scientists studying this trend conclude marriage lite is not a change for the better.

Oh you aberrant outrageous fools, don't you realise you're throwing the entire social structure of the universe into jeopardy!

It's fine for Gillard - a 48-year-old woman - to live with her bloke. Yet as a popular role model for women, her lifestyle choice may influence other women into making big mistakes about their lives.

Yes, a big mistake! You see, women need men, like bicycles need fish, and they need to be married, and they need to have children, and so, because they're helpless and hapless, they need breadwinners to look after them and their children, and whatever they do they shouldn't challenge the patriarchy or pretend they can do it all themselves. Think fluttering miss in a medieval pageant, while the knight in shining armour goes about the heavy lifting business:

Cohabitation produces two groups of losers among women and children. Most women want to have children - Gillard is an exception - and some miss out after wasting their primary reproductive years in a succession of live-in relationships which look hopeful but go nowhere, leaving them childless and partnerless as they hit 40.

Yes, shrews, dropkicks, people who can't become an individual because they couldn't become a couple, incomplete, a horde of veritable Muriel Sparks given to relationship failures. Not that we're trying to undermine women's sense of self-esteem, but if they can't score a child and a partner by the time they hit forty, why on earth do they exist? Why don't they just give up, or fall under a train (while taking care not to shock the driver or hurt the passengers with their wasted life).

What's that you say, they could lead their lives according to their desires and potentials and find happiness and fulfilment where they may?

Could someone shove a sock in the mouth of that feminist in the back row ... Bettina has more to say:

People often drift into living together - someone's lease runs out or they get sick of running home for fresh shirts and underwear. They slide rather than decide, and frequently fail to discuss their mutual expectations for the relationship.

It's the women who end up stranded when they spend years in a succession of de facto relationships waiting for Mr Not Ready or Mr Maybe to make up his mind.

Dear lord, or as we used to say in Tamworth, fuck me dead, and yes, ecstatic sex that brings an end to life would in fact be preferable to reading this fear mongering drivel. But on we go with the biological clock routine:

Women's tiny reproductive window means they pay a high price for wasting precious breeding time in such uncertain relationships.

While the de facto lifestyle leads some women to miss out on having children, others are taking the risk of becoming parents despite these unstable relationships. A growing proportion of children is now born to de facto couples - up from less than 3 per cent in 1975 to 12 per cent in 2000, according to data from the Household Income and Labour Dynamics Survey.

Why then surely these bastard children herald the end of civilisation as we know it, even though the bastards I know - and I know quite a few - seem perfectly happy and untroubled by their bastardry. Oh we're a long way from Shakespeare's King John and the very spirit of Plantagent:

KING JOHN What is thy name?

BASTARD Philip, my liege, so is my name begun,
Philip, good old sir Robert's wife's eldest son.

KING JOHN From henceforth bear his name whose form thou bear'st:
Kneel thou down Philip, but rise more great,
Arise sir Richard and Plantagenet.

BASTARD Brother by the mother's side, give me your hand:
My father gave me honour, yours gave land.
Now blessed by the hour, by night or day,
When I was got, sir Robert was away!

QUEEN ELINOR The very spirit of Plantagenet!
I am thy grandam, Richard; call me so.

BASTARD Madam, by chance but not by truth; what though?
Something about, a little from the right,
In at the window, or else o'er the hatch:
Who dares not stir by day must walk by night,
And have is have, however men do catch:
Near or far off, well won is still well shot,
And I am I, howe'er I was begot.

I am I? The defiant pup, the insolent cur.

Apologies for that short break, but even bad Shakespeare is infinitely better than the drivel delivered up by Arndt. But hey nonny no, on we go:

It is often assumed these children will provide the glue to keep de facto relationships together, but sadly this is not so. David de Vaus, a sociology professor from La Trobe University, found cohabiting couples who have children are more like to break up than married parents, increasing their risk of the negative impacts of family breakdown.

Yep, thank the lord divorce is no longer an issue in this lucky country, or the false assumption that children will keep marriages together, because sadly this is not so.

But stay, what's this, treachery and deception and base foppishness lurks, and is likely to lead normal happy people astray by thinking they must imitate the new redheaded queen:

If Gillard chooses to play house with Tim Mathieson in the Lodge, this choice sends a strong message to the huge numbers of women who rightly admire her and seek to follow her example. A lifestyle suited to her particular needs may be riskier for many women and their children.

Oh the caddess, to pay house with a partner, rather than a marriage founded on true love and ankle biters.

What message is this to send to fundamentalist Christians, and make them question a fundamentalist god who wiped life from the earth in the first holocaust, by way of a flood, but still couldn't eradicate shellfish and pigs as mortal temptations designed to lure us all to hell?

Why the harpy, the floozy is ... words can hardly contain my shock and horror, just like ... summon strength all you mortals, you will need all the strength you might have ... why she's just like Germaine Greer.

You there, gentlemen, pick up the dear sweet creature who swooned in the second row. Give her smelling salts, and take her home post haste so she can spend the rest of the week in bed, while others of stronger stomach read on:

As a Labor politician, Gillard is hardly likely to spell this out. Her brand of politician is too nervous of offending natural constituents to express concern about lifestyle choices. But it wasn't always like that.

In 1972, an intriguing discussion between Germaine Greer and Margaret Whitlam was published in The National Times. Whitlam, whose husband had just become prime minister, was outspoken in her criticism of ex-nuptial births, declaring it was irresponsible to produce children outside wedlock. When Greer confessed she was considering having a child on her own, Whitlam was forthright: ''Well, I think that's just a selfish thought.''

Later in the interview, she relented a little. ''It may be all right for people who are well known and who have position and who can organise themselves … but it's not OK for everybody,'' she said, questioning the impact of Greer's decision on her many fans.

Next thing you know gentle readers, the dire news that Gillard took an affirmation rather than an oath, suggesting she might even be an atheist, has sent shock waves rolling around the land. If she's an atheist and without children, what's the point of her living? What kind of a role model is she?

At the heart of this conversation was role models. People in the public eye, our influential leaders, need to think through whether others who don't share their circumstances will follow their example and get into trouble.

You see, like lemmings, we'll follow her over the cliff, trying to emulate her dubious Sydney push lifestyle, and the next thing you know we'll end up with the Bogle Chandler murder nee scandal. That's what happens when free wheeling hippies and dissolute swingers turn up at parties carrying drawings in the style of Picasso ...

Every day we see well-known Australians making dubious lifestyle decisions being lauded in the media - celebrities choosing to become single mothers, unwed fathers, parents dragging children through a succession of chaotic ''blended'' families.

Oh the shame, the unmitigated, sordid, shocking, tabloid laden shame. And what's worse, some of them are married! And yet you know, and strangely enough, we also see well-known Australians making dubious lifestyle decisions by scribbling drivel and getting it published in the media, and put online so all can read their fatuously stupid thought bubbles ...

Pat Rafter was made Australian of the Year just as he was about to become an unmarried father. What did that say to his many male fans about the importance of committed fathering?

And what does his unmarried status say about his capacity and ability as a father? Are his children unhappy? Is he a bad father? Was he uncommitted to fathering? Who knows, and of course Arndt can't go further, perhaps leery of defamation proceedings, but I wish she'd accused Rafter of bad fathering just so he could take her to court and sue the socks off her. Or the truth might emerge, because you see according to his wiki he's created his own charity organisation that raises funds for children's causes each year and in turn it celebrates the way he enjoys going to the beach with his young family. We can see through that kind of obvious smoke screen Mr. Rafter!

Never mind, that's how Arndt proceeds, by sly innuendo, and name dropping and sweeping generalisations which introduce a new level of meaninglessness into public discussion of social trends:

Politicians today rarely question social trends, even when all the evidence is they are having negative social consequences. John Howard was the rare exception, when he went into bat for a child's rights to a father in the debate over single mothers and IVF. But the actions of our role models speak louder than any words. The well-heeled tennis hero cheerfully embracing unmarried paternity, the feminist toying with sole parenthood, the prime minister living with her boyfriend - why wouldn't their many fans not seek to walk in their shoes?

And if there's no harm in it, where's the harm in that, except that it seems to offend Arndt's hopelessly distorted notion of social order and the natural way of things.

Meanwhile, I do so worry about Arndt's many fans. Are they aware that she began her career by becoming a part of the exciting new era of Masters and Johnson sex techniques, and by publishing Forum magazine, dedicated to everything sexual, and that she took up with a married man:

PETER THOMPSON: There's an interesting element here about openness in relationships, because initially, wasn't he far from open about the nature of his real circumstances?

BETTINA ARNDT: Yes, that he... Well, he was a married man and he didn't present himself as a married man.

PETER THOMPSON: He DIDN'T present himself as a married man.

BETTINA ARNDT: "We have this arrangement, my wife and I," you know. And of course, you know, a young woman in the '70s, you choose to believe what you want to hear, you know. That's what I wanted to hear, that this wasn't really a married man, and so I chose to see it was a very amicable, you know, semi-separation, and that wasn't the case at all.

PETER THOMPSON: Of course, we're all very good, in one way or another, at rationalising, aren't we?

BETTINA ARNDT: Absolutely, absolutely. And the big thing was that he had two very young children. I didn't think about children, I didn't know anything about children, and now I know what it did to those children and I take responsibility for that. (here).

And back then, the shoe was on the other foot, as she kept on blathering about sex:

WOMAN: Is that Bettina Arndt?


WOMAN: What you're doing is absolutely wrong. If my daughter were to hear this, I would be fuming! If you like sexuality, then keep it at home! Do your own thing, but leave the young ones alone to do their own thing and just mind your own business!

But now she can't help herself, and she keeps on blathering on about marriage and role models and poor old Pat Rafter, and what's he ever done to her, and Julia Gillard, who kept chairman Rudd in hearth and home, and feminists who might want a baby.

Cue drum roll:

PETER THOMPSON: Well, one of the things you have said is, you know, you're very concerned about the impact of divorce on kids, and yet you've gone through a divorce relatively recently yourself. So, how did you size all that up?

BETTINA ARNDT: Yes, I mean, it was a very difficult issue for me, and it has... I mean, I don't think what I've done is at all inconsistent because what I always said is you have to be very careful to do everything you can to stay together for the sake of the children unless you're in a very highly conflicted relationship which is bad for children, and that's only a minority. Most of us divorce from relatively low-conflict relationships where, luckily, we manage to protect children from the worst of it, you know. The fights go on behind the bedroom door rather than in the children's faces ...

Well there's an excellent role model for all of us, instead of Julia Gillard's living in sin atheism, and Pat Rafter's cheerful attitude to marriage and parenting ... a low conflict divorce! And keep those fights behind the bedroom doors ...

So there you have it, another day in the lives of the chattering commentariat class, and the brain cells of Australians deadened a little bit more ...

It's hard not to have some pity for politicians, whether they be Rudd, Gillard or Abbott, with the incessant desire to have them as role models, followed by the shocking discovery that they're human ...

But it's harder to have pity for those who blather about the importance of role models, and turn out, like the rest of us, to have feet of clay and be human ...

(Below: and since the intertubes seems short on visual material of the Forum kind, here as perhaps a world first are a couple more covers from the magazine, as edited by Bettina Arndt BSc MPsych, way back in 1978, a long time ago. Ah, memories and useless advice and analysis even back then).

Gerard Henderson, and a new rule about news and the chattering class 24/7 ...

(Above: yes, this piece actually contains a new rule, way down below).

Well it seems we were wrong, and that Mark Day has left Chairman Rupert's stables, headed over to the ABC, and under the pseudonym Jonathan Holmes, is now gainfully employed ravaging the ABC's coverage of the downfall of former Chairman Rudd in this week's Media Watch.

It was such a fierce and funny demolition job, and so full of praise for Sky's coverage, that we felt a minor tremble of alarm at the future of this happy gadfly beavering away in Aunty's soft underbelly.

There's just one thing we worry about in Jonathon Holmes' perspective, apart from the way he ignored the intertubes as a way of breaking news (once we heard the ABC's scoop, we dipped at our leisure in to updates every now and then, as needed on the intertubes - it's called the four play, any news at any time anywhere on any device - and let me say there weren't too many times it was needed).

Holmes, you see, thinks every station and broadcaster should have dropped everything and rushed around Chicken Little style announcing that the sky was falling, the king was dead, the queen was threatening, and tracking every little bit of news of the plot, giving us that peculiar notion of relentless 24/7 news coverage ... as promised by the ABC's new news channel, which plans to emulate all that's awful about pay-TV, such as Sky News.

In the good old days, before the telegraph connected Australia to the world, the news would arrive slowly by ship that the king was dead, long live the king, and people would go about their lives.

Ceaselessly watching the doings of Canberra is surely bad for your health. The only meaningful news on the night in question was that Chairman Rudd would be challenged the next day, and odds on he'd be dead as a forlorn duck. Sure there were the faceless men who done it to expose, but after they were exposed, they went on being faceless men, so the exposure wasn't that useful. (I've always thought of Bill Shorten as faceless).

The point about relentless 24/7 news is that it needs its regular dramas to sustain itself, and soon enough you end up with the hysteria of Fox News in the United States, where every successive second produces a fresh crisis threatening the free world. It's like watching C-Span, on steroids, and should be reserved to professionals and political junkies.

The rest of us thankfully have a life, and that's why I never switch on the ABC's TV news in the morning, and why I won't be watching with bated breath, the news 24/7 on the ABC, because there's a life to be lead.

Professionals might care about who broke what, and in what order, but thankfully there are those of us still running around who are pleased when regular programming is maintained, instead of the old line where some voice of god interrupts the program to announce that the king is dead, long live the redheaded queen.

No, we get enough of our daily dramas, and portents of doom from reading the commentariat class on a daily basis, and who better to give us a dose of portentous gloom than the prattling Polonius Gerard Henderson, who arrives late to the scene of a crisis now heading to a week old, with It's game on with some new rules.

Hark, is the header a jest derived from Bill Maher's jokey 'new rules' segment? You're kidding right? You don't even get the gallows humour of an undertaker in a Henderson piece.

So how does he cope with being late on the scene? In the usual way, with a history lesson, which naturally distorts and skews the history to suit whatever passing conservative thesis suits mad hatters throwing a tea party.

Henderson revisits Peter Costello's failure to challenge John Howard and exonerates him of any guilt in the matter:

It is fashionable to accuse Costello of lacking the intestinal fortitude to challenge Howard. However, he had scant support in the ministry and virtually no numbers on the backbench - there was little point in challenging Howard on the eve of the 2007 election.

Yes, yes, but he also lacked the ticker, the big sook. He could have - when it counted and mattered - bunged on a do, Paul Keating style, stormed off to the back bench, and waged a white anting campaign, instead of sulking in private with chosen journalists over a glass of wine.

Henderson's thesis of course is that the Liberal party is a gentlemans' club, where gentlemen simply refuse to do beastly, ghastly things, unlike the ALP machine, with its ruthless efficiency:

Labor's changes - from Beazley to Rudd and from Rudd to Gillard - demonstrate it does politics more effectively than the Liberal Party. The early polls indicate Gillard will do a better job than Rudd - if only because she has more people skills than her predecessor.

Yes, there's enough time to sink the slipper into people skills Rudd, the main evidence being that the former Chairman appeared to snub Kristina Keneally, whereas at the time any sensible New South Welshperson knew that it wasn't enough of a snub to appease the gods. The only way to sort out NSW Labor is to nuke them, snubbing them is a kind of mild bon vivant William Makepeace Thackeray routine.

Speaking of people skills, we see that the Downfall skit featuring Chairman Rudd has now topped the 40,000 hit mark, and you can still see it here. It has one immortal line, to do with redheads having no soul, though let's hope for her peace of mind that Tanya Plibersek never sees it.

And then it's on to the business of salvaging what Henderson can from the transition, by first of all crediting Tony Abbott with chairman Rudd's scalp, and then boosting Abbott in most peculiar ways:

Abbott may not have many fans within the parliamentary press gallery, but as the former Labor minister Graham Richardson acknowledged on Sky News last Thursday, Abbott has a certain appeal among what's left of the working class and other lower socio-economic groups.

Yep, fresh from tending his Swiss bank accounts, comes Richo to offer up his expert opinion on what's left of the working class, and other riff raff, hereinafter known, though not limited to, other lower socio-economic groups, also known as peasants, serfs, agricultural labourers, and bloggers.

And then there's the fresh scientific evidence, which certainly can't reveal the truth about climate warming, but clearly establishes that Tony Abbott doesn't pong out the room when the windows are open and a breeze is allowed to blow through the doors:

Recently, on the ABC1 Insiders program, journalist Laura Tingle declared "everybody thinks" the Opposition Leader is "an absolute stinker". Not so, according to the only available scientific evidence. According to yesterday's Newspoll, some 42 per cent of voters are satisfied with Abbott's performance. Sure, his disapproval rating - at 41 per cent - is also high. But the polls indicate Abbott's political support is greater in the general community than it is within the journalist profession.

Ah yes, a poll as scientific evidence, thereby stretching the definition of scientific evidence to establish that global warming does exist, since sundry polls have established that the vast majority of scientists clearly believe global warming is human induced.

No, no, you've got that wrong. What we're learning here is the way the fiendish journalistic profession, which as everyone knows is full of Marxists and socialists and left leaning commentators like Gerard Henderson and Janet Albrechsten, constantly mistakes their opinion with the views of the general community. Which is why John Howard actually won the election back in 2007, but the journalist profession simply refused to acknowledge the truth in the hearts and minds of the average punter.

But what's this? After all this labouring, it's time to cheer on the underdog:

Labor under Gillard starts a clear favourite. Yet the Prime Minister understands the election will be decided in the outer suburbs and regional centres. Abbott may be on the nose in Ultimo and Brunswick but it is far from clear that he is an absolute stinker elsewhere. It's game on and we shall soon know for sure.

At which point, you haver to wonder whether it wouldn't be simpler for Gerard Henderson simply to scribble "god how I hate those wankers in the ABC and Fairfax", and "go Tony". With perhaps a "we luvz ya Tony" thrown in for good measure.

Meanwhile, is it possible for Henderson to clarify what sins Brunswick has committed. Sure we can understand Ultimo, the Sydney headquarters of the ABC, but has Brunswick become the new Fitzroy or worse still, the new Northcote?

Did he mean the ABC in Canberra at Dickson, or Toowong in Brisbane, or Collinswood in SA or Southbank in Victoria - or dear god, yes there's even the ABC in WA lodged in east Perth. Is it a cryptic reference to The Age? But those coffee sippers dwell in the Docklands like the trendies they are ...

Poor old Brunswick, now cryptic code for all that's wrong with Australia. Why, if the trendies keep edging out this way, soon enough we'll be finding trendies under the rocks in Sunshine Deer Park and Parramatta.

Which brings me to the ultimate nightmare. News 24/7, where - because news fails to happen on a regular enough basis - experts and commentariat commentators are larded in between the headlines to berate hapless people living in Brunswick and working in Ultimo.

Yes, that way you end up with the cliched chattering classes berating ordinary punters when we'd all be better off if they were given an all day toffee apple to chew on ...

Come on Jonathon Holmes, admit your error, and get back to working for The Australian!

Meanwhile, let anyone at the ABC who thinks interrupting Jon Stewart to bring me news that the king is dead should think again. Better the comedy on television than the desperate attempts of politicians at comedy ...

And can we also have a new rule? That any subbie using a header using the words "new rules" for a column which contains no actual new rules, but rather a dirge for what might have been in theLiberal party, and a hapless yearning for what might now never be for Tony Abbott, should be taken out and shot.

(Below: and now piano hits and memories from Gra Gra Richo, with cartoonist Pryor celebrating Graham Richardson's revelation in his book that he lied to help Paul Keating replace Bob Hawke as leader of the Labor party. And now he hovers around like a blowfly at a barbeque offering opinions on politics from an informed perspective, to be quoted by cultural warriors like Gerard Henderson. And you wonder why the pond is addicted to Alice in Wonderland!)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Mark Day, and musings on the state of the media game from the bunkers of The Australian ...

(Above: Doonesbury does newspapers for the week. It starts here, and reminded me how strange it felt last week at the Sydney Symphony to pick up an actual newspaper - a circulation boosting freebie - and hold it and read it).

It's been awhile since we dropped in on Mark Day, but golly does he deliver a zinger from the get go in Nanny state won't save newspapers and worries about the future of journalism:

We now have a female Prime Minister, a female Governor-General and, where I live, a female Premier, a female Governor and a female Lord Mayor.

On the world stage we have much fretting about the future of journalism and discussion of proposals to, in effect, swaddle our ailing profession in bunny rugs.

Am I right to worry that we might be rushing headlong into the nanny state? Or are we already there?

Can you follow that impeccable line of chauvinist logic?

Female politicians + ailing journalism + swaddling bunny rugs = nanny state.

Yep, quicker than you can say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, Day has cut to the core of the issues confronting the Australia media, and then has the cheek to nibble at the Illawarra Mercury for comparing Julia Gillard to the face of Redhead matches.

Meanwhile, in his usual way, Day mans the ramparts for Chairman Rupert. Oh faithful minion, marching off to war with the Ultimo cardigan wearing socialist tea sippers at the ABC.

You see, there's Chris Uhlmann doing a little tub thumping last Friday about Breaking the story that broke Kevin PM, and how it was the ABC wot dun it.

The ABC radio news breaks stories almost every hour. AM is the jewel in the crown of a radio current affairs operation that is unique in this country. The ABC Online site is second to none. ABC Local Radio gives a voice to every community on this continent. And ABC TV News and Current Affairs is the most trusted brand in television broadcasting.

I'm proud of my colleagues and the job they do in the large and small parts of the ABC. And, in the end, the proof of the pudding is in the quality of the ingredients.

As one minister told Mark Simkin: "I didn't know about it. But the fact that the ABC was running it meant it had credibility".

Okay, I'll confess. Like most of the commentariat, I prefer to listen to the ABC. They all do it - the Janet Albrechtsens, and the Gerard Hendersons, if only so they can rail, or so they can avoid free market advertising, or the shriek of their own kind, since who wants to listen to Alan Jones when a bullet to the brain would be speedier and still have less impact on your ability to think?

If I'm not soaking up the quiet charm of ABCFM, then I'll be picking up the news on either Radio National or news radio, which seems to mainly recycle the BBC when free of the stench of parliament, and while I can do without the ABC's personality radio, in a pinch I'll even listen to James Valentine encouraging people to rant (as we here at the pond encourage all people to indulge in stress-relieving ranting).

It's a singular reality, but time spent in Britain reminds you of the pleasure of the BBC, while any time spent in America reminds you of what monstrosities a free market mindless media machine can produce (yes Fox News, thank you Chairman Rupert).

But back to Mark Day, and his feeble retort to Uhlmann's boasting:

I'll leave the Rudd-Gillard political commentary to others, but, from a media perspective, it is worth singling out the exceptional work of Sky News and its political anchor David Speers. The Sky team were all over the story from the moment news of the impending putsch was broken by Chris Uhlmann and Mark Simkin on the ABC's 7pm news. Whatever advantage this gave the national broadcaster was squandered by its inability -- or unwillingness -- to follow the story live as it unfolded on Wednesday night.

See! The ABC might have broken it, but Sky News was all over it like a rash once it had been broken, proving second dibs at desert is always the most cunning play. No need to be first any more when you can boast about being second.

And what's more you get to shell out to go behind the paywall for Sky, as opposed to enjoying what your taxes have served you up.

The rest of Day's piece is the usual tortured stuff about what to do with the newspaper game now that it's fallen on hard times, and he checks out a couple of discussion papers about future options:

Both papers put forward options. The FTC asks: should the law be changed so that publishers receive money from online aggregators who "steal" work without payment? Should there be a "hot news" definition that prevents news scoops from being appropriated online? Should news-reading gizmos such as the iPad be taxed and the revenue given to publishers? Should newspapers be given tax breaks to help them continue their important role in democracy? Should news items downloaded to mobile phones be taxed?

Indeed. But there wouldn't be a day go by that Chairman Rupert's minions make off with other people's work. Why there on The Punch today, to illustrate Carrie Miller's piece about Julia Gillard is a copy of the front page of The Australian Women's Weekly. Is that fair use, or stealing?

While they try to do the right thing with a few in-house cartoons, the editors can't resist embedding (not just linking to) the Madonna song Like A Virgin, up on YouTube from the Music Video Awards of 1984, as an accompaniment to a story alleging Gillard is still in virgin territory. The YouTube uploader provides this quaint disclaimer ...

No copyright
© 1984 Warner Music Group

And it's not just The Punch. The tabloids, like the Daily Telegraph, do it all the time too, 'recycling', aka stealing others' work as they make out like Swedish pirates, or bandits.

But to be fair, the main thrust of Day's piece is that government intervention - or government subsidy as offered by the perfidious French - isn't the answer, and that in the end market forces will decide:

Quite simply, the media has to produce content people want to buy. Many argue that this logic leads to a dumbing down of product. That may be true at one end of the spectrum, where customers prefer to be entertained rather than informed. But it does not preclude the creation of quality content for the quality end of the market.

Indeed. Which is why we fork out cash for The New Yorker and the New York Review of Books, and Harpers. And not a jot or whit for Chairman Rupert. Put your money where your mouth is if you want quality for the quality end of the market. And the pond does so love quality, well at least in the time not spent thinking about the loons.

Day has a nice fantasy about top gun reporters being gathered together like the A-Team or the Justice League or Marvel's Avengers to out baddies, and then he goes and ruins it all:

Outsourcing special investigations in a horses-for-courses play is not exactly new. It is, in effect, what The Australian did when it called on its top reporter Hedley Thomas to review the role of Victorian police chief Simon Overland in Operation Briars.

Oh dear, you can sense some deep brooding still going on in the bunkers at The Oz, no doubt still irritated by the ABC's Media Watch, and its story about Hedley Thomas, the OPI, and Heckling From The Cheap Seats:

The Australian has chosen to take sides in a factional war, but few of those who've reported on police corruption in Victoria believe it has chosen the side of the angels.

Hedley Thomas seems sincerely to believe that he's breaking important news. Others see an old story turned into a week-long, front-page campaign. The Australian shouldn't be surprised that many in Victoria are deeply suspicious of its motives.

So, I have to say, am I.

Those blasted cardigan wearers. And that's not the first time Media Watch had a bite at the Murdoch biscuit, along with its cup of tea, as back in May it also tackled the question of Hedley Thomas, The Oz, and the OPI in News Bites Watchdog.

Day might think that The Oz is doing top notch investigative reporting, but you don't have to be a Media Watch sheep to think that they managed to produce a storm in a teacup, dredging up old news and pretending they were on a righteous crusade. Not so much the A-Team as the B-Team. Yes Mr. T, you tell 'em, they should get some nuts, or at least a better nut cracker.

Meanwhile, Day rounds out his piece thus:

Figuring out the future of journalism and the media is very much a work in progress. It is best left to the pros. It's nice that academics, governments and concerned citizens are taking a nurturing approach and contemplating ways to wrap us in cotton wool to shield us from the harshness of the cruel world, but we are best left to experiment and learn our lessons free of government intervention. Meddling politicians, no matter how well meaning, are not wanted.

Indeed. Nor meddling consumers either. Which is why I feel no need to subscribe to Sky News, or to pay for The Australian. I'll leave that to the pros.

All I demand is that News Corp brings on a paywall in the antipodes so that I can righteously refuse to pay for News Corp content.

It's the least they can do ... it would cut the examples of scribbling worthy of loon pond status by ninety per cent overnight ...

UPDATE: and while on the subject of corporate piracy, why not head off here to Mumbrella, and Fairfax and content theft, where Fairfax cops a fair degree of stick. And so they should. Not only did they rip off a funny Hitler Downfall routine in relation to Chairman Rudd (which you can see here) but in claiming it as their own, they removed all the 'fucks'. Well fuck that, they should have fixed the spelling for jovial, which comes out as jovail. Well fuck them and their piratical ways, no way I'll link to their videos, and it seems they've now done it for the Upright Citizens Brigade here. The only difference between the big bandits and the little pirates is that the former get to spout all the righteous indignation while rifling through the till ...

(And now a little more Doonesbury. Go on, give him a click through here, and catch up on the mudline, and the 'Say What' teaser, which today reads

"This ice loss appears to be unmatched over at least the last few thousand years and unexplainable by any of the known natural variabilities."
-- from abstract of new
report, History of Sea Ice in the Arctic

What's that you say? Say what? That's not what I read about climate change in The Australian.

Or is this link a trick to get me to go to a Chairman Rupert page? Don't worry, it's perfectly safe. The site is owned by The Washington Post Company, doesn't charge for access and is supported by advertising revenues).

David Burchell, and a quiet day on the pond as a cry for lucidity goes unheeded ...

(Above: a scuttling, scurrying Canberra figure?)

Here at the pond we spent the weekend in elaborate tortured ethical debate.

Is it appropriate, when spending time in a third world country, in an expensive hotel, to appropriate the soap and shampoo as recompense?

As an addendum, one of the debaters revealed a policy of purloining Gideon's bibles, and removing them from circulation, whenever found in a room. Not to destroy them - no book should ever be destroyed - but to remove them from circulation, on the grounds that a child might stumble upon a bible, and be exposed to its tawdry tales of a vengeful god delivering a holocaust via a flood, not to mention an outrageous attitude to shellfish.

This miscreant said that he'd do the same if hotel rooms contained Karl Marx's Das Kapital or Chairman Mao's little red book, but that communists didn't have either the means or the madness of xtians going about the business of spreading their nonsense. When challenged, he agreed he might remove any poetry or other attempt at literature found lurking in a hotel drawer, if only that this kind of letter bomb should not be made generally available, but, like the bible, should always be kept under plastic wrap with an MA+15 rating, and require a special trip to the back of the shop behind a couple of flap wing doors.

It was at that point that I realised loon pond was more than just a state of mind, it involved an awesome universal insanity.

Which is just as well, because the Monday scene is remarkably quiet. With Paul Sheehan off somewhere in the ether - perhaps contemplating whether to boost his bathroom supplies by pocketing the soap and the shampoo - the Sydney Morning Herald has lost its main resident Monday eccentric for the moment. We'd like to be able to say we miss him, but only in the sense that bashing our head with a baseball bat on a Monday is a pleasurable activity.

Remarkably the Herald now has at the top of its opinion pages a piece by Gerard Noonan suggesting that the mining companies could afford to cough up a little more (Sovereign risk? No, superannuation is at risk, thanks to mine bosses). If they keep up this revolutionary socialist thinking, they might drift somewhere near the centre.

So it was off to that reliable source of ratbaggery, The Australian, but even that font of froth and foam disappointed. It was as if the appointment of Julia Gillard had taken the wind out of their sails.

Oh sure, there was Dennis Shanahan getting dire and muttering and shaking his head in Work looms for hard heads who executed the 'unelectable', but it was a dull, tedious outing.

All he could do was mutter about Labor becoming delusional and succumbing to hubris, and a reliance on Greens' preferences being fraught with danger, and so on and so forth, and that the distraction of personalities be kept to a minimum, and real economic and political issues dominate the debate ahead - at which point given The Oz's demonisation of Chairman Rudd and his personality this past year, I simply had to chortle - but damn it all, the polls have shifted, and now all Shanahan can scribble is how it's the biggest gamble and there's a close and fascinating contest ahead.

Never mind, there's good old Henry Ergas maintaining the rage in We'll pay dearly for this NBN folly, like Ebenezer's ghost roaming around in the back rooms reliably rattling his chains.

Henry has a fondness for quotations, this time offering up Pyrrhus after the battle of Asculum, and di Lamedusa's The Leopard, with if we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change. I suspect Henry's been visiting the wiki here, but I remain resolute in my preference for Everything must change in order to remain the same.

Pyrrhic victories aside, all the prattling Henry can do is cast dire spells, talk of regicides, and warn of nasty shocks ahead. We're all still doomed sums up the mood, but perhaps is too short and pithy and to the point for a newspaper column.

But perhaps the biggest disappointment is David Burchell, whose florid style can usually be relied upon to set Monday morning ablaze with classical fetishism.

Oh he tries in Real people don't get besotted with prime ministers, but I'm reminded of Richard Nixon growling about what people might find to do once they didn't have him to kick around anymore. With Burchell's bete noir former chairman Rudd gone, there's a sense that without a voodoo doll his pins are quite lifeless.

The metaphors and the references, and the straw dogs, take on quite a desperate air:

Gillard as Eve in the Garden of Eden, as Lady Macbeth, or Augustus Caesar's wife Livia? Rudd as a golden-locked political innocent, lost in a dark forest thick with factional wolves? Truly?

Truly, only in the fervid mind of the Burchell, since I can't remember anyone else writing this kind of Augustan tosh. Who else to blame?

One of most curious aspects of the past three years has been the yawning and ever-growing gulf between the universe of the political enthusiast -- the blogging savants, the convulsive Facebook oracles, the haiku poets of the Twitterverse and their motley followers and hangers-on -- and the reality of those who have to grind their lives away in the dreary vicinities of power.

Actually one of the most curious aspects of the past three years as been the growing rage of The Australian's punditocracy, on the pretence that they somehow represent the interests of ordinary Australians, as opposed to big mining and Chairman Rupert.

After an extensive amount of time trying to decipher the runes, work out what the oracular I Ching is saying this morning, it seems that we'd invested too much in chairman Rudd, and that his replacement by Julia Gillard is a good thing, provided ...

... she strives to set a new tone of modesty and lucidity in public affairs.

Lucidity as a demand from David Burchell?! Did the stars just shift a little in the firmament?

Which brings us to his final par:

Every now and again political commentators get it sort of right. On those occasions people are wont to ask them: what's the trick? Their answer is usually simple enough. Shrewd political observation doesn't involve any special genius or insight beyond that which any intelligent and observant citizen already possesses. All it requires is a refusal to be consumed by that beguiling procession of fashionable delusions and fantasies. Take your eyes off that screen and focus them instead on those busy, shadowed figures scurrying around behind.

What on earth does it mean? Who are those busy, shadowed figures scurrying around behind? Are they like the white rabbit?

It was the White Rabbit, trotting slowly back again, and looking anxiously about as it went, as if it had lost something; and she heard it muttering to itself ‘The Duchess! The Duchess! Oh my dear paws! Oh my fur and whiskers! She’ll get me executed, as sure as ferrets are ferrets! Where can I have dropped them, I wonder?’

Is Burchell preening about his part in the decline and fall of former Chairman Rudd, when let's face it, the miners, the polls, Tony Abbott, and dozens of Chairman Rupert's minions played their fair part?

Or is he modesty allowing that he's a shrewd political commentator, though lest it be thought he's a preening ponce, only with the genius and insight which any intelligent and observant citizen might possess?

Yes, yes, all that I suppose, but you see these days, though it might not occur to Burchell, he's read on screens around the land - well those with far too much time on their hands - and screens make his thoughts available around the entire world, though it's heartening to think that the citizens of Lubbock Texas couldn't give a stuff about what the man is saying.

His resentment of the bloggers, the Facebook oracles, the haiku poets is charmingly backward looking, like almost all the nonsense that Burchell scribbles. Because you see this is supposed to be his killer line:

... there was a desperate need to persuade Gillard to stand for PM, no matter how deeply it ran against her long-established political habits, instincts and personality. And all the while the political enthusiasts everywhere have been weaving their own beautiful tapestries with the same knitted brows and oblivious, self-important air as Addison's upholsterer.

What was that about the need for lucidity?

We'd just settle for brevity instead of long winded pomposity, together with a recognition that there were more than a few people who couldn't stand Chairman Rudd (and let's not go into his Christian posing or Senator Conroy's great big new internet filter right now). Yes let's hear it for unmarried barren atheists (Gillard is doing it for all the unmarried barren atheists).

That said, we are indeed in favour of lucidity. And the day that Burchell demonstrates it is the day we'll declare a holiday on the pond.

Meanwhile, we're standing by for the day that Burchell suddenly discovers that the appointment of Gillard was a heinous mistake, as first foreshadowed by a charming parable by Joseph Addison, and that she has failed his rigorous demand for lucidity. Early betting around the pond is for next Monday's column ...

Meanwhile, the most important issue of the day - the appropriation of hotel soap and shampoo, and the removal of Gideon bibles from hotel drawers - must go unresolved for the moment. Is it true that the bible represents a danger to children? Should one be proactive when confronted by this kind of danger, or simply turn the eye the other way, or perhaps the cheek?

What's the good of the punditocracy when they pay no heed to the crucial moral dilemmas of the average ethical punter?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Christopher Pearson, Chongzhen, Taksin, Ivan the Terrible, Goebbels and Club Gherkin.

(Above: Chad Morgan, part of our new don't ask, don't tell, don't explain, don't get drawn into silly comparisons routine here at the pond).

Here at the pond we almost overlooked Christopher Pearson's contribution to the ether this weekend, in Panic in the ranks over whiff of mortality.

No need to stamp your feet and throw a hissy fit, little missy, as they used to say in Tamworth, the only home for genuine Australians and country music lovers (but not of the alt music kind, yes, we mean you, you Patty Griffin lovers), for quality will out.

Yep, it's hard to overlook the rattling of the cage, the pompous portentous prattling of the permanent prat.

In recent weeks Pearson has been advertising his membership of his very own Club Sensible. Here at the pond of course we have our very own club, namely Club Gherkin. Membership is restricted to those who can either demonstrate they eat gherkins, or who are in fact a gherkin. We have no knowledge of Pearson's dietary habits, but rest assured his membership of the club is guaranteed, with lifetime membership fees waived.

Still, we have to hand it to Pearson for a keen sense of history, and an awareness of the fragility of politics. Here's the historical reference he cited regarding Tony Abbott's brutal execution of Malcolm Turnbull:

When Chongzhen, the last Ming emperor, realised that his enemies were at the gates and that, as the Chinese say, "the mandate of heaven had been withdrawn", he ordered all the imperial household apart from his sons to commit suicide. He then proceeded in full regalia to a tree in the gardens on Jingshan Hill and hanged himself.

Oops, sorry, got that wrong. Will someone please shoot the copy editor. That seems to have some relevance to the downfall of former Chairman Rudd. What it might be we can't quite discern.

Never mind, here's what Pearson wrote about Tony Abbott's brutal back-stabbing of Malcolm Turnbull:

King Thaksin of Siam, an ancestor of the ousted Thai prime minister of the same name, was a tyrant who gradually went mad and came to believe he was an incarnation of Buddha. His ablest general intervened to depose the king and, according to the version of events in the Annamese court records, he was bundled into a velvet sack and clubbed to death with a fragrant sandalwood staff

We can be confident that Malcolm Turnbull is well aware of the Chinese precedent. Thaksin's death, with its judicious blend of lethal force and the deference due to a sovereign, may appeal to the more historically minded of Turnbull's colleagues in the Liberal party's collection of fundie right wing loons aggregated around Nick Minchin and Eric Abetzt.

Oh please, will someone shoot the bloody gremlin in the works. We're trying to be serious here, and take a considered look at the assassination of former Chairman Rudd by Stalinist death squads, and we were entranced by the comparison of Rudd to a religious madman, a comparison usually made to the Pope, the Pellist heretics and Catholics in general if they happen to believe in the reality of transubstantiation.

Not that we're into meaningless exaggeration or pathetic historical fallacies dressed up as some kind of insight.

Sad to say, of course, you won't get any of that in a Pearson piece as he takes the business of cheerleading for Tony Abbott with such seriousness that we thought about attaching the lyrics for Hey Mickey, dressed up as Oh Tony, you're so fine you blow my mind. Hey Tony. But is stooping to Pearson's level wise, or should we feign a serious nobility and worthy intent?

Well if nothing else there's fun to be had quoting Pearson quoting a paranoid Warwick McKibbin:

I don't know if Ken was fingering me, but there weren't too many other people out there arguing against an ETS. I have enormous respect for Ken Henry, but he can't believe that you should have consensus because it's better to have bad policy that everyone agrees with than eventually get good policy that will work.

Que? as spoken by Manuel. There weren't too many people out there arguing against an ETS, and that's why it was passed, and we now suffer under its burdensome impost, and so we ended up with a bad policy rather than a good policy that will work?

Well I suppose an alternative universe in which McKibbin and Pearson are the sole rational anti-ETS warriors might pass as intelligent discourse in some Victorian parlour once the subject of watering the aspidistra on the what not has been exhausted, but wait there's more.

You see, for months the punditocracy has been rabbiting on about the autocratic style of decision making emanating from former Chairman Rudd's office, and his dictatorial reign, and his private potty mouth designed to make people fall into line, but now of course he's merely one of the gang of four, perhaps the least effective member of the kitchen cabinet and hardly responsible for anything, since it was Gillard that bewitched him into making all the bad calls:

The former PM was fall guy but his offsiders signed off on the same bad decisions.

Yep, and when you follow this logic through, Julie Bishop is responsible for everything wrong in the Liberal party. Hang on, hang on, okay, bad call, I know she is, and so is Sophie Mirabella, because they blindly support their leader right or wrong, and because they're also members of the Gherkin club.

You see how this works:

When asked, Rudd told them : "My judgment was we had to be in the business of making a difference and under those circumstances there are no half-measures. You either don't act or you do. The worst thing you can do in public policy terms is to half-act; and you will be run over in the middle of the road."

Gillard signed off on that decision. If she has ever entertained any private reservations about the size of the stimulus, she has yet to air them.

Well at least it's good Pearson imagines Gillard has some private thoughts, even if might be only ever entertaining private reservations. Whenever I look at Julie Bishop, I wonder if she has any thoughts at all, since she's yet to air them. Soap bubbles yes, but thought bubbles?

As for Gillard, here's the next question. And please explain, oh atheist one, when you stopped beating your partner, and why you embarked on this tactic as a way to domestic harmony in the first place?

Do people read this kind of prattling and think it makes any sense at all, in the context of politics and the way the game is played?

Well at least if they have ambitions to being a coach rather than a rather portly portentous cheerleader hovering on the sidelines, trying to prance about whenever a brand new revelation from the fearless leader is announced ... like Chairman Rudd was done over by Stalinist death squads ...

Ah well, I suppose by leading with Chongzhen, Pearson managed to avoid, even if his unacknowledged source seems a little obvious - ain't wikis grand - a more predictable reference to Goebbels killing his six children with morphine and cyanide, and then shooting himself while his wife took poison, and so end up with a breach of Godwin's Law - even if it would have elevated him still further up the ladder of the Junior Woodchuck grand pooh bah master of gherkin eaters.

And I suppose that the reference to King Thaksin of Siam (you can find a wiki here under the spelling of Taksin) avoids the obvious comparison between Chairman Rudd and Ivan the Terrible, or perhaps Stalin. After all, being a Marxist communist of the lickspittle kind, Rudd would be well aware of Eisenstein's film, and of the way Ivan beat his pregnant daughter-in-aw for wearing immodest clothing, which caused an argument with his son, which led to his son's accidental death.

Oh dear, I quite got carried away. Yes membership of the Gherkin Club gives you the right to wander down the by ways of history and draw supercilious distinctions entirely without meaning ...

Now where were we, apart from being proud members of and worthy poo bahs of Club Stupid, because stupid is as stupid scribbles?

Why I believe we were in Tamworth, fighting with the good folks there about why Patty Griffin is worth a listen - yep, she's a redhead too, in a conspiracy of redheads.

So here's a couple of songs, one with no visuals and the other with a naff video clip. But what the hell, they're free, at least so long as YouTube keeps the links alive, so if you've got a problem with that, off to West Leagues with you and listen to Chad Morgan (by golly Chad's got a wiki too, who'da thunk it ... but then I guess he was trying to make an honest living, unlike some paid entertainers for the Murdoch stables ...):