Friday, September 30, 2011

An Orwellian George Brandis, and please someone bring on the Amazons to give Clive Hamilton a really hard time ...

(Above: Roza Yegorovna Shanina, 1924-1945, more here).

You have to admire the sheer unmitigated cheekiness of George Brandis scribbling away in Section 18C has no place in a society that values freedom of expression.

It seems the section of the federal Act that brought poor old Andrew Bolt thudding to the ground, along with the inaccuracies, the googling and the snide insinuations, was all the fault of the Keating Government, in spite of all the splendid efforts of the opposition:

The government dismissed with contempt the Liberal Party's concerns about the effect of the new provisions on freedom of expression. Then minister for immigration and ethnic affairs Nick Bolkus, apparently oblivious to the Orwellian resonances of his rhetoric, described the conduct that the bill sought to outlaw as "speech crimes".

Speaking of Orwellian, no matter its Godwin's Law implications, the way that Brandis manages to disappear the Howard government from history is quite remarkable.

If 18C was so Orwellian, why did the Howard government, including its collective gaggle of ministers and the babbling Brandis not do something about it in their ten plus years in power, most particularly when they had control of both houses?

Well it's really just another opportunity for Brandis to sound off, dragging in the Malaysia Solution, which he finds immoral, and never mind any immorality that might be attached to the Nauru solution, and he finds the carbon tax flagrantly dishonest, never mind the flagrant dishonesty that might be attached to proponents of 'climate change is crap', especially when proposing to shovel substantial amounts of taxpayer cash down the throats of industry.

Naturally it's all dressed up by Brandis in proper piety, with deep concern about freedom of expression, freedom of political discourse and so on and so forth, and the cry that the provision in its present form should be repealed, if not overturned on appeal.

It would be nice to try to explain the Bolt case as an example of the unintended consequences of poor draftsmanship and legislative overreach. I fear it is nothing of the sort. It is precisely what those who amended the Racial Discrimination Act in 1995 intended to achieve. We should, in that sense, be grateful to Justice Bromberg for exposing its full implications.

And no doubt some will be grateful to Justice Bromberg for exposing how the Howard government sat on its collective bums for a decade.

Meanwhile, if the matter is so outrageous, why haven't Herald and Weekly Times filed an appeal, quickstix and licketty splits?

Even if destined to lose the appeal, surely they should explore every avenue at once to right this grievous judicial error? Why are they waiting until next week to make up their minds about an appeal? Where's the concern for truth, justice, righteousness and Andrew Bolt? (Herald and Weekly Times weighs up appeals against Bolt judgment).

Could they be inclined to defeatism? Could they be a bit canny, a bit Scottish, a bit Shylockian?

Oops, I see that these expressions might now bring down the wrath of 18C on the pond. Who'd of thunk it, the Bolt and the pond and St. Sebastian, all martyrs to the cause of offensiveness ... (yes, you can rely on St Sebastian to get rid of a plague of liberals and urban elites, in much the same way as he removed the pestilence from Rome).

Meanwhile, over in the Fairfax rags, there's a splendid offering from Clive Hamilton, as he gets his knickers in a knot in Women at war is the final surrender.

Clive is most upset at the notion that women should be allowed to do anything men can do, provided they're appropriately qualified, and it seems the recent decision to allow women to train as professional killers is the final straw, the last post to be sounded over the rotting corpse of feminism.

You see, Clive fondly thinks of women as Jane Austen types, a restraining, civilising influence on the brutish cads known as men

Putting women in the front line is a victory only for the campaign to obliterate difference, as if everything women were before the advent of feminism was the creation of patriarchy. But didn't women's life experiences and history provide distinctive qualities more needed today than ever? We should celebrate the uniquely female rather than bury it under the demand for equality.

Well so much for the myth of the Amazons (now traduced and obliterated by having an intertubes peddler of books named after them). So much for valiant queen Boudica, taking it up to the filthy Romans way back in AD 60-61. So much for Jeanne d'Arc taking it up to the filthy English swine as she farted in their general direction late in the Hundred Years war. So much indeed for any number of women who make it into the wiki List of women warriors in folklore (and in history).

So much, indeed, for the heroic efforts of women in the Russian military, during the first and second world wars, and they too have a wiki at Women in the Russian and Soviet military.

In the second world war:

The Soviet Union also used women for sniping duties extensively, and to great effect, including Nina Alexeyevna Lobkovskaya and Ukrainian Lyudmila Pavlichenko (who killed over 300 enemy soldiers). The Soviets found that sniper duties fit women well, since good snipers are patient, careful, deliberate, can avoid hand-to-hand combat, and need higher levels of aerobic conditioning than other troops.

It astonished the pond to hear Neil James, ADA sage, confess that he knew nothing of women in the military in Russia, and in the two world wars and the Soviet civil war, as he busily tried to airbrush women out of military history in general.

But it says a lot about Clive Hamilton and Neil James that they should be in bed together on the matter:

ADA sage Neil James says that women will suffer disproportionate casualties as soldiers, and that vapid, flighty feminists will have blood on their hands far beyond their usual Gaia-mother, natural-birth, placenta-milkshake experience. He can’t really explain why women would have disproportionate casualties if they had to pass the same tests, reach the same standards, and undertake the same training as men. (Front line women ... if they're good enough, they're good enough).

Hamilton goes into the same vapid hand-wringing mode:

War best represents the continued hegemony of male thinking, with the grunt culture of hyper-masculinity inescapable because survival depends on it. And no institution more purely reflects the male understanding of power than the armed forces, built on the idea that the world is a place of conflict where disputes can be resolved by lethal force, and the more lethal the better.

You see women are different, and inclined to get the vapours, and getting the vapours is good:

Women's morality differs from men's. Feminist philosopher Carol Gilligan argues women are motivated more by care than duty, and inclined more to emphasise responsibilities than rights. They seek reconciliation through the exercise of compassion and negotiation rather than demanding "justice", through force if necessary.

Just weigh up the vast offensiveness of that line Women's morality differs from men. Yep, it's the very same routine that saw women shunted into being nurses instead of doctors, into being nuns rather than cardinals, into typists rather than the boardroom ...

Well it wouldn't be a Clive Hamilton rant without sex rearing its ugly head:

Patriarchy, it now seems, was not endemic to the social body but was only a blemish that could be wiped away. The six o'clock swill may be gone but our society is more male-oriented than ever - more competitive, more individualistic, more money-hungry. And more sex-soaked.

What's this got to do with women in the military? Sweet bugger all, but it allows Clive to get on his hobby horse as he yearns for a return to the good old days of a chaste Victorian world where the woman endures, perhaps closes her eyes, and suffers, as opposed to all that Regency tommy rot about wenches who don't mind a roll in the hay:

Backed by the porn industry and popular media, sex is increasingly presented as a pleasant pastime devoid of sentiment and commitment. The centuries-old male fantasy of "ridding sexuality of any emotional connotation in order to bring it back into the realm of pure entertainment", as Michel Houellebecq put it, has finally been fulfilled.

Uh huh. As usual women don't get any say in the matter.

Clive is determined that women change the world, since men have made such a hash of it, but if they're successful, by definition they're not changing the world:

So the far-reaching social change envisaged by feminism in the '60s and '70s attains its pinnacle with targets to put more women into boardrooms and cabinets. But why bother putting women into boardrooms if the corporations they run continue to despoil the environment, evade their taxes and pay their chiefs obscene salaries?

Yep, get back to the nunneries women, and show the way forward.

Because deep down Clive is a mother Grundy moralist, and it's up to women to show the way rather than join in:

It was the great betrayal of the women's movement - diverted to male ends so that young women could be freed to duplicate the boorish behaviour of young men, from driving like hoons to spewing in the gutter after a big night out.

Get thee back to a Jane Austen novel, you raunchy young things. Now how about a full blooded bit of stereotyping?

In recent decades, the brutality of the enterprise has been spun by politicians into a mawkish jingoism. One day, when we have been shaken from this collective reverie, we may find ourselves asking what it means when those who had once pacified the beast have gone off to join it.

Yep, men are beasts, and women are sweet, and now the sweet young things have been traduced by the beasts. Put it another, equally simplistic and shallow, way:

What are little boys made of?
Frogs and snails
And puppy-dogs' tails,
That's what little boys are made of.

What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice
And everything nice,
That's what little girls are made of ...

Yep, in his heart of hearts, Clive is back there with Robert Southey in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

We are all so terrified of being accused of sexism that we refuse to acknowledge that most of us shudder at the thought of women going into battle - to slice bodies with bullets, blow them up with mortars and slit throats when ordered. We do not want to think about women soldiers returning with their faces blown off, for we know we will feel a special kind of guilty revulsion.

Uh huh. Let's put that another way:

We are all so terrified of being accused of sexism that we refuse to acknowledge that most of us shudder at the thought of men going into battle - to slice bodies with bullets, blow them up with mortars and slit throats when ordered. We do not want to think about men soldiers returning with their faces blown off, for we know we will feel a special kind of guilty revulsion.

Well at least the pond would, because if you're going to brood about, and rabbit on about, the futility of war, what's good for the goose is equally good for the gander, and vice versa.

Instead of scribbling offensive twaddle, especially when it conjures up a confining image and a limiting sense of women and what they might do, and what they have already done, and on the historical record at that:

It is not sexist to have these reactions; it is to allow oneself to feel that we are blurring a line between peace and war, and compromising a subtle, civilising power that has always worked to restrain the violent tendencies of men.

Oh spare my sainted aunt.

It's up to women to restrain the violent tendencies of men, rather than men doing the job themselves. Just another burden to add to the burden women have been forced to carry for centuries.

Bugger that for a joke. Clive might think it's okay for men to volunteer and join the military, but not women because they're gentle and sweet and a restraining influence, and not crude or vulgar or boorish like men, but women no longer need his permission or his urging to become heroines in a Jane Austen novel.

That said, the pond likes Jane Austen, and would rather join a tiddly winks club than join the military, and has fastidiously avoided all physical confrontations throughout a sheltered life.

But by golly after reading Clive there was a faint whiff of a desire at the pond to give him a conk on the nose along with verbal advice to HTFU man. Or perhaps STFU as he scribbles about "silent discomfort" at noisy, uncomfortable length ...

Or at least explain to him that women have as much right to enjoy sex and have a good stiff drink as the next man and that equality is better than conforming to Clive's stereotypes and that next week he might pen a piece on why gay men shouldn't belong to the beastly military, and how they should be a restraining influence on barbaric beastly macho men but really enough with the sexist stereotypes already ...

(Below: Lyudmila Pavlichenko, who became the first Soviet citizen to be received by a United States President, courtesy of killing many men ... more here).

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tania Plibersek, Andrew Bolt, David Flint, and time for a new pond pledge ...

(Above: First Dog, always with a cartoon to suit every occasion, click to enlarge, or find here).

I love God and my country;
I honour the flag;
I'll serve the Queen;
and cheerfully obey my parents, teachers and the law.

Or some such thing.

Yep, each day we marched out, got into line, and saluted as the flag was raised on the flagpole (one week I was the flag monitor, oh the glory), then marched into school, quickstep, single line - stay in line Dorothy, stop lagging - knowing we'd done our duty for the day.

Say what?

I'll love an invisible friend? I'll love a land which confuses Andrew Bolt with free speech? I'll honour the flag? Well maybe that one they flew at the Eureka Stockade, if we can detach it from the fascists and the Maoists. Is that indigenous flag still on offer? You know, the one without the British flag in the corner, as if we're still part of the Empire. It's bad enough being part of the Commonwealth ...

I'll serve the Queen? Maybe, when hell warms up, not with Irish and German genes coursing through the veins (or wherever they course). Oh okay the house of Windsor is a fiendish Germanic institution intent on creating a new world government, so there's your CLC message for the day.

And how about cheerfully obeying the parents? If they ever manage to get things right, especially when it comes to the joys of sex, drugs and rock 'n roll.

As for teachers, ditto. And as for the law, except in relation to speeding, illegal parking, and the odd bit of naughtiness if I don't think anyone is watching or I won't get caught, I promise to do the right thing, but heck asking for it to be done cheerfully? That's a bridge too far.

And so on and so forth.

Ah, as Barbara might say, memories of long lost empire, and goslings lined up in a row, all quacking in cheerful symmetry.

These days we have an even more perfect goose, and it's Tanya Plibersek doing her best to sound like a rampant John Howard in Love of Australia is about more than lifestyle.

Just reading her column turned me instantly into a raging anarcho-syndicalist libertarian, as she proposes that every Australian child should learn the new fangled pledge by heart and say it regularly at school. It seems we must emulate the United States:

American kids pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States and all that it represents; so should Australian children know and understand our nation's citizenship pledge.

Oh dear absent lord, another flag waving patriot, as if the prominent, in your face display of the flag in the United States on everything and anything isn't one of the more brazen exercises in faux loyalty and offensive one-upmanship (womanship if you will).

Yep, once upon a time it was the conservatives who were into social engineering of a kind most likely to produce rebelliousness but these days it's the Labor party given to baleful cliches and mind numbing tosh ...

How about this one for a pledge:

From this time forward
I'll learn to think and reason for myself
and not swallow the spin produced on a daily basis by politicians and the media
And with a bit of luck, I'll retain the right and the liberty to think for myself
rather than turning into a blind automaton reciting like a parrot
the nonsense that politicians and the commentariat want to force feed the innocent young.

Or some such thing. Even worse, the Plibersek carry on about the pledge revived long repressed memories of the catechism classes we endured in the Catholic school system.

Dear sweet absent lord, you can even find it on the intertubes:

1. Who made you?
God made me.

2. Why did God make you?
God made me to know him, love him and serve him in this world, and to be happy with him for ever in the next.

And so on and so forth. Well it's the English version, available here under the tag the 'penny catechism' - a really bad penny - but it's close enough, and reading it brought the whole spiritual pledge routine back, including the nightmarish vision of my heart covered in evil specks of carbon, so dark and blackened it resembled a slab of meat at a really bad barbeque, while reciting this kind of tosh:

64. What do you mean by Limbo?
By Limbo I mean a place of rest, where the souls of the just who died before Christ were detained.

65. Why were the souls of the just detained in Limbo?
The souls of the just were detained in Limbo because they could not go up to the kingdom of heaven till Christ had opened it for them.

These days limbo is a little more theologically suspect - it turns out, if you read limbo's wiki - that it's all in a suggestive state of theological ambiguity and uncertainty, rather like limbo itself - but back in the day we learnt about it by rote, along with other theological absurdities, and had the whole bloody book off by heart.

Bah humbug, and bah humbug to Tanya Plibersek and her talk of pledges, and take me back to the days of the laconic men and women in the bush, who never wore their patriotism on their sleeve, or on the aerial of a ute Hansonite style, or in the flag draped around them while being as pissed as a parrot and in your face incoherently offensive on the beach to boot ...

Meanwhile, the weighty business of wrapping Andrew Bolt in the Australian flag of righteousness and truth and the integrity of the nation as begun in earnest in the Murdoch media, and no one expresses it more perfectly than Chris Merritt, legal affairs editor for the lizard Oz in The Andrew Bolt decision means all of us have a problem.

On the basis of Merritt's header, I'm guessing that "all of us" who have a problem are ranting bloggers, who use Google to do a cursory fact check, and who then produce an error-laden, offensive rant targeting people with white skin and a black heritage, especially if they're in the business of naming names and making offensive insinuations about the motivations of people for identifying as aboriginal ...

No, no, I see by Merritt that everyone around the country has a problem, and it could well change the shape and direction of Australia utterly and forever:

If the Federal Court's ruling in the Bolt case has correctly applied the law, the entire community has a problem.

The court's "Bolt principle" will encourage Australians to see themselves as a nation of tribes - a collection of protected species who are too fragile to cope with robust public discourse.

Unless this is overturned on appeal, it will divide the nation.

Quick Tanya, get out that pledge, it might be the only way we can re-unite the nation, and re-join the tribes into a nation, or else we'll be hopelessly divided.

Unless of course Merritt is in a condition of hysterical over-reaction, or suffering from delusions of grandeur and megalomania and comprehensive self-regard, in his view that the fate of Bolt is somehow intricately wrapped up with the fate of the nation. It's almost Boltian in its vainglorious boastful pridefulness ...

Of course News Ltd could look to its ranting bloggers, and embark on some fact checking and some actual reporting and even - when intending to assault people in print - check on the veracity of what they propose to say, but that would be to assume that 'is your News Limited' is dedicated to quality journalism.

And there's the rub. No one can actually defend the offensive tripe that Bolt scribbled, so they must resort to all manner of high flown, high blown rhetoric, including a nation of tribes and a nation divided.

The question then is what to do if self-regulation has failed and the law a blunt weapon, and yet someone scribbles something that's deeply, profoundly offensive to you? In the past, with News Limited in particular, the response is most likely to be "talk to the hand".

Roll on that media inquiry, and the case for enabling mechanisms that make the media more responsible for what they write. As for the implications, let the head of the relatively neutered and powerless Australian Press Council, Julian Disney have a say:

The chairman of the Australian Press Council (Julian Disney) says the media is still allowed to discuss racial identification issues, and even challenge the genuineness of the identification of a group of people, but only if it is done responsibly and with due care and attention to facts. (Bolt fallout: race reporting 'not a no-go area')

Done responsibly and with due care and attention to facts? No wonder the minions of Murdoch are bleating.

Naturally the anonymous editor at The Australian is also on the case, and naturally he or she thinks we should all be outraged, as the header tells us, Assault on free speech should be offensive to all.

Actually Andrew Bolt continuing to rant and rage from his perch in the Murdoch empire without let, hindrance or correction is offensive to some, so kindly leave some out of the all who should be offended.

Again you won't find any suggestion from the anon edit that Bolt was in error and his journalistic methods as inept as his remarks were intended to be offensive. Instead you'll find idle chatter about "anecdotal evidence".

Would you like triple sliced google reporting with your humbuggery?

But perhaps the most splendid remark came from Bill Rowlings punching on at the tipsy Punch in Bolt case shows need for more free speech:

Free speech allows fools and bigots, and commentators like Bolt, to out themselves and put objectionable views in the public space where they can be appropriately debated, rebutted and/or ignored.

Uh huh. Well there you go. Fools and bigots and commentators like Bolt ...

Who knows what la la land it is wherein Bill Rowlings resides, but Bolt routinely boasts of three million unique browsers a month, spreading toxic fumes throughout the known universe that is the full to overflowing intertubes, and for the life of me, I've searched high and low, and even googled it, and buggered if I can find where he's appropriately debated, rebutted, and ignored within the world of Murdoch. Or find the simple corrections or 'we got it wrong' notes being run in a prominent place whenever Bolt gets it wrong. For that you have to turn to fearless intrepid Bolt watchers, like Pure Poison, but life is short ... (not that I'm saying that there's anything wrong with a life spent correcting Bolt, just saying there's so much in the Augean stables, it would challenge Heracles).

The short and the long of it? Bolt and the Murdoch empire got themselves into the mess, so let them get themselves out of it. When it comes to talk of how all of us must be outraged, or how all of us must stand up and speak, or how we all must be concerned and shocked and horrified, please count the pond out. Come back when you have someone with something sensible to say, even if it happens to be outrageous or offensive ...

Which sadly doesn't happen to include Tania Plibersek. Daniel Piotrowski bobs up in the rum Punch to ask Should we have a pledge of allegiance at schools? And raises the dreadful spectre of David Flint:

“We have an oath of allegiance which [Plibersek] pledged, swore and affirmed…The oath of allegiance to the Crown,” says Flint. “It should refer to the Queen and it should also refer to the flag.”

He says a pledge of allegiance shouldn’t just be to the monarchy, but to Australia’s fundamental institutions. And he makes it very clear what he thinks shouldn’t be included in a pledge.

“I don’t think it should refer to our indigenous heritage which has its place but it’s not central to the Commonwealth. It’s not one of the institutions of Australia.

“It should not be filled with the current fashion – multiculturalism is a current fashion – I think you just have to have a simple one,” he says.

There you go Plibersek. See the loonacy you've launched on the world. So now it's time for that revised pledge:

I love my God, who might or might not return some day, and my country, right or wrong;
I honour the flag, especially the one with the crossbones and skull;
I'll serve the Queen, or even that talking tampon Prince Charles;
but bugger the blacks, because they've got bugger all to do with the commonwealth
and bugger the multiculturalists, who are just a passing fad,
and I affirm this isn't a return to the White Australia policy
and I acknowledge that the fate of Andrew Bolt and the Murdoch empire are of
deep concern to all Australians
and I promise to do all I can to speak out on their behalf,
and god save professor Flint, who is very emeritus, and John Howard and Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt,
but I hate elites
Oh and I'll obey my parents, provided they stop drinking lattes, and my teachers, if only they stop swallowing chardonnay, and the law, even when it's an ass and especially when it's a Victorian copper armed with a Glock, even if I sometimes sound a little sulky,
and if I die a tad early, please make sure I don't end up in limbo.

(Below: Professor Flint emeritus begins working on his pledge).

Peter Costello, Janet Albrechtsen and Peter Reith, and yes they've come to offer you freedom and choice and heaps of snake oil and jelly ...

(Above: oh yes, give me some of that good old fashioned rapture).


There's Peter "the smug smirk" Costello blathering on in the Fairfax rags with Liberals must protect values of freedom and choice.

Along the way he produces a fine flurry of sectarianism of a kind which surely would make the lips of Gerard Henderson purse, as he hunts out the Catholics in the Liberal system, and their affinity with the DLP.

Poor old Barners cops a serve:

One Coalition spokesman who seems to have an affinity with the old regulated order of the Australian economy is Barnaby Joyce. These days he is apparently free to speak on all areas of policy. Writing recently in the The Canberra Times, Joyce made much of his Jesuit education as a reason for airing doubts about free trade. According to Joyce, most of the Australian economy is protected in one way or another and ''once you start protecting some things then you start to protect others".

Oh Barners, you silly old tyke you.

And Tony Abbott cops a little collateral damage, though it's reduced to a few fey Costello observations about ruling things in or out. Like ruling out individual contracts.

Oh what a naughty socialist DLP Santamaria Catholic that Abbott is ...

Of course Costello, being a smug smirker, is much more at home with the happy clappy crowd at Hillsong (Costello's Hillsong), that's when he's not offering moral support to fruitloops like Danny Nalliah and then claiming he didn't really mean anything like that at all (Costello tries to hose down Catch the Fire connection).

So it makes perfect sense for Costello to drag matters of religion into consideration of policies.

But that conspiracy we mentioned?

Well as usual it's the conspiracy of the chattering commentariat, who infallibly end up singing from the one song sheet, because over at the lizard Oz, there's Janet "Dame Slap" Albrechtsen scribbling away with Tony Abbott, a warrior is not afraid to come out fighting, wherein the comfortably well heeled scribbler explains how important it is for employers to be able to unilaterally screw their employees ...

Once again the catch cry is freedom and choice, which is subtle code for the right of employees to choose the freedom to be screwed by their employers, with or without the use of KY jelly (yes, it's your choice if you want the optional benefit of a smooth screwing).

It all sounds like a wonderful new world of freedom for the mug punter:

As Liberal leader, Abbott's task is to explain the Liberal philosophy of freedom in the workplace where common sense dictates that employers and employees ought to be able to enter into individual contracts if that is the desire of both parties. And common sense dictates that a "no-disadvantage test" will protect employees.

Sure, and it worked out terribly well for John Howard.

The nub of course, is why both parties might want to enter into individual contracts in the matter of selling hamburgers in a chain of fast food stores, as if the individual employee doesn't already cop enough by way of abuse from minimum wages, flexible hours and bullying employers ...

You can just see the check out chicks or the sweat shop workers in the rag trade right at this moment storming up to management and demanding they be put on individual contracts, and the right to work at the prices paid for workers in factories in China, so that Australia might export Steve Jobs' technology marvels to the world (and never mind a few suicides along the way).

With a bit of luck we could end up matching the massive shift of wealth to the ruling elite of the United States ... which is not to say the ruling elite of politicians or bureaucrats but the actual, practical, effective ruling elite of the filthy rich ...

When you cut away from the rhetorical chase, common sense tells you this is just another way to shift the money away from the workers to the wealthy, dressed up with fine sounding words not out of place in a tract for the French Revolution.

And there is of course a wider conspiracy, involving Abbott and his failure to give Peter Reith the nod for the Liberal party presidency.

Reith has declared war on Abbott and the matter of individual contracts, as he outlined recently on Lateline in Reith warns much at stake in Liberal IR debate.

"I'm not gong to belt into Tony here and now but I do say to him, as I'm sure others are saying within the party, this is an issue we really need to look at very closely," he said.

"I think he needs a decent mandate going into the next election... if we are not up-front about what we are going to do and if we don't have a substantial policy we're not going to get any reform and Australia cannot afford to have 10 years of a re-regulated Labor market."

Sound familiar? Well it would if you read the last words in Albrechtsen's piece:

... the rosy future imagined in 2007 is very different from this year's looming economic uncertainty.That's why Abbott, as Liberal gladiator, ought to gird his loins for a workplace battle with the ALP. If his intention is to introduce major changes after the election, he ought to ask for a mandate. If his intention is to do little as PM to return greater freedom to the workplace, he ought to think again.

Yep, the tykes with a social conscience in the Liberal party are going to cop a pounding to ensure that Tony Abbott does a John Howard, and has a go at making sure that the 'flexible' labour market is even more flexible once the election is done and dusted ...

So while all the old farts - roaming around as ersatz antipodean tea partiers - keep on babbling on about the mining tax and the carbon tax and the footy club tax, acting and sounding like lickspittle lackeys and shills for assorted billionaires, footy thugs, and the coal industry, the pond has some wise words of advice for youngsters out and about in the labour market.

Get plenty of KY jelly. Heaps of it.

Oh and bring a good sense of humour, so you can laugh at lines like this from Albrechtsen:

That's why it's time for the Liberal Party to step aside from the self-imposed shadow that has hung over the party since the ACTU campaign against Work Choices. A similar campaign won't work as it did in 2007. For starters, if Work Choices alone explained Howard's loss, voters would have been ready with baseball bats. Instead, Australians had simply grown tired of a longstanding government.

Yes, it was just simple tiredness, nothing personal, nothing particular, just a waft and a wave of the hands and a simple line: "oh do go away dear Johnnie, we're so tired and over you."

Nothing to do with policies at all. And nothing to do with ideology. And certainly nothing to do with people feeling the pinch in the labour market.

When writing a column, especially if you're well-heeled, make sure you carry your delusions with you at all times.

So you can scribble without a smirk how people just want to be free and to chose, and to hire a dozen lawyers to negotiate with the dozen lawyers the employer brings to the party ...

Well if you believe that, make sure you have plenty of KY jelly standing by.

What's that, clause 1 says take it or leave it, and that's it, and you're feeling a little bruised and is there anything to be done about it, apart from just taking it?

Sorry, if you read your individual contract, you'll have already noticed that in clause 23 (a) subsection (ii) paragraph 3, amongst the specific exclusions is the need of the employer to provide any smoothing materials whilst indulging in one on one contractual negotiations ...

(Below: yes freedom and choice, and joy through strength, and oh by the way, arbeit macht frei, which isn't a breach of Godwin's Law but a clever reference to a Weimar republic slogan).

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Australian's anonymous editorialist, the ABC, and not another bloody useless inquiry ...

(Above: was it only two years ago that the ABC wanted respect to spread in the world? Click to enlarge, or visit First Dog here).

Reading The Smithsonian's list of The Top 10 Books Lost to Time, the pond was reminded that a number of books of the bible have gone missing.

Sometimes the term ("lost books") is used to describe ancient Jewish and Christian writings that were tossed out of the biblical canon. But other books are lost in the true sense of the word. We only know that they existed because they are referenced by name in other books of the Bible.

The Book of Numbers, for instance, mentions the “Book of the Battles of Yahweh,” for which no copy survives. Similarly, the First and Second Book of Kings and the First and Second Book of Chronicles names a “Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel” and a “Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah.” There are over 20 titles for which the text is missing.

This seems a damned careless way to treat the word of the long absent god.

Couldn't she or he have worked out how to keep the holy writ safe, instead of joining lost works by the likes of Homer (Margites) and Shakespeare (Cardenio).

Have crucial bits of theology been lost for all time, or at least until the rapture? Are shellfish made safe in the missing texts?

Second thoughts, perhaps it's better if a few things get lost along the way, but why oh why have we lost all these books of god, and yet are full to the brim, like a giant three minute goog, with the book of Rupert, otherwise known as The Australian?

There wouldn't be a week go by that in some way The Australian doesn't distort climate science, or bash the ABC.

ABC bashing, rather like eel bashing, is a popular sport, and the pond likes it as much as the next person, especially in these clap happy Mark Scott times when The Drum seeks to go lower than The Punch, resources are spread too thinly over too many areas, and right wing members of the commentariat frolic in talk shows like an infestation of cockroaches in the average Sydney dwelling.

All the same, much of it is gratuitous, or meaningless, as in this day's offering in the book of Rupert, the anonymous editorialist's Sticking to the script at Aunty.

First up, the anon edit acknowledges the fundamental truth, that there's a hit and miss element when it comes to commissioning content.

You win some and you lose some, and you can only be wise after the event. One person's loathing for At Home With Julia (oh yes, feel the seething loathing) might be another person's loathing of The Chaser (ah those Chaser boys, always good for a giggle, especially when doing songs that get up the nose of charities).

Anyhoo, content can be all kinds of things to all kinds of people, you win some, you lose some, and you need a balance of diversity and tradition and a weather eye on the demographics of a brand built up over many years (don't forget the cooking and the gardening and the collecting and the gadget shows!)

But how can you respond to blather? Like this:

Allowing for some variation in quality and popularity of individual programs is not the same, however, as giving ABC managers carte blanche to do as they please with taxpayers' money. The broadcaster's charter requires it to be an entertaining showcase of creative Australian talent and gives it considerable freedom to decide what that means in practice. What it has meant in recent times, is a lack of distinction and differentiation from commercial television.

At a time when there is a distinct and different feel between the ABC and commercial television, at a time when Australian content is dropping off the twig in the multi-channel environment, at a time when international content prices are soaring as the commercial networks seek to stock the larder with product, this kind of comment is beyond risible.

Put it another way. The ABC has successfully branded and differentiated its multi-channel offerings from the commercial networks. There's a kids channel, a news channel, a quirky alternative second channel for the hipper demographic (with stand up, live acts, more exotic foreign and movie products - dear lordy, even Arthur Penn's Mickey One), and the staid main channel.

True, the second channel goes kids' shows during the day, and the main channel goes repeats and schoolies, but even then, there's no mistaking the product offerings - unless they happen to feature UK product the Seven network is itching to run as it apes the ABC.

Compare that to the Irish stew of the SBS multi-channel environment. Compare that to the Ten network's failed attempt to get a sports channel up and running, now a queasy mix of American product and sports events, compare that to the relentless recycling of syndicated old rope by the Nine Network on GEM and GO!

Could anyone hope to match the Seven network's efforts on its two multi-channels to dig up crap from the vault, recycle it endlessly, throw in endless loops of American Dad and Family Guy, and hope no one notices the whiskers and the mould?

Well each to their own. We happen to like Family Guy, and we only watch the ABC news channel when the meerkats at the UK's House of Commons turn up for a live broadcast, but since the Murdoch scandals and riots in the street happen only so often, our exposure to the channel is limited.

The point is this. It's fundamentally stupid and intellectually dishonest to say that the ABC hasn't spent - and doesn't keep spending - considerable time thinking about ways to differentiate, itself and make its product distinct, when compared to the commercial networks.

Then the anon edit gets even sillier:

As Graeme Thomson, the ABC secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union, told a parliamentary inquiry, ABC TV has lost its way. Unlike Mr Thomson, we do not blame this mainly on the outsourcing of production but we agree with him that there is a lack of clarity about the ABC's mission.

Uh huh. So he's wrong, but he's right, and on this tenuous gossamer thread the anon edit builds exotic, ill-defined charges against the ABC, which shows if nothing else they understand well how to deliver words with a complete lack of clarity.

For starters, outsourcing is a complete furphy when it comes to content (let's hear it again for Frontline). The ABC has been indulging in joint ventures and co-financing and co-productions for a long time, as a way of coping with the costs of drama, and these days it relies heavily on joint ventures with another government funded body, Screen Australia (as do the commercial networks. Underbelly financing anyone ...?)

Take a walk back in time to 1989, and you'll find Crawfords making the soap This Man ... This Woman for the ABC (oh yes, you'd completely forgotten that clunker, and there are a lot more clunkers hidden in the co-pro closet).

Truth to tell, you can understand why Thomson's coming from where he's coming from, but it's a lost cause. Outsourcing is the go for all expensive drama production, and even that most reliable producer of in-house dramas - the Seven network - has run up the flag. At least Thomson's looking after his shrinking membership base, whereas the anon edit is just looking at cheap point scoring:

In drama, as in news and current affairs and the arts, there is often a lack of public purpose in ABC decisions. Too often, it has confused substance with form and spread itself too thinly as it tries to compete with, rather than complement, private operators.

Well if anyone can explain what public purpose there might be in making drama decisions at the ABC, please let the pond know.

It sounds dangerously like Mosfilm, with programs made for the common good and public purpose. Perhaps this sort of drama is best sorted by committee, with due consideration to the number of public purpose messages that can be embedded in the content. You might end up with Battleship Potemkin, or you might end up with heroic messages in favour of Stalin and the motherland (and did you know that Mosfilm has its very own user's channel on YouTube, here, whereby you can watch for free many make benefit glorious products of USSR).

Perhaps the most risible notion is that the ABC shouldn't try to compete with private operators, but somehow complement them.

Is this because the private operators are inept, incompetent bungling fools, so that the ABC should go about its business with one arm tied behind its back? Possibly, since it's hard to imagine a more dire case of "rush to the bottom, mud feeding flathead" television than that offered by the commercial operators, but more to the point, it's incredibly cheeky for the Murdoch press to say that when it comes to culture, ideas or programming, the ABC should just sit on the sidelines, ineffectually wringing its hands, rather than being a robust presence in Australia's cultural life.

So where's all this heading? Well in a pathetic, tit for tat, payback kind of way, The Australian - which along with the rest of the Murdoch press has bleated long and loud about the way there's going to be an inquiry into the media - suddenly thinks that an inquiry is a jolly good thing. Only it should be an inquiry into the ABC.

First there has to be a bit of ritual chest-beating:

Like all media, the ABC faces challenges in responding to changing audiences and exploiting new technologies such as the internet.

Uh huh. Please explain why they should bother exploiting new technologies in a competitive way, rather than acting like complementary wimps? Could it be that the ABC led the way with internet offerings, and with catch up television, and the hidebound conservative commercial networks, stuck like a FTA stick in the mud of old ways, were completely hopeless at responding to the challenge?

Now on with that resounding call for an inquiry:

But it has an additional challenge because of its unique role as our largest cultural institution. The ABC deserves support but it also deserves to have its role clarified at a time when media has exploded thanks to new technologies; a dramatic reduction in barriers to entry; and global access to information. Ad hoc parliamentary inquiries such as that now under way into outsourcing are worthwhile but not enough. We need a comprehensive, independent review along the lines of the Dix inquiry held three decades ago, in order to find a new vision for the ABC in a digital age.

A new vision for the ABC in the digital age? What pious hypocritical cant, what humbug, what a stench of payback and stupidity.

Yet another bloody government inquiry.

What was that response again by the Murdoch rags to the inquiry into the media? If you can be bothered, you can read the righteous indignation of the Sunday Terror in Questions about media inquiry, or the anon edit rabbiting on in the usual way about greenies and middle class inner city boomers in Fight it out at the ballot box, not at media inquiry, or Mark Day getting agitated in Inquiry already a mine of non sequiturs.

Now is there anything hypocritical and interested in the demand for an inquiry?

Well yes, because Murdoch land has long fancied its chances in content delivery by forming a gigantic quasi-monopoly in a land where everyone must pay a little slice to the Chairman.

Paranoid? Fanciful? Why not have a read of the grand vision unfurled by Mark Day in There's nothing unusual in News Ltd evolution:

Bundling of services has yet to be tested in the world of News. Just as Telstra offers discounts to customers who have all their home, mobile, online and pay-TV services on a single account, it makes sense for News to bundle its soon to be paywalled websites with, say, Foxtel subscriptions. If Foxtel and Austar get together, there's a subscriber base of more than two million to offer an online pass for an extra couple of bucks a week.

The marketing power of this kind of move, incidentally, was one of the main reasons why competitors so vigorously opposed parent company News Corporation's full takeover of BSkyB in Britain -- a $12 billion transaction that had to be abandoned because of the hacking scandal.

At the time Day was mainly whinging about Crikey scoring a hit by leaking a comical document outlining strategies for re-branding and unifying of News Ltd product offerings, and he goes on to point out how a Pinky and the Brain grand 'take over the world' bundling has many problems in its desire to drive synergies for Chairman Rupert.

But it suggests the real reason for the call for an inquiry - yet another futile, wasteful, ineffectual inquiry - into the ABC, apart from vindictive payback "we've got an inquiry, so why haven't they got one too mum?", all hung out to dry on the strength of a few fitful remarks by the largely irrelevant Graeme Thomson.

The ABC is a major problem for pay television, which would dearly love to get hold of its audience.

Pay TV has already collared government funding for documentary and drama programs.

In what is an ongoing, rarely noted scandal, Screen Australia - funded 100% by Australian taxpayers - funds dramas and docs that end up behind the Pay TV paywall, so that, if punters want to see their tax dollars at work, they must join the one third of taxpayers behind the paywall, spending even more money to see their money do its content thing, or spend money on dvds (after any window has expired) to catch up on their original outlay ...

It's called double dipping, or in quainter words, privatising your profits, and socialising the onerous costs of production ...

Okay, so let's have an inquiry into the scandalous monopolistic world of government-supported Pay TV, and the ambitious plans of the Murdoch empire to leverage this world to their financial advantage.

We keed, we keed. Another useless bloody inquiry? When, to paraphrase Mark Day, there's nothing at all unusual about the ABC's evolution, thanks to a management keen to stay in touch with its audience, and using diverse content and product offerings in touch with the digital age as a way of doing it ...

Just remember if you pay for the pleasure of going behind the News Limited paywall - coming soon to the intertubes at a portal near you - all you'll be is funding anonymous editorialists scribbling frivolous screeds demanding more useless bloody inquiries into the media as a kind of blood sport payback ...

(Below: so can we have a Fuckofftober for the anon edit at The Australian?)

Monday, September 26, 2011

News Ltd, Woolworths, and plucking the sheeple in every way that can be imagined ...

In the good old days, the genuine old-fashioned conservative abhorred poker machines.

The pond fondly remembers sipping a cocktail while contemplating the brown murk they call the river Yarra, deep in the heart of Toorak - there is no deeper conservative pond - when the talk turned to poker machines.

No one in a room full of Toorak princesses and potentates would admit to having played one in their lifetime. Victoria was a clean skin, and while the poor folk headed north to get a fix, there was a deep concern that the lumpenproletariat would have their hard earned wages - oh you hard working noble yeoman - stripped from them by a frivolous, meaningless activity that only a cockroach could appreciate.

Well that was then. These days the cockroaches are everywhere, and the rugger boofheads can't wait to ravage the pockets, ravage and loot and pillage to prop up their empires, and where are the noble conservatives ready to stand in their path?

You can always measure the effectiveness of a proposed measure by the yowling and the howling and the resistance of special interest and lobby groups, and so it is with the plain packaging of cigarettes, and so it is with asking people to nominate their limit with poker machines.

And where are the churches and the caring conservative forces currently led by Tony Abbott?

Right up your fundament, and ready to serve any lobby group in their unholy lust for power ... as if the boofheads need any more cash, and as if training the young to be footballing professional thuggees is any life for anyone outside the Pacific islands and country folk, where football, like boxing in the old days, provides a path to riches and recognition ...

Naturally 'is your News Limited' has been front and centre, as recorded by Stephen Mayne in News Ltd, Clubs and NRL v imaginary AFL anti-pokies campaign, and what a sordid sight it is, culminating in this Mayne question:

The question remains: why do these cashed-up athletes on huge six-figure packages need to be associated with targeting problem gamblers in the country with the highest gambling rates on earth?

The other question remains: where are the caring (in some cases allegedly Christian) conservatives? Have they all turned feral libertarian?

The funniest, or the most tragic, or perhaps the most pathetic, or invisible or overlooked scandal behind the current campaign against poker machine reform is the role Woolworths plays.

Not only does the big W dominate the liquor business, it joined in a joint venture with Bruce Mathieson, via ALH, and became the poker machine market leader with some 12,000 machines, or 6% of the 200,000 operating in the country. And they're always scheming to get more pubs and more one armed bandits.

Mayne is one of the few to care or write about the way Woolies ravages the shoppers, the farmers, the drunks, the gamblers, and anyone else it can fleece, as you can find in Record Woolies profits but what about the damage?

Woolworths has the mindset and the ethics of a gigantic, overbearing, market devouring Visigoth (oh okay, the Visigoths were probably more caring).

There's more honour and decency in on-line piracy, where the leeches are expected to do a bit of community seeding, and one to one at that ...

As for the rhetoric about struggling clubs and pubs, the Adelaide Advertiser did an interesting case study of Woolworths in South Australia, and tracked the company - and competitor Coles - in relation to machines in the field, pubs owned, profits made, and came to an obvious conclusion:

The Australian Hotels Association, leading a $20 million mass advertising campaign against reforms to limit problem gambling, counts the supermarket giants as members and includes Woolworths representatives on its executive.

The revelations have led to calls for the supermarkets to reveal how much they are spending on the "it's un-Australian" campaign to stop the introduction of technology forcing punters to declare how much they are prepared to lose. (Woolworths revealed to own more pokies than the Adelaide Casino).

Like all humbug rip-off ratbaggery, patriotism is the last refuge for scoundrels and for what should be dubbed the "it's un-Woolies to hinder Woolies' right to rip off the mug punters how it will and for as much as it likes and can get away with" campaign.

Every so often, a few punters get agitated about the way the supermarket giants fuck over local farmers. The latest came with the news that a Cowra farmer was thinking about ploughing his beetroot crop back into the soil because Aldi had embarked on a price cutting war for own-brand tins of beetroot with Woolies and Coles (We ain't beet yet: saviour comes to the rescue in vegetable price war).

In a futile gesture, Dick Smith stepped in, and proposed that if the retail ogres wouldn't come to the party, then he'd start selling beetroot in Flight Centre and Dymocks bookstores.

Right, and here at the pond, we're selling tickets on a daily basis to the Mad Hatter's tea party ... but only at participating Stereo 8, LP and VHS retail stores ...

The cozy supermarket duopoly has been pillaging the retail environment for years, with more than a few ironies along the way, as noted by Richard Farmer in Woolworths' ACDC wine brain fade, where the liquored up part of the empire launched a range of wines given names like Back In Black Shiraz, Highway to Hell Cabernet Sauvignon, and You Should Me All Night Long Moscato.

Bon Scott died of acute alcohol poisoning, and at that moment, the pond stopped listening because the band has never been the same since. (yes, you can keep your Back in Black where the sun don't shine).

As for the mug punters who've helped destroy petrol retailing in Australia because they think they're getting some kind of discount, and the mug punters who think that they might actually get a one way Fly Buy ticket to Melbourne ... after twenty years of purchasing products with a generous margin ... don't get the pond started.

Why not just read stories like Big Groceries and Big Petrol meet Big Airline ... or just read any of the Crikey stories on Woolies, including Mayne's How big media omits Woolworths from damaging pokies yarns.

The pond chooses to do most of its shopping at the local family supermarket up the road. A tad more expensive, but cheerful, personalised service, without the sense that as a consumer you're stepping into a retail operation run with the sensitivity of a caged egg farmer.

Naturally this will be dismissed as inner west elitism, but there was a time when being conservative actually meant caring about community ... instead of finding ever grander ways of looting, pillaging, ravaging and fucking said community over in every position and product line imaginable....

But if that's your taste, feel free to support Woolworths and poker machines run rampant throughout the land. The retail giants need all the sheeple it can get if it's to maintain the pace at the shearing sheds ...

Meanwhile, a couple of brief notices for splendid work. Who can cavil at the splendid effort by Niki Savva in The Australian under the header Kevin Rudd a golden opportunity for Labor?

Is that golden opportunity as in golden goose?

According to Savva, the Labor party should rush to elect Rudd its leader and then with an election-winning lead rush off to a general election, right here, right now. Along the way there will be an opportunity to show principled politics and ethical leadership at its finest:

Rudd could immediately void the deal with Andrew Wilkie on poker machines, which he signed personally with Gillard and which he threatens will cost his support if it is not implemented by May next year. It is causing Labor marginal seat holders considerable grief, and any issue that can unite Hawks and Magpies, Eddie McGuire and Jeff Kennett in a war against the government should be feared greatly.

Yep, there it is again. Big media highlighting the role of Woolies and Mathieson in the poker machine wars.

There's much more nonsense in the Savva piece, and except for the way that it carries Savva's byline, you'd swear it had been crafted by an intern in Tony Abbott's office with an hour or two to fill.

Labor needs a better story and better storytellers, Savva concludes grandly, but if that's the case, then damn sure The Australian needs better journalists with a better capacity for considered political analysis ...

And finally, just a note that our very own prattling Polonius spends an entire column proving that Australia conducts its foreign policy, independent of the United States of America.

Apparently, according to Gerard "what's that behind the arras" Henderson, this proud independence started with Bert Evatt and the Australian left, and Australia has been proudly independent ever since, especially in the matter of Israel and Palestine, where it has proudly and independently come to the conclusion that it totally and completely agrees with the United States and its current policies. Always has done, always will, but in a proudly independent way.

Henderson himself proudly produces an independent analysis that concludes that we should proudly stand, in an independent way, totally behind the United States in the matter of Israel and Palestine.

You can read it all here in Australia has always had its own opinion on Israel policy, but the piece has a maximum pond hysterical Spinal Tap laughter rating of eleven out of ten, so approach with caution ...

(Below: ah the good old days when Australia had its own opinion on the Vietnam war, just like it has its own opinion on the Iraq war and the war in Afghanistan, and so on and so forth, until the cows come home and are cut up and sold really cheap as chups under their home brand label. Now what was that country that actually had its own opinion on nuclear weapons crossing its territory? Could it be those plucky New Zealand warriors?)

Paul Sheehan, and we're all doomed and it's all the fault of the baby-boomers ...

It's one of the favourite memes of the commentariat that greenies, those who accept the evidence of climate science, and such like folk are in the grip of a kind of apocalyptic rapture.

You can find that meme at full stretch in Gary Greenberg's piece for Harper's Apocalypse, Now What? Climate change comeuppance, as he considers works by Bill McKibben and others (well you could if you can get behind the Harper's paywall). Here's a taster:

... the ending that Douglas and the other climate prophets must reveal is not of nature - which will surely find a way to clean up after us, although perhaps not one that retains a place for our species - or of humankind, but of a very particular human world: the social arrangements built on what Skrimshire calls "the modern ideology of limitless growth." The planet is finite, nowhere more so than in the capacity of its atmosphere to absorb carbon without consequence. We're choking on the fumes of progress; the climate prophet's job is to teach us how to breathe in the end times.

But the end times and the apocalypse these days takes all kinds of forms, and there's no one better at conjuring up the apocalypse week after relentlessly gloomy week than that thunderer from Fairfax down under, Paul "Field Marshall Grumpy" Sheehan.

In the recent past, Sheehan has predicted an economic conflagration, an apocalyptic catastrophe, brought about by cheating shifty Greeks, or lazy welfare addicted Celts ruining the British economy, or Islamic hordes flooding Europe with their strange ways, and this week in Greed of boomers led us to a total bust, he finds yet another target ... himself.

Well himself, and others of a similar age:

Ich bin ein Boomer. The most privileged, most profligate generation in human history - my generation, the baby boomers (most often defined as those born 1946 to 1964) - drove the world for the past decade to this moment of reckoning, running up a gigantic bill that has now come due. Responsibility for this bill lies mainly with the boomer-and-bust generation, but the cost will be borne by all.

Uh huh. Of course in previous days, there was a tendency to blame another generation, the one responsible for the most profligate world war in human history, with bonus nuclear fire crackers.

The point is, when in the grip of an apocalyptic fever, full of fire and brimstone, any target will do in the storm of disaster bound to ensue.

So this week, forget the Greeks and the Celts, it's us - or perhaps Sheehan's desire to fork out thirteen bucks for a tasty alluring sourdough loaf (go on, you know you want to read all about its succulent deliciousness at A flour blooms - and a family classic is toast of the town).

Yep, it's the concupiscence of the west for goods and lifestyle and wealth that dooms us all:

The three great economies of the advanced world - the US, the European Union and Japan, with their 940 million people - did not get to the level of debt stress and wealth destruction we are witnessing without being made to pay a real price. That price is structural change, a decline in expectations and lower living standards.

We will see a return to the more frugal times of previous generations, when expectations were lower, houses were smaller, and consumption was fuelled by what we could afford, not what we could borrow.

This sounds remarkably like the future envisioned by Bill McKibben and others:

... the big problem is that we've always been promised (by "every politician who ever lived") that "'our best days are ahead of us.'" "But they aren't," and the result - not the end of nature, but the "end of growth" - would be "the most terrifying and strangest change." To live on Eaarth requires us to abandon the hope and optimism and belief in a better tomorrow that made life on Earth worth living and to replace it with "hunkering down, holding on against the storm." Where once we sought to soar, we must now "manage our descent" and "aim for a relatively graceful decline." Sully Sullenberger and not John Glenn, says McKibben, is the right hero for our new planet. (Sully Sullenberger is here).

The good news, presumably, is that living in a village like Quechee in Vermont, it might still be possible to have an epiphany over a loaf of sourdough bread.

The next step, you see, is to flee the cities before they collapse, and head to the hills or perhaps the farms, and bunker down.

Hunker with plenty of firearms (to fight off the marauding masses), and with enough dried and canned food to last a couple of decades, and with all the other appurtenances necessary for a decent survivalist lifestyle (yes, you too can be an Aussie survivalist, or at least brush up on survivalism generally. You'll quickly begin to understand there's more problems facing the world than the reliability of the public transport system in your town).

It seems we're all doomed:

All because of procrastination, denial and dissembling by the political class in the US, the EU and Japan - the class which benefits most from big government.

Well at least it's a change from the cheating Greeks and the lazy Celts. This week it's not just old farts, it's the politicians.

But what, you might ask, of the greed is good capitalists, and the free market blatherers and the pillagers and the bankers that made Enron:The Smartest Guys in the Room such a fun documentary to watch, as the traders did over Gray Davis and the grannies of California? (Okay, so you know what the pond watched last night on the telly).

Well here you have to tread a very careful line, lest your conservative, pro-capitalism credentials be called in to question by other members of the commentariat:

Though this is a crisis of capitalism and consumerism, it is not caused by the systems themselves, which have been dynamic wealth-generating forces improving the living standards of billions of people to levels not seen before. This is a crisis of consumption and self-absorption, a desire for more than was needed or expected by previous generations. It is a crisis of moral and economic obesity.

Say what? Capitalism is a dynamic wealth-generating system and is good, but consumption of the wealth it generates is bad?

It's about that point that you realise that in another life the apocalyptic Sheehan might well have become a preacher man, spouting doom and gloom and ruin and damnation, blathering about a crisis of moral and economic obesity until the cows come home.

Since his photos show a man inclined to portliness, perhaps this flagellation arises from his desire for a more perfect sourdough bread, a kind of cheese eating surrender monkey French, or European, indulgence. It's a sickening desire for more - at thirteen bucks the throw - than was needed or expected by anyone living outside the rich, dandified world of the eastern suburbs of Sydney ...

But enough of this Freudian analysis, or the next thing you know we'll be recommending the story of Freud and Halsted and cocaine in The New York Review of Books, Physician, Heal Thyself part 1 and 2, and sadly both parts are behind the paywall, and then you'll be asking should I pay to get behind upcoming The Australian's paywall, or pay for decent reading material ...

Oh the dilemmas of the high end dedicated consumer. But while we've been off contemplating Freud deluding himself and others, Sheehan has found another mob to blame:

It is also a crisis for the bureaucratic class, the principal beneficiary of government spending and control. The International Monetary Fund is a classic example. In 2007, when the IMF was run by the socialist satyr Dominique Strauss-Kahn, it issued a World Economic Outlook which said that the risk of any systemic failure in the global economy was extremely low. Within months, the US banking system fused, jolting the global economy.

Yes, and how clever to shift the blame from the US banking system, and its 'greed is good' run amok madness to the bureaucratic class.

And right there and then, Sheehan drinks the free market kool aid before our disbelieving eyes:

The present malaise, far from being a crisis of markets, shows just how well markets do their job. They are injecting reality into the global financial and political grid. They are challenging the wishful thinking coming out of Brussels, Washington and Tokyo.

Well it takes some doing to imagine that the Enron stuff-up or the the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy shows just how well the markets do their job, as this quote reminds us, only to be lost once again in all the blather about how well the markets do their job:

If Murphy’s Law were written for a market approach to electricity, then the law would state 'any system that can be gamed, will be gamed, and at the worst possible time.' And a market approach for electricity is inherently gameable. Never again can we allow private interests to create artificial or even real shortages and to be in control.

And if Murphy's Law was written for a commentariat approach to unregulated free markets, then that law would state that any scribble by Paul Sheehan would ignore the many ways any system can be gamed and will be gamed, often at the worst possible time ...

As for the rest of Sheehan's piece, it's doom and gloom for Germany and France and the US sharemarket and China's debt bubble and the Australian sharemarket and consumer confidence and the Labor government and debt mountains and unsustainable welfare states and massive military adventurism and toxic debt, and it's only at the very end that Sheehan manages to discover that perhaps free markets might shoulder a little of the blame:

All weaknesses were exploited and exacerbated by casino capitalism, the largely unregulated financial derivatives markets designed to keep the financial system honest but in effect betting on everything and building nothing.

That's sounding alarmingly socialist, even perhaps with a hint that some larger regulation - by politicians and bureaucrats - might have come in handy.

Surely there must be a way out:

In the centre of all this was the baby boom-and-bust generation, fattening its world with debt. Much of that debt will be left behind for the generations next in line. The bill has only now arrived.

Thank the lord for the baby boomers. Move over lazy Celts, make way shifty cheating Greeks

It seems greed only came into the world with the wretched BBs.

But hang on, isn't there a baby boomer bubble only because the generation before that began fucking like rabbits once the biggest war the world had ever seen came to an end?

So really it's all their fault.

But hang on, didn't that generation arise from a generation which produced the world war to end all world wars, and then let their hair down in the jazz age, and then produced the greatest depression the world has ever seen, followed by the worst world war the world has ever seen.

Where were the baby boomers then? Slacking and shirking, waiting in tummies before tumbling out to do their thing, and make previous generations look like ponces and poseurs, it seems ...

Well there's one thing that's for sure. A capacity for apocalyptic visions is a fine business for a commentariat scribbler, and it's come in handy for these past few thousand years:

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.
What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun?
One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.
The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.
All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full: unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.
All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it: the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.
The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.
Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.
There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after.

Hang on preacher man, what makes you think the sun's going to keep rising?

And why no mention of welfare states and fat cat bureaucrats and baby boomers and cheating Greeks and lazy Celts?

But it leads to a final thought. Does Sheehan lie awake at night, heart pulsating and panicking, thinking of the cataclysms and catastrophes about to befall the world?

Or after a hearty bout of doom-saying in his now bi-weekly column, slaying all the ne'er do wells that have brought to the world closer to apocalyptic disaster, does he head off for a nice coffee and a slice of sourdough bread, in the best possible spirit after spreading the good news a little further?

Who knows, and in the end who cares, provided no one actually takes what he says seriously, or looks to him for insights as to what might be done as we career on down the crooked road clutching our crooked sixpences ...

(Below: which one is Paul Sheehan, that's the thing to stay awake at night worrying about).

Saturday, September 24, 2011

David Penberthy, and it's time to feel digitally groovy ...

(Above: First Dog explaining how god will punish the unbelievers cheering for the wrong team in Ray Martin's Hair speaks to Danny Nalliah from Catch the Fires Ministries).

First things first.

While the pond pays little or no attention to sport, there are important theological issues arising from recent events.

The pond is instructed that anyone outside the north shore that supports Manly is in fact a traitor who will rot in hell, and a special dispensation has been provided allowing punters -apart from Bronwyn Bishop and Tony Abbott,already with first class tickets to hell - to support New Zealand in their valiant fight against Darth Vader and the Sauron legions of doom (yes, the word is, when in Sydney, Darth and Sauron choose to stay in Mosman).

Treachery, treason? I am further instructed that if Manly loses as a result of inner west loyalists maintaining the rage, remembering their fibro roots when the silvertails take the field, and crossing the Tasman, if only for the day, then they will one day dwell in paradise...

Further, the pond is instructed that Melbourne is likely to endure a severe bushfire season this summer, not because of greenies or burnoff policies, or because Melbourne contains gays and people who love to dance to music (which brought Katrina down on New Orleans), but because it contains wicked Collingwood supporters, and god is a righteous god and she smotes the wicked. All we can do is pray that Collingwood loses, and thus Melbourne might be saved ...

The funny thing is, some Christians take this kind of stuff seriously. Witness the stupidity of Danny Nalliah explaining how the Black Saturday bushfires were a consequence of Victoria decriminalising abortion laws... (here).

Speaking of stupidity, today is Miranda the Devine day, and for outrageous fundamentalist Catholic nonsense, you need never look further than the Devine. She is, all in all, the antiopodes' answer to William Anthony Donohue, but sadly when we went looking for her piece, here's what we copped:

I get that ominous internal error most days when approaching the Devine, and the server agrees.

When we did get through to her Sunday rant, it turned out to be a disappointing standard foaming and frothing about drug-taking and driving, Drug-drivers on the road to perdition.

As always, with even the most uncontroversial issues - who could argue about the stupidity of getting stoned and getting behind the wheel of a car? - the Devine manages to be offensive.

She does so by attempting to downplay the significance (in comparison to drug-taking) of getting pissed and getting behind the wheel, and by yearning for John Howard:

Authorities turning their backs on the Howard era’s successful Tough on Drugs Strategy are sending mixed messages to the public, preferring to treat drugs as a health problem for the user rather than a criminal threat to public safety.

Indeed, authorities so turn their backs that the entire Devine piece is based around the thoughts of NSW Traffic Commander John Hartley, and the work of a bunch of elitist Monash academics.

It is of course possible to juggle and to chew gum at the same time, which is to say to treat drug addiction as a health problem, and on the roads as a criminal threat to public safety, but in the black and white world of the Devine, all rhetoric is like a black cat in a very dark cave ...

Moving right along, there's much fun to be had with David Penberthy, as he scribbles In cyberspace everyone can hear you scream for The Punch:

I received a letter the other day from a reader which was both heartening and deeply depressing. The reader told me that he adored our website, and never wanted to read it again.

Well we can only marvel that someone adored the tipsy Punch - that gin must have really spiked the punch cocktail for them - but do go on:

He said he believed that many of the readers didn’t come to the site to listen to the opinions of others, and often quite clearly didn’t even read the articles; rather, they were simply interested in pushing their own unchanging ideological views and picking fights. He also noted that many of them used language which would never be used in a normal face-to-face conversation and that the entire environment of the website could often become so combative as to be completely repellent.

Do tell. I'm guessing that we're in for another round of hypocritical hand-wringing about anonymity on the full to overflowing intertubes.

We've been there before, like a scratched 78 stuck in the grove.

When it first started, The Punch allegedly encouraged the use of real names by readers, and Penberthy always kept up that farcical fiction, as in How a political luddite got smashed in cyberspace:

We have tried on The Punch to plead with readers to use their real names, often emailing them back ourselves asking them to give a name; most don’t, and would not comment at all if we insisted. Only last Saturday we busted one weirdo who had spent the weekend - probably in Mum’s spare room - sending emails under 14 different names refuting climate change.

There are of course any number of simple and inexpensive solutions, if anonymity is considered an issue. Registration involving real names, rejection of anonymous comments, etc etc. Many sites do it. Some are lax, some are rigorous, and either way it isn't hard.

But The Punch has long relied on trolling and trolls for its bread and butter, dealing in cheap-assed controversy as a way of stirring up the hits, and the comments, and getting the readers whipped into a bat-shit frenzy.

That's why it's comical to read Penberthy's conclusion:

I am trying to talk the bloke around but in a commercially self-defeating way I can sympathise with his sense of fatigue at all the invective, and the treatment of Mirabella is merely the latest example of this modern trend towards abusing people first and asking questions later.

Uh huh. Clearly Penberthy doesn't read the fetid level of commentary surrounding the online presences of such unique News Limited luminaries as Piers "Akker Dakker" Akerman, or Tim Blair or Andrew Bolt ...

It's like stepping into a cesspit of fear and loathing most days, and yet there's little apparent by way of moderation.

Is that because even the most outrageous anonymous comments can't match the cesspit of outraged fear and loathing delivered on a daily basis by the commentariat themselves?

Penberthy claims that The Punch team tosses away thirty per cent of the comments it receives, but you'd never know it. Other sites concerned with civility note that a user's comment has been removed/banned for not conforming to site policies. Moderators issue warnings, ban IP addresses, crunch trolls and flame wars, and otherwise strive to maintain a atmosphere if not of politeness, then of limits and boundaries via active, visible moderation ...

The truth of The Punch is that it wants the hits and it doesn't want to alienate:

... those of us who publish opinion sites are naturally inclined towards publishing as many comments as we can – it’s not our preference to censor, and we often end up in a situation where we’ll err not on the side of caution but recklessness and let things through which are right on the boundary of decency, or slightly over it.

Uh huh. And then to the excuses, including:

... so much online communication – indeed almost all of it – is anonymous. People are more inclined towards invective and name-calling if they sign off as “Chook” of Parramatta than Ian Harris of Parramatta.

But actually anonymity doesn't have anything to do with it, because anonymity is no protection against defamation, and there is no reason for a blog to go soft on "Chook" of Parramatta, or for that matter "loon" of Camperdown. And yes Virginia, with a simple program, they have your IP address ...

The truth is The Punch wants its readers to box on, delivering whatever gibberish and punch-drunk commentary they can muster, often led by a first out of the box ratbag by the name of Erick who clearly has no personal life. If he isn't on welfare, with too much time on his hands, then clearly he's making a living as a professional troller ...

It's like rugby league, explaining how non-violent it is, then showing a cavalcade of big hits. Or car races, showing how they care about the skills of the driver, before delivering a montage of amazing crashes. Take a look at the banner:

Best conversation? Yeah, and if you don't like it, cop this in the mush cobber. Lordy they'll even run a 9/11 birther for the hits (unless you can explain how it's to do with an alternative fourth dimensional reality).

Which brings us to another professional troller.

Sophie Mirabella is the perfect example of a politician as commentator dishing it out for free on The Punch, and The Punch perfectly happy to publish her more rabid pieces because (a) they allow some Labor politicians to do the same, so there's the old balance thing taken care of, and (b) because you can always rely on good old Sophe to stir the pot and deliver a shit-storm.

But wait it gets even funnier, as Penberthy first admits that the recent legal matters involving Mirabella are of public interest, but then somehow shouldn't be a matter of public interest or commentary:

Having said that, the repellent feature of its publication is that it has unleashed a wave of vile abuse towards Mirabella, purely because she is an outspoken right-winger. To their credit there have been some on the other side of politics who have sprung to her defence and argued that it is a legal matter which should not invite public discussion. They have been outnumbered by those who relish the fact that Mirabella is copping it. Funnily enough a lot of these people would be the first to say that any criticisms of the conduct of Julia Gillard are the result of media bias, misogyny, or everyone’s favourite, a News Limited conspiracy. Yet when it comes to Mirabella no level of abuse is off limits.

Actually the comments on the long ago conduct of Julia Gillard's personal life were the result of media bias, misogyny, and blatant bias by a number of News Limited journalists acting together in curious consort (we'll leave the conspiracy theories to the 9/11 birthers given a platform by the Punch).

That none of them could be as scurrilous as an ABC sitcom is another matter (but then The Drum is these days as low rent as a News Limited blog, so it's hard to be surprised at anything turning up on clap happy Mark Scott's ABC).

Mirabella is a sledger of the first water, and it's not surprising that having given it out for so long, she should cop some of it back. The pond, having no interest in her personal life, was surprised to learn that she'd had an affair with a much older man, though it did cast a whole new light on the righteousness of such scribbles for the Punch as Our kids are getting adult content instead of fairytales.

Well the funny thing is that all this has led Penberthy to think about the matter of regulation of bloggers by the Australian Press Council.

Australian Press Council chairman Professor Julian Disney wants the discussion to extend to the standard of reader comments online, saying that many online publishers are prepared to publish comments which are “abusive, incoherent and off topic”.

Yep, it seems that poor old Penbo is incapable of self-regulation, can't recognise an abusive, incoherent off topic comment if it smacks him in the noggin, and needs the help of Julian Disney to achieve some kind of regulatory nirvana because he doesn't know how to actively moderate his very own blog.

The kneejerk reaction to Disney’s call from free speech purists would be to shun any suggestion of tighter controls, to argue that a thousand flowers be allowed to bloom, and that in the rough and tumble of online publishing both the bloggers and readers be allowed to fight it out amongst themselves.

Uh huh. That wouldn't bear any resemblance to the precious petal knee jerk reaction of Andrew Bolt imagining that he's as big as Glenn Beck, and thought of giving up the ghost and going away to have a big long sulk (if only, if only), as put on display in How Gillard tried to kill a story ... along with a whine about the right to trawl dirt in the glorious name of News Ltd.

We're still waiting for Bolt's spin on the Mirabella matter. Perhaps it could run like this:

You may even think it’s mean to suggest Sophie Mirabella showed poor judgment in working for and having a relationship with a lawyer who turned out to have a difficult family ... And on all these points, you may be right.

Idle nonsense about pots and kettles and Bolt aside, it's back to Penberthy:

Speaking as the publisher of such an opinion site, my personal view is that Disney’s call is both welcome and important, as the debate about the lack of civility in modern conversation is being fuelled more than anything by our interactions online.

Uh huh. Well then it's time to go biblical, and trot out Luke:

Then he said, “You will undoubtedly quote me this proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’—meaning, ‘Do miracles here in your hometown like those you did in Capernaum.

Yep, what need of Disney, if Penbo can do a Christ-like cleansing of Capernaum, and The Punch and other News Limited sites ...

But you see, even then, he simply can't resist provoking and trolling:

This is no longer a fringe issue for those groovy people who converse solely in the digital space.

At that point, what digital nerd could resist the desire to call him a twit, a galah given to meaningless abuse, under the cloak of reviving 'groovy' and pretending it has some kind of 'cool' Maynard G. Krebs contemporary relevance?

Never mind. Just when you thought it was all the fault of anonymous people and groovy nerds, and trend setters, it turns out it's all the fault of young people led astray by social media:

There is now a whole generation of people out there who have either lost or never acquired the newspaper habit and who access most of their news via Twitter and Facebook, and who would much prefer a heated argument about politics on an opinion site than the orthodox reporting of politics via a conventional news site.

Uh huh. But here's the problem. News Limited long ago abandoned the orthodox reporting of politics on a conventional news site, and you only have to read the tone of the crusading ratbaggery that litters The Australian, The Daily Terror and the HUN to realise that you're not on a conventional news site, you're in the middle of a heated argument about politics on an opinion site, where news and opinion are regularly conflated, and on the front page at that (and you don't have to read Robert Manne on The Australian on climate science to reach that conclusion within a nanosecond).

So does the tone on the intertubes, antipodes department, come from blogs that score hundreds of hits a day, or from News Ltd branded blogs that boast of millions of hits and thousands of comments and very few limits on polemical ratbaggery?

Time to polish up that Luke quote again, and suggest Penberthy first heal The Punch site?

Perhaps he could then get to work on the rest of News Limited, so that the routine abuse of Julia Gillard, inner western elites, groovy people, latte sippers, chardonnay swallowers, the educated elite, greenies needing to be hung from lamp posts, and all the other examples of the modern 'is your News Limited' trend of abusing people first and asking questions later can be shoved back into the drawer full of cliches, stereotypes and random stupidities where they belong.

No doubt it's the kindly thing for Penbo to stand up for a contributor, even one as rank, in your face and disagreeable as Mirabella, but is it right for him to provoke so provocatively?

And can't they ever get their stories straight at The Punch?

Why only the other day, there was Tory Shepherd drinking the kool aid and standing by the team in The News world is not as Limited as you think:

Social media and the world wide web mean that if a journalist gets a quote, or a statistic, or a job title, or even a single word wrong, someone picks it up. If people tire of listening to News Ltd journalists (God knows I’m sick of the sound of my own voice right now), they can get their news from anywhere they want. Thanks to Twitter, politicians can speak directly to people, without fear of bias distorting their words.

Think newspapers are invading people’s privacy? Put ‘em down and tune in to A Current Affair, or Today Tonight, reloaded on their website! Think newspapers are too right wing? The Green Left Weekly is now online! Too left wing? Tune in to a Ray Hadley or Alan Jones podcast!

Oh dear. That leaves only two alternatives.

An anonymous comment on the Penberthy piece, ranting about the incoherent contradictions to be found on News Ltd sites, even if it means boosting the comments and hits so they can place a few more advertisements, and reach their 'smell of an oily rag' budget, and lordy perhaps even pay their contributors in something other than sunshine, and the ego and vanity and special pleading benefits of exposure.

Or take another swig of that gin-soaked punch on a lazy Sunday.

Your choice. The pond, as always, is fair and balanced, and merely reports, and you decide ...

(Below: oh heck, enough with all the contradictions to be discovered observing the output of "Is your News Limited, or did you start reading all the other stuff on freely available on the full to overflowing intertubes". It's Sunday, pass the punch, we're feeling groovy).