Saturday, July 31, 2010

Jim Wallace, and why a Savonarola paywall preventing membership of Club Sensible might solve the problem with the Internet filter thingie ...

(Above: is it only me that finds this image truly weird? You can find more weirdness at the ACL website here).

Sometimes it gets too much to bear, the thought of sneaking into Club Sensible - actually a deep cover franchise code word for loon pond - to catch up on the views of Christopher Pearson, and not even a glass of port to hand, while subsiding into the leather chair, and popping out with a pompous 'egad sir, I say, wot wot, it's all the fault of this red headed woman chappie fella, the state of the country and the world, wot wot' will help.

Sure that Pearson chappie sounds like a refugee from a movie about George III - we have our eye upon him - but if you want to read the opinions of a person who denies climate change is happening - yet feels free to expound on the best solutions to the non-existent problem - why then Pearson's your chappie fella, and Cabinet leaks show depth of Gillard's problems is your cup of cake.

We were too fatigued - the relentless bias machine known as The Australian can do that to you.

Even the so called token lefties are in a rage there - well there's only one, that hapless gherkin Phillip Adams, who upped and resigned from Labor party before heading to New Orleans for a taxpayer funded junket, leaving us to contemplate this kind of bot mot:

... Kev is happiest discussing theology. I asked him what he was reading on the campaign trail. “Biographies of Martin Luther and Savonarola.” Why was I not surprised? Mention Savonarola at an ALP sausage sizzle and they’d think of a frankfurter in a bun. (Not the Kevin I know).

Indeed. Here's how the wiki on Savanarola begins:

He was known for his book burning, destruction of what he considered immoral art, and hostility to the Renaissance.

Indeed. What an exemplary study for former Chairman Rudd. Savonarola did have his redeeming features - anyone who calls the Roman Curia a 'false, proud archaic wench' isn't all bad - but it did remind me of a storm in a teacup earlier in the week, mounted by Jim Wallace as he snuffled through Internet filter puts the common good first.

Jim copped 181 comments, including a copious amount of abuse, for all that he tried to elevate himself and his noble cause by an opening gambit quoting Oscar Arias Sánchez, 1987 Nobel peace prize-winner.

Two can play at that game of course, and so I felt the need for a little Orwell, and a few words from his proposed preface to Animal Farm, which you can find here:

I am well acquainted with all the arguments against freedom of thought and speech — the arguments which claim that it cannot exist, and the arguments which claim that it ought not to. I answer simply that they don’t convince me and that our civilisation over a period of four hundred years has been founded on the opposite notice. For quite a decade past I have believed that the existing Russian régime is a mainly evil thing, and I claim the right to say so, in spite of the fact that we are allies with the USSR in a war which I want to see won. If I had to choose a text to justify myself, I should choose the line from Milton:

By the known rules of ancient liberty.

Jim of course has no time for that kind of high falutin' tosh.

Perhaps the most bizarre objection though was from the US ambassador, who described the need for the net to "be free the way we have said skies have to be free, outer space has to be free, the polar caps have to be free, the oceans have to be free". How could anyone disagree?

Well naturally Jim finds a way to disagree.

But every one of those mediums is subject to restrictions as to what can and can't be done there; it is the only way to ensure they are maintained, as the ambassador rightly said they should be, ''as a shared resource of all the people in the world''.

Um actually Jim, right at this moment, there are rules that govern the full to overflowing intertubes. Get caught publishing defamatory remarks, and you might get done over in a court of law; get caught with child pornography and you might find yourself doing jail time; get caught downloading naughty intellectual property and once upon a time the music industry would lavish a fortune in lawyers' fees to hang you from the yardarm.

The notion that the Intertubes is a giant, ungovernable out of control jungle of course suits the likes of Jim and his tribe of the fearful and the fearing and the afraid, but what is remarkable is how much self-regulation there is, and how the best kind of regulation involves applying the laws of the land, rather than a giant all purpose filter that won't work.

But we've been down this path before, and all the arguments are well rehearsed, and the only piquant note was Jim's plaintive closer:

Are we disappointed with the delay? Yes, but we are also realistic enough to realise that ISP filtering was not going to get through Parliament before the federal election anyway, given the lack of time and the need to ensure it was implemented in the most transparent way possible.

Despite the delay, we welcome the federal government's continued commitment to a policy that puts the welfare of children and the common good above the "free for all" desires of the few. It is time for the Coalition and the Greens to match its commitment.

Not if they want my vote, they won't.

Abbott of course won't go near the topic, at least until after the election, and then if he wins, he'll most likely carry on like Conroy in drag. But since he's a luddite, and already committed to scrapping the NBN, and throwing Australia back to the twentieth century in terms of being a wired society, even he might find it a little too hard. And if the Greens get in, and hold the balance of power, why look out Jim, we might be suffering anxiety for years to come ...

Sheesh, where's our Savonarola when we need him ...

Of course not all censorship is bad. Self-censorship is to be encouraged, and it's pleasing to report that Chairman Rupert's exercise in self-censorship with The Times is proceeding splendidly. Thanks to Beehivecity, we understand these are the recent figures:

Number of people registering for The Times and Sunday Times websites during the free trial period: 150,000
Update 19/07 noon: I’m now hearing from official sources that this number is in fact somewhat higher. But I’m hearing no challege to the more important numbers below
Number of people actually agreeing to pay money: 15,000
This figure, apparently, is considered disappointing. And if it’s right it’s certainly a slow start (right now Beehive City considers itself bigger than Times Online, and we ain’t lying either). .
But there is more obviously positive news too.
Number of people paying for The Times’s separate iPad application: 12,500

Dan Sabbagh then did a breakdown of that data, but since it's a little detailed, why not give him a hit at Times paywall: more analysis of the data.

Jolly hockey sticks good stuff. Is it cheating to quote one word of his? Defeat ...

Oh sweet galumphing galloping gushing galoshes of joy, or as Harold Hare used to say in Jack and Jill, goody goody gumdrops. Ain't alliteration fun ...

Meanwhile, wasn't there talk at one time of The Australian going behind a paywall in the second half of the year? And I see by the clock that tomorrow is the first day of August, and how time flies when we're all having fun.

Bring it on, and the sooner the better, so that I no longer have the chance to visit Club Sensible, let alone pay for the pleasure of membership ... not to mention the pleasure of not chancing on the odd Phillip Adams' Club Bleat scribble urging Savonarola on us ...

Meanwhile, to wrap it all up, a bit more Orwell, but instead of his concern below for the Daily Worker and Oswald Mosley - now there's an odd couple - why not give it an antipodean flavour by substituting the name David Hicks?

These people don’t see that if you encourage totalitarian methods, the time may come when they will be used against you instead of for you. Make a habit of imprisoning Fascists without trial, and perhaps the process won’t stop at Fascists. Soon after the suppressed Daily Worker had been reinstated, I was lecturing to a workingmen’s college in South London. The audience were working-class and lower-middle class intellectuals — the same sort of audience that one used to meet at Left Book Club branches. The lecture had touched on the freedom of the press, and at the end, to my astonishment, several questioners stood up and asked me: Did I not think that the lifting of the ban on the Daily Worker was a great mistake? When asked why, they said that it was a paper of doubtful loyalty and ought not to be tolerated in war time. I found myself defending the Daily Worker, which has gone out of its way to libel me more than once. But where had these people learned this essentially totalitarian outlook? Pretty certainly they had learned it from the Communists themselves! Tolerance and decency are deeply rooted in England, but they are not indestructible, and they have to be kept alive partly by conscious effort. The result of preaching totalitarian doctrines is to weaken the instinct by means of which free peoples know what is or is not dangerous. The case of Mosley illustrates this. In 1940 it was perfectly right to intern Mosley, whether or not he had committed any technical crime. We were fighting for our lives and could not allow a possible quisling to go free. To keep him shut up, without trial, in 1943 was an outrage. The general failure to see this was a bad symptom, though it is true that the agitation against Mosley’s release was partly factitious and partly a rationalisation of other discontents. But how much of the present slide towards Fascist ways of thought is traceable to the ‘anti-Fascism’ of the past ten years and the unscrupulousness it has entailed?

So it goes Jim ...

(Below: and is it only me that thinks the image is truly weird? Are they telling the strangely glassed kid to talk to the hand?)

Is Iron Man the way forward for the ACL?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Miranda Devine, Steve Jobs, and too many flies covered with dead horse ...

(Above: my first computer. And yes, a friend once demonstrated on it a variant of Custer's Revenge, an Atari 2600 game released in 1982 and ported over to the Mac. He did it by sticking his floppy in the slot. At once in a blinding flash, I realised that computers would bring about the decline and fall of western civilisation).

The great thing about stocking a pond with carp is that there's no need to drape a thin veneer of civilised politeness over the chipboard of conversation offered by the carpers.

Take poor Bernard Keane's outburst in Crikey, The sisterhood? Jesus. How about common decency? as a response to Janet Albrechtsen being the Bill Heffernan bitch from barren hell.

Sure he called The Australian a smear machine, and Albrechtsen a reactionary lightweight, and a scribbler of tripe, and being part of a systematic assault by an outfit wanting to be a local version of Fox News.

It's all fair and true in its own way, as any reading of Let's be honest about Julia's free gender leg-up would prove, since that piece is neither honest nor insightful about free leg ups, but rather is a simple-minded vicious hatchet job.

That said, gee it's so much simpler, shorter and as much to the point simply to call Albrechtsen a fuckwit.

There's no point in trying to have a fair, Marquess of Queensberry fight according to John Douglas's Victorian rules when all that the likes of Albrechtsen knows is ground and pound (and yes I understand that reveals far too much about my partner for decency or comfort).

There's no point at all in appealing to Jesus, and even less talking about common decency.

Sometimes it's proper and fitting to recognise that carp are incredibly bony, and taste best when well smoked.

That's when the Tamworth comes out in me, and I think it's just as easy to say, in a broad accent, ah, ya must be fucking joking, ya fucked bit of smoked carp, with yur relentless carping.

But of course obscenities were and are common in rustic discourse, and now the likes of Jon Stewart lets loose the occasional bleeped expletive, but we know what the bleep means, as he mimes like a footballer in close up.

True, it lacks wit and nuance, and possibly it'd be punchier to just say 'why don't ya shove a fly with a dead horse in ya cakehole'.

True, it's not a subtle discourse, but seeing as how some French philosophers are inclined to a little wife killing (Althusser) I regard it as quite civilised.

Speaking of smoked carp in need of a pie with sauce in the cakehole, that's about as tasty a throw I've managed in recent times to an article by Miranda the Devine, who turns up in today's Herald to remind us that sometimes when we've eaten a bit of off fish - as happens when you're a long way from the sea - the best remedy is a purgative, or perhaps take something to induce a little cathartic retching.

Now you're nicely primed to read Spoilt brats get iRate at Apple, a bizarre exercise in stupidity that proves yet again Miranda the Devine knows bugger all about anything but is surely these days incapable of worshipping at the shrine of Susan Greenfield. Remember the glory days of We're losing our minds over technology, or the punchline to Nanny state helps to drown us in our own stupidity?

Perhaps the mass decline of common sense is the inevitable result of what Susan Greenfield, a British neuroscientist, says is the altered brain architecture of a couple of generations of people reared on technology rather than real-life experience.

If common sense is the accumulation of millions of real world experiences and the amalgamated sensory input from our environment, then no wonder people habituated to a two-dimensional virtual world without physical consequences seem increasingly to be so clueless.

Come on down Miranda the Devine, we need an exemplar. Show us clueless is as clueless scribbles. What are you scribbling at the moment?

Even though iPhone and iPad devotees revel in the functionality and design of the devices, at the same time we take them utterly for granted, as a natural extension of ourselves.

Of course I'm going to email on the bus. Of course I'm going to watch trashy TV shows on my iPad at the gym. Of course I'm going to read the newspaper or a book on my iPad in bed.

These things that were unthinkable 10, five, even one year ago, we now simply expect.

What we need is an app for gratitude, not cynicism, for just taking a moment to appreciate the magnificent achievements of the human mind, which are captured in that slim, sleek device our ancestors scarcely could have dreamed possible.

Which of course at the same time produces the utter ruination of humanity ...

Yep, give me an app for gratitude for the complete collapse of people trapped in a 2D, or is that a 3D world ...

The rest of the Devine's scribble is a treasure, a reminder that when she takes her eye off politics and society to brood about technology, she really doesn't have a clue.

Remember her anguish at George street? By George, this blight has to stop for Sydney's sake?

Some blame Lord Mayor Clover Moore who has presided over much deterioration in her six years in office, and a dysfunctional State Government that has bled developers dry while putting up the ''closed for business'' sign to hobble economic growth.

Others blame Westfield boss Frank Lowy for building vast shopping complexes that destroy the vibrant high street businesses that give a community its mojo. Still others decry our alcohol culture and licensing laws that allow all-night venues and encourage public drunkenness.

''George Street is a bloody disgrace,'' wrote Robert in response to my column last week about the filthy state of Sydney's main street. ''It used to be enjoyable walking around this beautiful city, which I grew up in, on a warm summer's night, but not anymore, unless you're prepared to risk being bashed or robbed or worse.''

Hah. That was then. Now it's Manhattan, a place for trendy vivacious parties:

You just had to stroll down the Manhattan end of George Street on Thursday night to see what a cultural phenomenon Apple has become. Thousands of Gen Ys, Gen Xs and a few hardy baby boomers queued for up to 22 hours in the cold and wet for the midnight launch of the new iPhone4, some bringing chairs, tents and portable generators with their iPhones and Macbooks and iPads to while away the time.

The wait itself was part of the fun; with all those captive customers, Telstra, Optus and Vodafone competed with a free party, free concert, free booze and free apple-inspired food served by the cast of MasterChef. Clearly the public loves Apple's wares but, increasingly, the critics are on the snarl.

Yep, gadgets, and chicks, and money for nothing, and the booze runs free, and the living is easy.

But those naughty critics are tearing at the heart of Apple. Boffins authenticate Apple 'Antennagate'.

It is of course quite wrong and improper and grouchy to expect a product to work in a decent way, not that I'm bitter for having briefly owned a Cube. After all, the old Mac 512 still fires up (and there's a nice pictorial history of Mac computers here).

At some point the Devine seems to have swallowed the Apple kool aid, as she gives a potted history of recent Apple troubles, along with a hero worshipping retrospective fit out of Steve Jobs. Bizarrely she even seems titillated by his hippie ways:

Part of Apple's success came from popular antipathy to Microsoft because it was so successful, and because, as Jobs once said, its computers were ugly and Bill Gates had no taste.

Jobs, on the other hand, was as cool as a computer geek could be. He had been to India! Lived on an ashram! Dropped acid! Became a Buddhist! Dated Joan Baez! Loved Bob Dylan! And he had taste, with his white curved iMac a beautiful addition to any stylemeister's decor.

Hey dude I can grok that. That Cube was so cool, and so useless. And the Apple ads are soooh funny.

Naturally the Devine is distraught that the vultures and the jackals are intent on taking Steve down. How else to explain this kind of phrasing?

It seems Jobs is finding himself hoist on his own petard. Too successful in a capitalist sense, at a time and to a new generation for whom success is suspect ...

Jobs offered customers a free rubber cover to fix the problem, but his refusal to apologise at a defiant press conference last week only further enraged the pygmy critics savouring their first taste of Apple blood.

Pygmy critics? First taste of Apple blood? Would that be the same taste I experienced when the shoddy mother board they'd wheeled out for certain lines of G5's blew up, and they determinedly replaced the entire computer at a cost surely greater than if they'd given me a new one? (If you're a geek you might already know about the Power Mac G5's 17% first year failure rate, as outlined here).

But I keed, I keed, I've been using Macs for a long time, and they come and they go in terms of quality control, and right now Apple is in the middle of one of its glorious fuck ups, and we can leave Miranda the Devine to wallow in her free rubber cover fix, way better than condoms for safe telephony, and instead cut to the chase.

The reason the Devine deep down is on side with the company that represents everything she hates? It's because they've taken up the cause of censorship:

'If Dylan was 20 today how would he feel about your company? Would he think iPad had the faintest thing to do with revolution? Revolutions are about freedom,'' Tate wrote. Jobs replied: ''Yes, freedom from programs that steal your private data. Freedom from programs that trash your battery. Freedom from porn. Yep, freedom.''

Uh huh. Now we're getting warmer. Take it away Miranda:

The ''freedom from porn'' comment opened a new line of attack on Jobs as some sort of born-again social conservative. But he is right. Too much freedom can be a tyranny of its own and Apple's quality control is central to its success. Jobs is standing his ground against the tide of negativity, but the counterculture guy has come to symbolise capitalist America.

Phew, that's a load to bear. Apple's quality control?

The Wired website has slammed Jobs as ''nothing more than a greedy capitalist''. He is routinely mocked for calling his devices ''magical'' or ''revolutionary'', even though they are.

There are lots of reasons why Jobs is under siege, but the most potent is the spoiled brat phenomenon of humanity.

The more we humans have, the more we want, the more dissatisfied and ungrateful we are.

Um actually, it's if I drop 4k on a computer, I expect the thing to work, not to blow up. Just as it'd be nice if workers employed to build devices didn't tend to jump out the window.

But of course there's a nice circularity in the Devine's argument. You see the reason there are spoiled brats is because of computer screens and screen culture, and so a lack of gratitude is just what you'd expect.

It's all this talk of magical, revolutionary devices that's got me really going. Has the Devine jumped the shark, is she now a devotee of screen culture, and does this explain the appalling lack of lucidity in her columns? What is this blather about the joy of the iPhone and the iPad being natural extensions of ourselves?

Yoohoo, Susan Greenfield, where are you?

Never mind. It is of course entirely possible to have porn, and pirated movies and music on your iPad (just ask my partner).

The point about Jobs' stance is that it's a handy selling point in the United States, but iTunes isn't really about locking you into a certain kind of morality, it's much more about making sure that you visit the iTunes store. And that's not about freedom, that's about controlling consumer purchasing habits.

If stepping outside the system gets too hard, then why not stay inside and go shopping?

Jobs had to fall in to line with mp3s, and didn't fail in the epic way that Gates failed with wmv, but his more petty tyrannies - such as his Flash war - show he's just another dude out to control turf (but hey, if you're a Mac user, and irritated by mp4, remember Handbrake and a half dozen other apps will fix what ails you).

It's like any kind of hardware, Mac or PC. You can do a sheep routine, or use it the way you want and as it suits. Which is why I can cheerfully say that I've owned Macs for years, and not once purchased anything from iTunes ...

I know, I know, that makes me eccentric, but certainly not as confused and tortured as Miranda the Devine.

Perhaps she should take some time out to read the story in her very own rag, Adult industry sees pocket porn market in iPhone 4:

It's a maxim of technology: Invent the newest gadget and the porn industry will find a way to cash in.

So when Apple launched the iPhone 4 and its FaceTime videoconference feature, it didn't take long for adult-entertainment companies to develop video-sex chat services and start hiring workers through Craigslist.

With more than three million of the phones already sold, the adult industry stands to make big money on this new way to reach out and touch someone - even if it puts Apple, which has always taken pains to keep its iPhone apps squeaky clean, in an awkward spot.

In at least five US cities, Craigslist ads seek models specifically for video sex chat on FaceTime. Many of the ads even offer to throw in a free iPhone 4 for the new employees.

Oh no, the deviant perverts are already out in force ruining Steve and Miranda's shared dream.

Not that we're users of FaceTime or a fan of Chatroulettee. We expect certain standards on the pond ... but at the same time, we don't expect people to control content. Not when information just wants to be free ...

But just as Apple can't control who iPhone users call, the company will have a hard time dictating how FaceTime is used. Internet experts say customers will understand that Apple cannot control what goes on in private video chats.

"Apple can't be seen as responsible any more than makers of routers or hardware are responsible for the content you are looking at," said Jonathan Zittrain, a co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

Which leads me to wonder if Miranda the Devine has the first clue about technology, since it's obvious on a weekly basis that she doesn't have the first clue about freedom, technology, screen culture, Gen X or Gen Y.

Hang on, hang on, now you think I'm going to slag off Gen Y, that pack of spoiled brats determined to do down Steve Jobs and his noble dream with their bitching about the iPhone because it has a significant flaw. The sort of idle riff raff who might get upset just because a seam in their clothes comes apart the first day they wear their brand now outfit.

No way Jose, Miranda the Devine reminds us that these screeching brats are actually potent warriors in tune with the force, as explained in Spirit of Anzac lives on in Gen Y:

The popularity of the dawn service is a sign of a resurgent respect that stems from Generation Y, and a determination not to repeat the mistakes of the Vietnam era, when veterans were dishonoured and abused as "baby killers".

Gen Y has grown up in a post-Berlin Wall world, and the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and Bali bombings define their time. Their generation are the soldiers on the battlefields of Afghanistan tempered through adversity.

They know what a real ''moral challenge'' is.

Yep, talk about moral challenges for our time. It's working out how to get an iPhone to work, then work out ways to waste time rotting brains by spending way too much time on the iPad watching crappy movies and surfing and listening to crappy music.

Oh I keed, I keed, it reminds me, I must get back to the iPad and rot my brain a little further.

It couldn't rot my brain as badly as reading the contradictory, confused mush peddled by the Devine.

Can someone shove a fly covered in dead horse in her cake hole?

Oh that's a tad unseemly and impolite. Never mind, it's a genial Saturday, and whenever I read Miranda the Devine, for some inexplicable reason, I'm reminded of Hilaire Belloc's poem Tarantella. So here it is:

Do you remember an Inn,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the tedding and the spreading
Of the straw for a bedding,
And the fleas that tease in the High Pyrenees,
And the wine that tasted of tar?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers
(Under the vine of the dark veranda)?
Do you remember an Inn, Miranda,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers
Who hadn't got a penny,
And who weren't paying any,
And the hammer at the doors and the din?
And the hip! hop! hap!
Of the clap
Of the hands to the swirl and the twirl
Of the girl gone chancing,
Backing and advancing,
Snapping of the clapper to the spin
Out and in--
And the ting, tong, tang of the guitar!
Do you remember an Inn,
Do you remember an Inn?

Never more;
Never more.
Only the high peaks hoar;
And Aragon a torrent at the door.
No sound
In the walls of the halls where falls
The tread
Of the feet of the dead to the ground,
No sound:
But the boom
Of the far waterfall like doom.

Of course it doesn't have anything to do with Miranda the Devine, and it doesn't mean anything in relation to Miranda the Devine. But it sounds nice, and surely that's more than enough on a pond dedicated to those who take pleasure in the sound of their confused, incoherent voice ...

And now since the Devine has embroiled us in the Mac v PC feud, why not relax with your iPad and view The 10 funniest Mac vs. PC YouTube videos. This site offers no guarantee that they are actually funny.

And if you really want to waste your life, you can watch all the Apple v PC ads, self-referentially, on your iPad. That's right, there's over sixty of the damned things, all aggregated and with YouTube links here.

Oh the humanity, oh the horror ...

Thank the absent lord it's Friday, as the media behaves like a rabble and we all slouch towards Bethlehem or hell ...

(Above: a little William Blake kultur, evoking the whore of babylon, before we reach for the gun of Australian politics in a wretched media).

Here at the pond, we thought we'd round out the week - thank the dear long absent lord it's Friday - by advising all Australian voters that they're going to hell.

And since we were recently talking about classics, what better way to remind these damned cursed voters of the nature of hell, thanks to James Joyce in one of his more accessible works, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (and don't forget Dubliners), of special delight to those who grew up in the antipodes experiencing heartfelt Irish Catholic attempts to recreate an Angela's Ashes experience for the youth of Australia:

What must it be, then, to bear the manifold tortures of hell forever? Forever! For all eternity! Not for a year or an age but forever. Try to imagine the awful meaning of this. You have often seen the sand on the seashore. How fine are its tiny grains! And how many of those tiny grains go to make up the small handful which a child grasps in its play. Now imagine a mountain of that sand, a million miles high, reaching from the earth to the farthest heavens, and a million miles broad, extending to remotest space, and a million miles in thickness, and imagine such an enormous mass of countless particles of sand multiplied as often as there are leaves in the forest, drops of water in the mighty ocean, feathers on birds, scales on fish, hairs on animals, atoms in the vast expanse of air. And imagine that at the end of every million years a little bird came to that mountain and carried away in its beak a tiny grain of that sand. How many millions upon millions of centuries would pass before that bird had carried away even a square foot of that mountain, how many eons upon eons of ages before it had carried away all. Yet at the end of that immense stretch time not even one instant of eternity could be said to have ended. At the end of all those billions and trillions of years eternity would have scarcely begun. And if that mountain rose again after it had been carried all away again grain by grain, and if it so rose and sank as many times as there are stars in the sky, atoms in the air, drops of water in the sea, leaves on the trees, feathers upon birds, scales upon fish, hairs upon animals – at the end of all those innumerable risings and sinkings of that immeasurably vast mountain not even one single instant of eternity could be said to have ended; even then, at the end of such a period, after that eon of time, there mere thought of which makes our very brain reel dizzily, eternity would have scarcely begun.

Yes amazingly, I've sat through this exact nonsense, told seriously, and with grim intent, during a Dominican retreat, proving life is stranger than fiction.

But now you know where you're going, you Australian voter, you, and for how long - the twelfth of never is such a long long time - we thought we'd explore the logic, since we just love theological logic here at the pond, and since ugly sectarianism and secularism has infiltrated the election campaign.

If you're a decent evangelical, you'll know that voting for that papist Tony Abbott is a sure one way ticket to hell. After all, as we all know, the Pope is the anti-Christ, and the church the whore of Babylon, slouching towards Bethlehem, drunk with the blood of saints and martyrs, and definitely the counterfeit church put on earth in order to deceive even faithful Catholics, as enacted by the Second Vatican Council. Thanks be to Mel and his dad for this advice, and the guarantee that not even Mel's long suffering ex will make it to paradise ...

Of course it goes without saying that if instead you're an evangelical, or perhaps belong to ratbag militants like the Salvation Army, or bizarre outposts like Mormonism, or think Hillsong is going to get you eternal salvation rather than rifle through your purse in search of cash, you're full of doctrinal error, and outside the bosom of the mother church, the one true church founded on the rock, and the only path to salvation, and therefore off to hell forthwith. As for Islamics, Buddhists and atheists ... some of whom will inevitably vote for the atheist Gillard, say no more.

Still there is an upside. We're told by informed sources - we love informed sources here at the pond - that Santa Claus, and Ms Claus - a notorious radical feminist - put on extremely wild parties in hell, and you can always catch up with such nice folk as the easter bunny and the tooth fairy.

Yes, thanks to SBS news, the good old sectarian schismatic splitter snakes are out of the cupboard, with Concerns over Gillard's faith top of their video list this day, but thank the lord destined to drop down the charts and out of sight, as happens to prime bits of eggbeating on a regular basis. Sure you can reward them with a click and a view, but only at the certain risk of going to hell ...

Still now I'm reminded why SBS news is regularly rewarded with an asterisk in the ratings. Or maybe 1 or 3 ...

Is that the best eggbeater you've got?

Meanwhile, there's hell on earth, and that's reading Sophie Mirabella in The Punch, this day leading in a punch drunk way with Liberal diary: Would the real Julia Gillard please stand up. As tirades go, I couldn't imagine a drunk in the gutter delivering a better one ...

Second thoughts, there's always the hell on earth known as The Australian's political reporting. Here's that pompous loud tie-wearing prat Dennis Shanahan opening his piece Gillard got the cover but Abbott is looking better:

This week Julia Gillard appeared with a million-dollar makeover on the cover of The Australian Women's Weekly.

Our first female Prime Minister looked more like a supermodel than a cabinet minister.

Million dollar make over? Supermodel? Oh yes indeedy that rough beast of stupidity is slouching towards Bethlehem quick stix.

Meanwhile, Gillard is indeed in serious trouble, when Mark Latham dons the garb of the white knight, and rides off to rescue her from the black knight, former chairman Rudd, as told in 'Snake' Rudd behind cabinet leaks: Latham:

Former Labor leader Mark Latham insisted last night that Kevin Rudd was behind damaging leaks against Julia Gillard and condemned the behaviour as cowardly, "the snake's way", unmanly and "beneath an Aussie bloke".

Dear absent lord, what next? Graham Richardson denouncing Swiss bank accounts? Brian Bourke taking a firm view on the evils of stamp collecting? Mark Latham taking a firm view of snakes and dinkum Aussie blokes ... Dinkum ...

It goes without saying that you can find plenty of snakes carrying on in The Australian offering all kinds of advice, including such usual suspects as Henry Ergas (Julia's carbon jury is a cop-out), and Oliver Marc Hartwich (Scrap 'Cash for Clunkers, not old cars).

Henry spends much of his time rabbiting on about Plato in relation to climate change. Hartwich is outraged that garages should be deprived of the business of fixing old clunkers, while destroying the market for second hand vehicular junk. Hartwich managed to get through his entire piece without mentioning electric vehicles or alternatives to current modes of petrol ...

Well done, and that reminded me to go once again in search of any mention of the most recent NOAA study in The Australian. Oh sure, you can find it in the National Geographic: Global Warming "Undeniable," U.S. Government Report Says, and in dozens of other places on the full to overflowing intertubes, but damned if I can find it in The Oz. Curious that. The way a world view can somehow not see the nose on the face ...

Of course I can find news that ExxonMobil is funding the Walkely Media Conference, and Christopher Warren of the MEAA has demanded a bowl of water so he can do a Pontius Pilate routine, and no doubt all the journalists and spin doctors can gather to admire The Oz's ongoing ability to greenwash the news (Critics slam 'irresponsible' Walkley sponsorship). But then I never saw any harm or contradiction in tobacco firms sponsoring the truth about lung cancer ...

Throw in the nightmare of that slumbering beast Stephen Conroy being roused, and compelled to talk about the NBN, and you realise that hell isn't some abstract apocalyptic vision, but is in fact what we experience right here on earth during an Australian election campaign. It doesn't take long for the loons to come out and tell us that the NBN might cost $86 billion, at which point it's possible to have some sympathy for the hapless Conroy. Where does the ABC find the woodwork from which to drag these alarmist 'experts'?

Meanwhile, Swannie realises he needs to spread a little oil on the water, a kind of BP in reverse, as a way of offsetting Conroy, noted here in Swan hints at possible filter changes:

Talking to Triple J's Hack program, Mr Swan has publicly suggested for the first time that the filter could make some changes or "move in different directions" in response to concerns voiced by many who claim it will slow download speeds and lead to unwarranted censorship.

"Stephen Conroy... has announced some changes to the filter - he's talking to industry about those now," he said.

"We have responded to the legitimate concerns of many of your listeners in this area and Stephen Conroy is going through that process now.

"It's possible that we could move in slightly different directions."

Slightly different? Not good enough Swannie.

Yep, with all the media behaving badly, and the politicians behaving like politicians, I'm suddenly tormented by all these grains of sand swirling in my mind, for what feels like eternity. With a bit of luck it'll only be three more weeks ...

And now since I've referenced it often enough and it's been awhile since I ran it, and since I'm no more shameless than Joan Didion, who borrowed a phrase for one of her titles, here's W. B. Yeats with one of my favourite apocalyptic poems:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert.

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

I still shiver a little each time I read it. So here's to Yeats and the republic of Ireland and bring me a nice Coonawarra red Ms Claus, and let's get down and party ...

(Below: click to enlarge).

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Niall Ferguson, and a little paranoia will fix the antipodean Chicken Little blues ...

(Above: eek, the Russians are coming).

It was inevitable that there'd be a plague of Ferguson.

Just as when Susan Greenfield came out to do her regular tours of the antipodes, the media fell over themselves to publish her views on screen culture - there's nothing like a scientific baroness to awe the chattering class of commentariat commentators and sundry editors - so Niall Ferguson's grand tour to collect gongs and wave at the peasants and preach to the chattering classes has attracted the media's attention.

The way the Ferguson touts the calamitous fall of empires is pure bonus. Why it makes for better reading than the Book of Revelation, and the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, and makes Noah's flood seem like child's play for a long absent holocaust lord.

Just as Greenfield explained in apocalyptic terms that screen culture rots our brains and we're all about to turn into gormless screen entranced nerds, so Ferguson can trot out his apocalyptic views about how we're all doomed and soonish, replete with the odd historical example. We love our doomsayers. Let's face it, where would we and Hollywood be without 2012 just around the corner.

Naturally this means that The Australian feels compelled to publish Sun could set suddenly on superpower as debt bites, explaining that Ferguson is a professor of history at Harvard University, while The Sydney Morning Herald offers Decline and fall of the US, explaining that Ferguson is a British historian and the author of The Ascent of Money, and that the piece is an edited version of his John Bonython Lecture for the Centre for Independent Studies, delivered in Sydney last night.

That's the extend of the product differentiation, for both pieces are one and the same in tone, and in the use of favourite metaphors, with bits of history picked out to offer delectable intimations of doom. Here's the Herald's version:

All empires, no matter how magnificent, are condemned to decline and fall. We tend to assume that in our own time, too, history will move cyclically - and slowly. The environmental or demographic threats we all talk about seem very remote. In an election year, who really cares about the average atmospheric temperature or the age structure of the population in 2050?

Yet it is possible that this whole cyclical framework is, in fact, flawed. What if history is arrhythmic - at times almost stationary, but also capable of accelerating suddenly, like a sports car? What if collapse comes suddenly, like a thief in the night?

Indeed. That must be the same glib accelerating sports car that infests The Australian's piece:

We have been raised to think of the historical process as an essentially cyclical one.

We naturally tend to assume that in our own time, too, history will move cyclically, and slowly.

Yet what if history is not cyclical and slow-moving but arhythmic, at times almost stationary, but also capable of accelerating suddenly, like a sports car? What if collapse does not arrive over a number of centuries but comes suddenly, like a thief in the night?

Great powers and empires are complex systems, which means their construction more resembles a termite hill than an Egyptian pyramid. They operate somewhere between order and disorder, on "the edge of chaos", in the phrase of the computer scientist Christopher Langton.

Well perhaps not a termite hill or a computer scientist's phrase, so much as a butterfly in the Amazon:

Great powers and empires operate somewhere between order and disorder. They can appear to operate quite stably for some time; they seem to be in equilibrium but are, in fact, constantly adapting. But a very small trigger can set off a ''phase transition'' from a benign equilibrium to a crisis - a butterfly flaps its wings in the Amazon and brings about a hurricane in south-eastern England.

Uh huh. The good old "butterfly effect". Just as with Greenfield, there's nothing like a hot button cliche to establish that any phrase can be deployed to produce a crisis.

But how about a decent analogy from history to whip up saucy doubts and fears? Easy peasy, here's how it's done for the Herald:

...empires exhibit many of the characteristics of other complex adaptive systems - including the tendency to move from stability to instability quite suddenly. But this fact is rarely recognised because of our addiction to cyclical theories of history.

The Bourbon monarchy in France passed from triumph to terror with astonishing rapidity. French intervention on the side of the colonial rebels against British rule in North America in the 1770s seemed like a chance for revenge after Great Britain's victory in the Seven Years War a decade earlier, but it served to tip France into a critical state.

In May 1789, the summoning of the Estates-General, France's long-dormant representative assembly, unleashed a political chain reaction that led to a swift collapse of royal legitimacy in France. Only four years later, in January 1793, Louis XVI was decapitated by guillotine.

The sun set on the British Empire almost as suddenly. So, what are the implications for the United States today?

Uh huh, but perhaps we need to tease out the fate of the British Empire a little more for The Australian:

Empires exhibit many of the characteristics of other complex adaptive systems, including the tendency to move from stability to instability quite suddenly. But this fact is rarely recognised because of our addiction to cyclical theories of history. The Bourbon monarchy in France passed from triumph to terror with astonishing rapidity. The sun set on the British Empire almost as suddenly. The Suez crisis in 1956 proved that Britain could not act in defiance of the US in the Middle East, setting the seal on the end of empire.

Uh huh. So much for Gandhi bunging on a do in the Dandi Salt March in 1930, followed by his 1942 Quit India civil disobedience movement. Not to mention all the other countries the British exploited and then suddenly found the welcome mat was being pulled off the porch. We can just mention the Suez crisis and it's all QED. Which tends to imply while some are hooked on cyclical history, others just love their apocalyptic history.

After all, you might think that Britain survived even the rigours of the second world war, and now has emerged in okay shape. Not that we're suggesting people try out a third world war so we can feel better about emerging into a Mad Max landscape, but even west and east Germany managed to get their houses in some kind of order over recent times.

Silly deluded optimist. You seem to have forgotten all that hard rain continuing to fall. Here it is falling in The Australian:

The CBO projects net interest payments rising from 9 per cent of revenue to 20 per cent in 2020, 36 per cent in 2030, 58 per cent in 2040 and 85 per cent in 2050. As Larry Kotlikoff recently pointed out in the Financial Times, by any meaningful measure, the fiscal position of the US is at present worse than that of Greece.

But that doesn't quite satisfy. Sure the United State's position is worse than Greece, and perhaps Spain, and quite likely Mongolia, but I'm feeling a little more-ish in terms of analogies. Let's see, the rain might be falling even more heavily in the Herald:

The fiscal position of the US is currently worse than that of Greece. But Greece is not a global power. In historical perspective, unless something radical is done soon, the US is heading into into Bourbon France territory. It is heading into Ottoman Turkey territory. It is heading into postwar Britain territory.

That's more like it. It's Bourbon France, heading into the Ottoman turf, and likely ending up a dwarf star, a black hole, like Britain. What a tragedy the Austro-Hungarian empire seems to have fallen out of historical discourse. Now that would be a tremendous example. Why lordy, we might even mention the decline and fall of the Soviet empire?

Oh sorry, give and take, and allowing for a lot of human suffering, that's a positive example of the benefits of fall of empire. Strike it from the record.

Instead it's surely time to whip up some paranoia about the Chinese, now that the Russians are no longer up to the task. Sure thing, we're up for that:

Quietly, discreetly, the Chinese are reducing their exposure to US Treasury bonds. Perhaps they have noticed what the rest of the world's investors pretend not to see - that the US is on a completely unsustainable fiscal course, with no apparent political means of self-correcting.

That has profound implications not only for the US, but also for all countries that have come to rely on it, directly or indirectly, for their security.

Oh indeed. The sky is falling in, or is about to fall in, or will likely fall in, and of course it will fall principally on Australia. Have we mentioned the Chinese?

And remember: half the federal debt in public hands is in the hands of foreign creditors. Of that, a fifth (22 per cent) is held by the monetary authorities of the People's Republic of China, down from 27 per cent in July last year. It may not have escaped your notice that China now has the second-largest economy in the world and is almost certain to be the US's principal strategic rival in the 21st century, particularly in the Asia-Pacific.

Oh indeed. Especially the Asia-Pacific. But wait, I'd like a set of paranoid steak knives with that. Can I have an elaboration on why American defence spending will be cut and we'll be left all alone in the Pacific and the yellow peril, the Asian hordes will pour down and take over Australia?

It is, in other words, a pre-programmed reality of US fiscal policy today that the resources available to the Department of Defense will be reduced in the years to come. Indeed, by my reckoning, it is quite likely that the US could be spending more on interest payments than on defence within the next decade.

By golly, that sounds alarming. But doesn't that mean they'll still be spending a huge amount on defence, so they can still fight totally useless wars in Afghanistan, to keep the opium trade flourishing? And pay interest for the pleasure?

No, no, no. It's all coming to an end, and possibly by noon tomorrow.

You see, all the two dollar stores flogging Chinese junk in America are going to collapse, and that will mean the Chinese will start selling their shoddy two dollar goods to ... Mongolia ...

Steady, no need to brood on the intricacies at play in a global world where any one economy is deluded if it thinks it can escape the flu from the sneezes of its neighbours.

No, instead let's get cracking again on that paranoia:

Australia's post-war foreign policy has been, in essence, to be a committed ally of the US.

But what if the sudden waning of American power that I fear brings to an abrupt end the era of US hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region? Are we ready for such a dramatic change in the global balance of power?

And quite possibly, having a view to the suddenness of historical change, by 12 noon on Friday week, if not tomorrow, and then where will we all be?

Judging by what I have heard here since I arrived last Friday, the answer is no. Australians are simply not thinking about such things.

A favourite phrase of this great country is "No dramas". But dramas lie ahead as the nasty fiscal arithmetic of imperial decline drives yet another great power over the edge of chaos.

Oh well played Chicken Little, a stout hearted knock in two rags simultaneously and on the same day.

But then it's truly wondrous that based on historical analysis, we can at last and in a forthright way conclude that dramas lie ahead. Who'd have thought it, clearly based on only a cursory study of the last few thousand years of human history.

But just what the fuck is a country of 21 odd million going to precisely do about the activities of a billion or so to the north, not to mention the carry on of 300 million plus in the grip of a deluded tea party?

Never mind, I'm sure that we'll all miss the United States when it goes, perhaps not by Friday but certainly in a fortnight, but here's hoping that on the way out, they remember to turn off the lights.

And turn on the nukes. That's right, what better way to prove Ferguson right, and wrong, all in the same breath, by dropping a few nukes here and there ...

You know, if there's going to be a big bang apocalypse, let's do better than Sydney's fireworks on new year's eve.

Meanwhile, what to do in Oz? Well we could decide to ban wandering itinerant ratbags who've been doing the tour to the colonies sounding the alarums about dangers confronting the country for a hundred years or more.

Yep it started as long ago as the nineteenth century when rumours of a Russian invasion were cranked up by The Times in 1864, and there's a nice summary of early visits of Russian warships to Australia here.

Of course the one time the British might have come in handy in relation to a possible actual invasion (and never mind those who say the Japanese never contemplated invading Australia), the guns of Singapore proved spectacularly useless. Well that's one bloody useless empire the world is well shod of, and now we have a bloodless commonwealth, even if the Indians can't put on a games to shower bread and circuses on the punter s...

So what to do? Well I guess we can always follow the example of Pig Iron Bob and keep on shipping that iron ore over to the Chinese ... and living off the fat of the land ... until they ship it back.

Or hang on, perhaps we could build a nuke and nuke 'em.

Or perhaps I should just stop reading double bunger offerings of paranoia and fear mongering ...

No dramas, dinkum Oz Amazonian butterfly.

(Below: eek, we got that wrong, it ain't a flood of Ruskis, it's a flood of Celestials).

Miranda Devine, gender politics redux, and a dash of hot chilli climate change to add a little spice ...

(Above: yes this week at the pond we're touting the Women's Weekly and if you rush off to their site you can get spiffing pictures of Julia Gillard and her most revealing interview yet, which is to say about as revealing as a woman in a burka).

What strange news to be reading in the middle of an election campaign.

That links from The Sydney Morning Herald. Now let me bring you the link from The Australian.

Wait a second, there doesn't seem to be anything on the digital front page. Might be in The World category. No, nothing there. Perhaps it's in Health and Science. No, sorry, doesn't seem to be anything there.

Guess we'll need to call together one hundred and fifty honest citizens to help The Australian discover the news, though perhaps that's the dumbest idea going around in federal politics. Either the notion that one hundred and fifty honest citizens could make sense of it all, or more to the point, that they could persuade the The Australian to take notice ...

Actually, I take all that back. The dumbest people discussing politics are the climate change deniers, not least and in no particular order, including but not limited to, Tim Blair, Janet Albrechtsen, Andrew the Melbourne Dolt, Miranda the Devine, and a whole gaggle and raft of correspondents for The Australian.

Meanwhile, if you head off to the Daily Terror in the UK, not the tragic imitation located in the antipodes, you get to read Met Office report: global warming evidence is 'unmistakeable'. And you cop a link to the Met Office here, which provides a summary, and a link to the actual annual report on the National Climatic Data Center here. Funny old parochial Brits, convinced that the Met is at the heart of things.

Never mind, I guess that 15,000 valiant Australian eco-green warriors will tour around Australia setting things right, restoring order, and making things safe for the planet.

Meanwhile, it's Miranda the Devine day, and naturally and conveniently, the climate isn't front and centre. No, she's drunk the same kool aid as Janet Albrechtsen, and her topic for the day involves gender studies, and Julia Gillard and it's all here in Impressive, but not a good look.

Oh dear lord, more blather about Gillard and kids and Abbott and kids and gender and women and men and worms and pink and blue and snails and puppy dog tails and ....

The Devine struggles to deal with the idea that Gillard has a picture spread in The Australian Women's Weekly - there's a slideshow here, and the interview is here and a behind the scenes, with a full 22 images, report here.

Ah yes, you can always rely on the Weekly for insights in to gender. But I digress. Having previously done her time as a prime candidate to become one of the 150 ordinary folk who need to find out about climate change, the Devine is now torn:

Julia Gillard's photos in The Australian Women's Weekly are beautiful. The soft cover image gives an impression of an attractive, warm and open person, with an appealing vulnerability the photographer says he detected during the shoot.

The 13-page spread for the Weekly's 2 million readers is electoral gold, especially when much is being made of the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott's, supposed lack of appeal with female voters and reports of a "gender gap" in the polls, highlighted by Channel Nine's ridiculous pink "female" worm during the debate.

Well at least we know that the Devine is a rusted on Nine viewer, since the worm on Seven was also divided into pink and blue, and it provided an even clearer indication that women in the audience couldn't stand Abbott when he opened his mouth, as politicians are wont to do when caught in a debate in front of the cameras (Women's worm gives Gillard win).

Naturally there's a conspiracy at work:

So moronic were the kneejerk responses of the pink worm, one senior journalist confessed to shouting at his television: "How stupid are women?"

Well, we're not stupid, and the responses of the hand-picked market research audience that stacks Nine's Willoughby studios on such occasions do not represent the political views of women.

Which means I guess that a hand-picked market research audience also stacked Seven's studios to ensure that the women in both studios acted exactly the same, except in a more so way at Seven.

Which leads me to think that maybe women in general aren't stupid, but can the same be said about the Devine?

Thereafter the Devine burbles on in a standard way, typical of the commentariat, and dare we say, as if she'd had a copy of Albrechtsen's copy yesterday close to hand.

Indeedy, reading her riff induces a profound case of ennui and tedium, since the point of the exercise is to explain why everyone must bury this female Caesar, and embrace that very masculine man and his right-thinking ways. How did it go in Shakespeare?

I come to bury Gillard, not to praise her;
The evil that women do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones,
So let it be with Gillard. The noble Abbott
Hath told you Gillard was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Gillard answered it ...
Suffering the indignities of a Weekly spread
Is just the start of it ...

Meanwhile it would be remiss of us, along with the Devine, not to mention Abbott's beautiful family, a great asset for a man tagged as having a problem appealing to women, though this is just the tag of a worm, and therefore not valid.

The gender gap in the polls, in any case, was less a reaction against Abbott than a rush of warm sisterly support for Gillard. Few women would not have appreciated the symbolism of Australia having its first female prime minister. But the novelty effect was only ever going to be short-lived.

Yep, so short lived that both the Devine and Albrechtsen feel the need to scribble about it within a day of each other, and brood about the perfidious role of The Australian Women's Weekly, and pray that gender won't have an influence on voting patterns, and rally to bury the ambitious Gillard and praise the noble Abbott.

Here's how that mantra runs:

While last week's Nielsen poll showed a significant percentage of women favouring Gillard, the Newspoll taken last weekend shows Labor's female primary vote dropped from 44 per cent to 40 per cent, while the Coalition's rose from 37 to 40. No doubt the questionable way in which Gillard rose to the top job has truncated her honeymoon with female voters.

And so on and on, at tedious, excruciating length, but let's cut to the chase and do a spoiler by revealing the end of the Devine's piece, and naturally it's the boys and unionists who are to blame:

The ALP-union boys club which runs the party are burning through Gillard on a punt. If she wins, they win. If she doesn't, she's finished - and that's all the better for Bill Shorten or whoever else among the ex-union heavies jostling to get to the top. They have put enormous pressure on the best female political operator in living memory. They have made her look insincere, superficial and scheming. She has lost the mantle of legitimacy and authority which, as the first woman leader, she especially needs to reassure voters.

Which is of course about as demeaning a view of Gillard as any man might manage. Because here's the thing. Nobody except Gillard in the end was responsible for her going in to tap former Chairman Rudd on the shoulder. She put up her hand and she did it herself. It's her choice, and she made no secret that at some time she wanted the top job, and then she moved when she thought the time was right.

To suggest she's just a patsy and it's all the fault of the boys is to demean her ability and skill as an operative, and her desire to run the show. Whether it works out in the long run, only time will tell. But to portray her as a patsy, and at the same time as the best female political operator in living memory, is so bizarrely stupid that ... that only Miranda the Devine could scribble it.

Of course all this is just a prelude for the Devine doing a mock turtle and blubbering about how sad it is that Abbott will bury Gillard:

The fate of the party is on her narrow shoulders. While she is valiantly battling through, something in Abbott's demeanour on debate night says he has her measure now, that his initial dismay at her ascension has dissipated. If Gillard fails she has gone down in everyone's estimation. She will be just another woman outsmarted. What a waste.

Remarkably the Devine is clearly out to prove that she can be as dumb as, or dumber than Janet Albrechtsen, with her vision of Gillard as just another woman outsmarted. Clearly she still thinks the gherkin of the week award for pathetic scribbling is still within her grasp.

Meanwhile, there's that business of climate change, and the notion that in due course the Devine will turn her attention away from gender, and on to actual issues. But then, if she pays attention to what actual scientists are saying, she might turn out to be just another woman outsmarted. What a waste.

Meanwhile, if we have another three weeks of blather and burble and bubble and blithering about gender in the election campaign, the odds are shortening that the pond will be shifting to the Arctic to join the poley bears in their fight against hot air ...

(Below: a couple of handy thumbnail Met graphs, sure to produce the next round of armchair denialists, busy doing field work from the comfort of their computer).

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Janet Albrechtsen, and Bill Heffernan's soul buddy strikes again ...

(Above: oh my dear sweet lord, the stars above, and Gillard in the pink below, as noted in Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard Women's Weekly cover girl. And amazingly, she's avoided lining up for more of this kind of nonsense right now).

It's one of the paradoxes of the media that it's still possible to get sound advice.

... those who follow the political debate faithfully might be better off taking an overseas holiday for the next three weeks. It's clear they'd miss little but aggravation.

The paradoxical truth is that modern election campaigns are aimed at those who aren't much interested in the topic. Swinging voters are assumed to be completely self-interested and short-sighted, driven by emotion rather than intellect, ill-informed and easily conned by slogans and television ads.

Hence all the nonsense we're hearing from both sides.

Yep, that'd explain my desire to throw a shoe through the TV when some gherkin of a reporter twittered about whether there'd be a wedding the lodge. (Marriage questions get a little too much).

Sure enough if you want a follow up to this pathetic personal presidential monarchist policy free zone style of political reporting, you only have to head off to Chairman Rupert's tabloid empire for Prime Minister hasn't ruled out marriage.

Well that's tremendous policy news. She hasn't ruled out marriage, which means all those who are married can breath a sigh of relief, since it means she won't be banning the institution any time soon. What's that, it's only about whether she'll marry her hairdresser first bloke?

I suppose you can expect relentless cretinism and low brow coverage from the Murdoch tabloid press, so deep in the mud in the gutter they never notice the stars above. Not like Julia. That's why you can get the cretinist conversation called The Punch delivering homilies like Helen McCabe's Come on Julia, let's see some more of Tim. What scandal does she have to report?

Mrs Abbott and the couple’s three daughters – Louise, Bridget and Frances appeared in The Australian Women’s Weekly in February and they immediately helped change people’s perception of the Liberal Party leader. Yet our request to photograph Mr Mathieson with Ms Gillard for AWW’s August cover was politely declined.

No wonder this country is lurching from policy crisis to policy crisis, governed by a remote woman who doesn't understand the importance of helping the Women's Weekly go on its merry tree killing way.

But never mind, you expect cretinous conversations in The Punch, and the tabloids. It's in their nature. Put it this way. You have the choice of reading the likes of Tim Blair and Andrew the Dolt on climate change, or you could read Orville Schell's review The Message from the Glaciers in the New York Review of Books.

Oops, sorry, this election is meant to be a policy free, thought free, intelligence free zone, dedicated to cretinisim in all its forms, and we mean no harm to actual cretins, but those who adopt cretinist postures without the justification of actual cretinism.

And who better to wheel in as exhibit number one than Janet Albrechtsen, presenting with excruciating honesty her capacity for cretinism, or perhaps that should be bile and personal attack dressed up as some kind of policy principle, in Let's be honest about Julia's free gender leg-up.

Yep, if the attack hounds are inclined to be reticent in a masculine way, in the presence of ladies, kind wimmin, southern belles, and virgins, send in the bitches:

To coin Julia Gillard's phrase, let's have a more honest conversation. Free from the sisterhood's political correctness, let's admit that she has pocketed a large part of the female vote and it has plenty to do with gender.

Yes of course, because women are blonde, and therefore dumb, or redhead, and therefore spiteful as well as dumb, or brunette, and therefore vicious as well as dumb. The best policy understanding you can get from any woman is "oh I do so love her hair, but are her poils right for that dress." Once that's sorted, women are simply compelled to vote for Gillard .

Albrechtsen's claim of honesty is cretinously pitiful because it purports to be serious, but it's just one long elaborate whinge, driven by the behaviour of the Channel 7 worm during the great debate. And the way the gender bias is working against poor hapless Tony Abbott, as a conspiracy threatens to overwhelm him:

Plenty of women will vote for Gillard because she is a woman. She will hate to admit it. And certainly the emerging media orthodoxy, a handy echo of the Labor line, is that gender will not play a role in the coming election. In fact, to listen to many in the media these past few days, the only voting bias they want to talk about is Tony Abbott trying to play some apparently unfair "family" card by mentioning his family, and, get this, appearing at a Brisbane childcare centre on Monday with his wife, Margie.

Labor women and their media boosters can't have it both ways. They can't support a gender leg-up for women such as Gillard in the form of quotas that helped the Member for Lalor into parliament and then claim that gender is irrelevant in the Gillard equation. If you play the first round using the gender ace card, relying on affirmative action quotas and the like, then gender talk will tend to follow you around. That, Labor ladies, is the price you pay letting the gender genie out of the bottle.

Labour ladies? Oh I know, she only does it to annoy, because she knows it teases. Speak roughly to your commentariat columnist, and beat her when she sneezes, for she can thoroughly enjoy the pepper when she pleases.

Having established a totally ersatz divide on the basis of the female worm winding its way across the screen on Sunday, Albrechtsen then embarks on an analysis of Gillard's style, which naturally discovers Labor baaad, Liberal good.

And where you might ask has this Albrechtsen gone, as in Julia less red and Kevin cautious:

Have you noticed anything different about Julia Gillard these days?

When she fronted ABC1's Q&A on Thursday evening it dawned on me. She looks damn good. Don't get me wrong. She never looked bad. And, no, I haven't fallen under the spell she has apparently cast over some right-wing chaps. The Sydney Morning Herald's Annabel Crabb wrote recently that some conservative media and political types were experiencing "turbulent and unpredictable urges" towards the Deputy Prime Minister. No, nothing so primal here.

This is a purely political observation that other women in my circle also have noted with interest. Could it be that the more Gillard pays attention to the way she looks, applying a little more blush to her cheeks and a splash of colour to her lips, the more Kevin Rudd can becertain that his deputy is aiming her ambition one step higher sooner than he may have imagined?

Oh sorry, it's actually more of the same, isn't it, with all that talk of a blush on her cheeks and a splash of colour to her lips. Albrechtsen goes on to blather about blonde streaks as well, before contemplating a few policies, and then rounding it out with this warning:

It is possible that her transformation from radical union activist to the epitome of centrist sweet reasonableness is a complete con. Nonetheless, it is working, positioning her perfectly for leadership after the next election.

Rudd will be the only one who did not laugh at the hilarious animated comedy skit at the end of Gillard's polished performance on Q&A where a make-up-less, grey-suited Julia re-emerges, morphs into a snake and swallows up her tediously boring leader.

Back in March, Albrechtsen was scribbling Rudd's easier for Abbott to knock out than Gillard:

Abbott needs to find the right balance between his social conservatism, which favours policies supporting the family, and his economic rationalism. A gold-plated parental leave policy that exceeds legislated leave entitlements in other countries and allows Greens leader Bob Brown to declare he has "been out-greened by Tony Abbott" is way off-kilter. After all, Abbott must prove he can be trusted to continue Howard's legacy of prudent economic management.

If Abbott loses the next election, his party will probably do what it normally does after a loss: within months it will replace its leader. And even if the party sticks with Abbott, his next contest is likely to be a much tougher one: a Gillard v Abbott match. The Liberal Party pugilist who won two Oxford blues for boxing once told a local English newspaper reporting his victorious debut match that he just made believe that his opponent in the ring was Hawke. This year he should imagine that he is fighting Gillard.

We could spend all day trawling through the past scribbles of Albrechtsen, but there might be a better case for Jonah to spend his time inside the belly of a whale, examining its entrails. So here we go, deep breath, and back into the present lump of commentariat scribbling:

If women are attracted to the new Prime Minister as a role model for their daughters, they might want to rethink that too. When Gillard knifed Rudd to become PM, the female principals at both my daughters' schools recorded it as a great win for women and urged their teenage charges to aim for the same high office.

Yet, if you look closely at Gillard's career, it has been a conscious rejection of the milestones many young women want. In the past, Gillard has talked about "the things we [women] have in common, experiences, choices, fears and hopes that our male colleagues may sympathise with but will never share". Yet she cannot share most of these things either.

Uh huh. We can see where this is heading. Right back to Bill Heffernan, though perhaps in a rarefied way, where the word barren is not mentioned once, but it runs through the lines like a ghostly shadow with a sinister sneer and pursed lips. Ah remember good old Bill, back in the May of '07, and Heffernan's 'barren' comments appalling: Turnbull.

Uh huh. So how's it going to run now?

The sisterhood should stop reading right about now.

Oh what a tease. She knows how to tease, and by golly, I've got some pepper waiting, for when she sneezes.

Most young women want a career, they want to get married, they want a family life with children racing around their ankles and driving them nuts. As brilliant as Gillard's achievements are, she is no role model for girls who want more than a career.

Yes, you see, because she's barren! Why she's not even married, and she might move into the lodge in a de facto relationship, not having pissed a huge amount of money up against the wall on a wedding or posed for photos for the front cover of The Australian Women's Weekly.

She's not a woman, she's a bloody Australian nightmare.

It must be wonderful to be a soul buddy with Bill Heffernan, and once she's got the knife in the carcass, Albrechtsen is happy to twist and turn it in whatever spiteful, malicious way she can manage:

Gillard admits she never wanted children or marriage. She has showcased a bare home and an empty kitchen as badges of honour and commitment to her career. She has never had to make room for the frustrating demands and magnificent responsibilities of caring for little babies, picking up sick children from school, raising teenagers. Not to mention the needs of a husband or partner. Perhaps Gillard's very different choices explain why, according to sources leaking to Channel 9's Laurie Oakes last night, Gillard objected to the Rudd government's paternity leave scheme. It's taken a bloke -- Opposition Leader Tony Abbott -- to provide a very personal commitment to paternity leave. Gillard's opposition is a reminder that good policies do not depend on the gender.

Uh huh. Good policies not depending on gender! You've probably forgotten what Albrechtsen scribbled, just as Albrechtsen has, and even though it was only a few pars ago, let me present it again with heavy handed irony and a supercilious sneer:

Abbott needs to find the right balance between his social conservatism, which favours policies supporting the family, and his economic rationalism. A gold-plated parental leave policy that exceeds legislated leave entitlements in other countries and allows Greens leader Bob Brown to declare he has "been out-greened by Tony Abbott" is way off-kilter. After all, Abbott must prove he can be trusted to continue Howard's legacy of prudent economic management.

Yep, Albrechtsen swings in the breeze with naked contradiction and hapless cheerleading, and if we were of her ilk, we'd say blonde cheerleading:

By all means celebrate Gillard's choice to be different. But don't vote for her to prove to our daughters that girls can have it all. A real win for feminism will be recorded when a woman is elected prime minister thanks to sound policies rather than some free gender kick, no matter how well intentioned.

Would that be the sound policy that's way off-kilter and proves Abbott can't be trusted to continue Howard's legacy of prudent economic management.

Albrechtsen usually purports to be a personality free, intellectual, policy driven zone, careful to avoid ad hominem crap, but when it comes to the crunch, she's just another tabloid cheerleader member of the commentariat, and wreathed in contradictions.

If there were a Keith Olbermann down under award for worst person in the world, or perhaps worst scribbling member of the commentariat award, this week's effort would win hands down.

In the meantime, can we just award her a consolation prize, as the worst perpetrator of ad hominen drivel in the guise of policy analysis award.

Gherkin of the week, and in line for the much esteemed cretin of the month prize, no matter the stiff competition from other parts of Chairman Rupert's empire ...

(Below: and now a reminder of the good old days, and the way it should be, when a woman met a man, and they danced, and he was a good dancer, and they laughed, in a carefree way, and after a chaste courtship, he proposed on his knee, and they spent a shitload on the wedding, and had many happy children frolicking all around them, right under their feet, and then he was caught with the leader of a band in the local motel and they got divorced, but they always had that cover of the Australian Women's Weekly to remind them of the way things once had been. Memories, from the corner of our minds).