Friday, July 24, 2009

Some final housekeeping for the moment

Loon Pond has now shifted and gone HERE.

The Michael Duffy Files has now been running a tad over a year. It started as a jolly jape, though not amongst chums, by dedicating itself to the task of celebrating, disputing and excoriating the opinions of commentariat columnist Michael Duffy in the Sydney Morning Herald - such monomaniacal scribbling seemed a way of ensuring it would remain largely invisible to the world while acting as a kind of deep emotional therapy for the writer.

Alas Michael Duffy ceased writing for the Herald, though you can still catch him trilling away on Counterpoint at Radio National, available in transcript sometimes or for listening and downloading here.

So then the site shifted over to a look at other commentariat columnist loons on a more regular basis, and alarmingly it began to attract readers and of course loons. Many more than expected, and while of course sensible readers only admired the plumage and the loud squawking before moving on, the odd loon left a note to indicate that indeed the site struck chords. Even if they were discordant chords only suitable for inclusion in a Stockhausen concert.

Perhaps my fondest memory is of a loon from Nedlands in Western Australia who kept coming here in search of Hal G. P. Colebatch and leaving naughty anonymous messages, when he could just as easily have met Mr. Colebatch in his local coffee shop.

But as the readership began to grow and the loons began to squawk and prowl, it became painfully clear that calling the site after Mr. Duffy was both unfair and improper, at least after he became invisible and absent. After all, as vile progressives, who amongst us can believe in absentee landlords or absentee columnists?

While the title was changed to Loon Pond as an interim measure, the site now pops up all over the place bearing Mr. Duffy's name in its address and as a reference point. And some of the odium and opprobrium for its anti conservative bias no doubt lingers around him. This is hardly fair, because as columnists go, Mr. Duffy was largely inoffensive and on occasions sensible, and it's simply not right to have him somehow linked in to a commentary on deeply weird loons like Piers Akerman or Janet Albrechtsen. 

Unlike others, Mr. Duffy has shown a steely indifference to this blog, which is both sporting and sensible, and so it's only fair to call a halt after a year of musings under his name.

Which is not to say it's gone forever, so much as taking a rest, in much the same way as Jeffrey Bernard was regularly unwell.

If Mr. Duffy ever decides to return to regular column, the Michael Duffy Files will be on hand to pay devoted attention to his scribbling. 

But in the meantime, Loon Pond has shifted to its very own site and very own call sign.

If you want to visit Loon Pond, go HERE.

Apologies to all those who rely on bookmarks and similar intertubes folderol.

If you don't want to visit, fair enough, you may bugger off. It is after all only a form of therapy for the writer, and the fewer the loons that visit, the happier we all are (especially the loons from Nedlands, WA).

In any case, to borrow from Irish comedian Dave Allen, goodnight, thank you, and may your god go with you, whomever she might be.

Actually I don't think Dave said that last bit, but hey why not fling in a plug for Dave Allen's comedy stylings and the joys of being a practising atheist.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Little Housekeeping

A little housekeeping.

In the tradition of the true blue dinky di Australian, Dorothy is off to her heartland roots. No, not the Algonquin hotel in midtown Mahattan, home of the wonderful real Dorothy Parker, with her sashay and style, but rather the wonderful town of Tamworth, home of country music and the sad ersatz papier-mâché fake wannabe Dorothy Parker (and now you understand the root cause of schizophrenia).

In this dark and remote wilderness, there is little by way of internet cafes, or wifi, and less by way of arty crafty chardonnay and lefties. So Dorothy will probably do a little shooting and kill a few bunnies and down a few ales (make it dark, good fellow, like a Newcastle old), and a scone or three and a cup of tea or ten, and heck if a petrol head like Tim Blair can go to Townsville, some day he might become a real man and get into a fight in Maguires. In the meantime, we heartland Australians must consider him a poseur and a ponce and a flibbertygibbet, and likely to get nosebleed ten kilometres out of a major metropolis if there longer than a day.

And by the way if you saw tonight's Four Corners, maintain the rage about the coal miners wanting to fuck over the Liverpool plains. Love the country, you Liberal fuckers ... and so called Nationalists ... and to hell with the Labor party while we're at it ...

You've ruined the Hunter valley. Enough already.

Tim Andrews, Jeff Koons, bodacious babes, and a plan to save Australia and turn it into a free market pond

(Above: bodacious babe Young Liberals as celebrated by Tim Andrews).

The intertubes is a fickle and cruel world. It's full of jealour malice and little green rats that gnaw away at your heart, which admittedly isn't so cruel as the pink elephants that tormented my grand pappy once he got into the moonshine (come on grand pappy tell us again about the Somme in the winter of 1917 and how it turned you into a raging drunk).

And sometimes I wonder how it is that Andy Warhol's allocation of fame has been reduced from fifteen minutes to fifteen seconds. That hardly seems fair, after all, it's hard work being Jeff Koons and marrying sex workers and making flower puppies (now residing in Bilbao) and finding you have to reduce the prices for your pieces from 20 to 10 million.

And can you now recall Tim Andrews, who briefly achieved notoriety by putting pictures of bodacious Liberal babes on his blog, some of them reading Ayn Rand? That's still the thing I can't get over. Ayn Rand!

It was like an act of hatred, like the cutting blow of a lash encircling her body: she felt his arms around her, she felt her legs pulled forward against him and her chest bent back under the pressure of his, his mouth on hers (Atlas Shrugged).

Well it's good to know that minor skirmish with the shallow sordid world of Murdochian tabloidism hasn't put Tim off blogging or conspiring to change the shape of Australian politics.

How I Plan to Dedicate My Life to Reforming Australian Politics is his latest clarion call, in which he announces his plan to fix things up by making Australia a free market in everything (especially rough trade porn, I hope, for the sake of young Liberals everywhere).

Now I don't have a problem with that, in the sense that politics can always do with a shake up. But I just can't figure the angles. You see, like Rupert Murdoch, Tim says he's become an American citizen.

Most importantly though, I have the fortune of having won that roulette of lottery that is US citizenship, and have taken advantage of it. This, more than anything else, I cannot overstress the value of. Unless you have been here, no-one can actually understand the difference that living in the US makes. The fact that I am immersed in the core of the future of free market advocacy, means that I will have unparalleled skills necessary to be able to do this back in Australia. And these skills are impossible to pick up at home.

Um, but Tim, why not stay in America and fix it up? The Republican party is now barking mad right wing extreme, and if it's to come in from the cold, it needs the help of moderate, sane voices who can help it to the middle. In much the same way as the Liberal party doesn't need rhetoric about serfdom so much as a trip to the middle and power. So what's this about giving up on the Liberal party? Just because you want to set up an activist grassroots free market advocacy organization? (and please use zeee instead of s so your American spell checker doesn't create a fuss):

Obviously, this means that I can no longer be an active member of the Liberal Party. From a personal perspective, this pains me greatly; after all, I have dedicated almost half of my life to serving the Party. I know the personal losses that leaving will cause. Yet is necessary. There is, after all, no way I can objectively advocate sound policy, while I have a vested interest in one political party. Oh don’t get me wrong, doubtlessly I shall continue to be a member, to try to influence people as best as I can. But I cannot – and will not – continue to waste my time with the petty childish sandpit of internal party politics, nor place myself in a position where I can no-longer critique the party from outside.

Um, you're a member but you're not a member? Well if you can be an American and an Australian, I suppose it's the right stance.

But you know at the same time, perhaps you should re-think job advertising on the intertubes. There's no doubt that you have impressive credentials:

Firstly, I think it’s rather important to note that, to some degree at least, I do actually possess a brain and the ability to use it. I don’t know how I can objectively demonstrate this, other than to point out that my UAI of 99.85 (for all the flaws the UAI contains) does place me in the top 0.15% of the population intellectually (and, correct me if I’m wrong, is the highest in the NSW YL’s for the last 10 years or so).

Academically, I have a Bachelors of Economics (Social Sciences), with a double major in Government and International Relations, with a minor in economics. I have a Bachelor of Laws (Honours), with a primary focus in jurisprudence, and the relationship between politics and law. I also have a Masters in Public Policy, again, rather relevant to the intellectual underpinnings of what I wish to achieve.

But you know that's just a bunch of academic qualifications, and we know what we all think about academics. I'd have been more impressed if you'd said bugger the academic qualifications, I just want to make a shitload of money in an entrepreneurial way. The rest of the CV is equally fine, but I do wonder why you want to set up a freemarkets grassroots advocacy group in Australia:

So why exactly do I want to do this. The answer is unfortunately simple: there is no-one else. I mean this by no means out of arrogance, but simply as a statement of fact. There is no-one else who wants to do this. After all, I fully recognise I need more than simply desires, I need concrete skills. So let us look at my skillet as objectively as possible.

Um, okay, let's overlook the skillet business and your persistent refusal to use zeee instead of s, but have you thought of a reverse takeover of the Sydney Institute, run by that desiccated coconut and aging free market figure Gerard Henderson (here)?

Henderson hanging on by the fingernails? Never mind, let's look at your pitch:

I have no doubt whatsoever that we need to set up a free market grassroots advocacy group in Australia. I have no doubt that this is essential if we want to prosper as a society and not tumble headfirst down the road to serfdom. I believe, therefore, that I am the person with the enthusiasm, the experience, and the skills to make this happen.

So help me. Please help me. I cannot do this on my own. I cannot raise the money necessary, I cannot come up with the business plan, I cannot create the strategy by myself. I need your help. So please, contact me, and together, we can change Australia.

If you and I fail, if together we can not start up a genuine advocacy group, then freedom in Australia truly is doomed.

You can't do a business plan? You can't raise the money? You want it all handed to you on a plate? Then truly Australia and freedom are in trouble, and the road to serfdom likely. A degree in economics and you can't do a business plan? WTF. Truly, we are doomed, and likely so is America.

Having thus established the necessity for such an organisation, the obvious question is: why me? Am I really so arrogant as to believe I can personally reshape the Australian political landscape? Is my ego so big that I really think I can bring about that much change?

Well it'd have to be big to think about changing everything without being able to do a business plan. My advice? Either keep on with the bodacious babes, or toughen up, stop the bleeding over the intertubes, and for the love of the lord work out how to do a business plan. Or arrange for a bus to run over Gerard Henderson.

And can the condescension:

The core idea is simple: Create an activist grassroots free market advocacy organisation. Something to take abstract ideas, intellectual theories, and policy papers, and package them into something nice and simple that your average citizen can understand. To set up an organisation to fight in the trenches, to spread the message, to actually engage in the battle of ideas. Australia has some of the best think tanks in the world, in the CIS and IPA, but they are think tanks – they are not ground troop warriors. And that is what we need. And I want to set something up to actually be such warriors.

Dumb it down for the average citizen so they can understand it? The average citizen can do a business plan ... they do it every week in every year. You should get down in the trenches with them some time ...

(Below: bodacious Jeff Koons, and while in Bilboa can I recommend Licor de Hierbas, more potent than acid on an empty stomach. You will outshine Fellini in your dreaming).

David Gazard, Politics, the Church and feeling sorry for christians

(Above: Life of Brian. Blessed are the cheesemakers, and if you think that's a typo for peace makers you haven't read David Gazard. Enough with your UN talk of peace making with black helicopters, what about the sterling work of cheese makers feeding the poor as small businessmen facing the crushing burden of socialism).

When you look at The Punch often enough, Australia's dumbest conversation, the befuddled editorial policies tend to come into balance.

Throw in a bit of populism (MasterChef), a Labor politician or two for balance, a Liberal to tip the scales the other way, then flavor it with a soupçon of loon.

David Gazard does nicely as a prime contender for loon pond gold status with his contribution Churches pray for terrorist and ignore a businessman, which yet again recycles comparisons between locked up in China businessman Stern Hu, against locked up in Guantanamo Bay David Hicks.

Gazard's target is Christians and their churches - and who can argue with that - but his argument is so full of holes and illiberal illogic that you just wish there was some other character roaming around the temples taking on the money lenders.

Let's cut to the chase here:

As a person of faith who holds a deep interest in politics, I think it is in our nation’s interest for the church to help fill the moral and spiritual vacuum. And there are a great many churches out there doing just that.

But if the traditional church is to succeed, it must get back to doing what it does best, delivering a spiritual message, not attempting to replicate a Left-of-centre political party or Greenpeace.

WTF? Oh yes, I can just imagine Gazard way back when writing an editorial for the Jerusalem Times reporting that a strange figure was seen roaming around the temples over turning tables and benches and getting upset about a few guys selling a few doves (and won't someone speak up for the doves).

If the traditional Mr. Christ is to succeed in his new ministry, Gazard might harumph, he needs to get back to doing what he does best - you know, miracles and stuff, and spiritual messages about Christmas and Easter, not attempting to replicate some kind of socialistic agenda about innocent money lenders and dove and rug dealers doing a bit of business in the temples. 

It's that kind of Greenpeace Gaia nonsense, Gazard might continue in his op ed,  which makes me wonder if he's the right kind of character to fill in the moral and spiritual vacuum around town. I've even heard he's used his skills to create wine, and I understand he keeps the company of peasants and prostitutes, rather than upstanding company directors and honest traders.

But wouldn't you know it. The brand new nineteen sixties moral and spiritual vacuum was created by Marxist baby boomers. Good news for vegan Adolf Hitler, and no need to worry about breaking Godwin's law:

The retiring Bishop of Rochester, Dr Nazir-Ali traces the decline of the church in Britain back to the 1960s when there was a steep decline in Christian worship.

Marxist students encouraged a “social and sexual revolution” to which liberal theologians and Church leaders “all but capitulated,” he says.

“It is this situation that has created the moral and spiritual vacuum in which we now find ourselves. While the Christian consensus was dissolved, nothing else, except perhaps endless self-indulgence, was put in its place.”

Oh yes, if you want wild sexual liberation, go to Russia and China and see how exciting it gets there. Luckily the United States has nothing to do with endless self-indulgence, given it never fell to Marxism. 

What's that you say? How dare you equate my plasma screen and playstation box with mindless self-indulgence.

You see, there's endless self indulgence, and then there's mindless self-indulgence, and you must always be ready to separate the two.

And then of course there's the indulgences you can buy (any good church will sell you one), and the indulgence of being born gay or a woman, and really complicating matters. 

The next thing you know Christians will be ordaining gays to take a place in the church. Or -s steady, don't faint - women. Why on earth can't the traditional church agree on a traditional social agenda. You know, Islamics terrible and gay people even worse. Women a necessary evil.

Lordy, some of these clerics can't even agree on whether god actually exists. Or if he or she is an actual sex, or whether (s)he is some kind of bizarre TG kind of creature, or whether (s)he might be a socialist marxist or even worse a one legged lesbian whale lover.

But back to the beginning. Gazard opens in best debating school manner:

I keep waiting for the traditional church to launch its campaign against the government’s treatment of boat people.

Perhaps Stern Hu needs a rocket launcher to get the churches' attention

After all, boats carrying asylum seekers keep entering Australian waters in greater numbers, there are allegations that boats are left to drift and, worst of all, some have perished along the way.

I glance skyward in Melbourne, looking for the immense banner hanging from the spire St Paul’s Cathedral, like there was a few years ago. Instead of “Justice for David Hicks”, it will read “Justice for SIEV 624”.

“Excising islands and placing boat people in New Guinea and Nauru and so removing them from access to the Australian legal system was too clever and inhuman. Have we no sense of shame as a nation?” asked the Most Reverend Peter R Watson, then the Archbishop of Melbourne in 2004.

Surely Rev Watson, or his successor Dr Philip Freier, who defended the “Justice for David Hicks” banner, will be out of the blocks soon to criticise the fact that boatpeople are dying and to demonstrate the traditional church’s deep adherence to social justice is non-partisan.

Err, actually it seems Gazard hasn't read Piers Akerman. 

Once you've done that, you know that the current government is way too soft on illegal asylum seekers. Akkers is outraged at the way the government has helped out these wretched aliens. So what's for the clerics to protest at? All's peace and love under the christian Chairman Rudd.

Could it be that - gasp - Akkers is wrong. The government is still being tough? Gazard seems to think so, in which case me and Akkers must have missed the mail. I find it hard to believe, but that would certainly give the clerics some work to do.

Well, err actually that might explain why some of the clerics do think the government is still being too tough. Gazard doesn't seem to notice that the wretched do gooders and soft sook Christians are still out there raging at the government for being too hard on asylum seekers. But I guess they do it in publications that Gazard doesn't bother to read (on pink paper). 

I guess if it's not in a huge banner on a cathedral these harmless do gooders going quietly about their work are invisible.

But then there's nothing like conflating a businessman held in prison in the one party state of communist China (still not up to a month) versus the treatment handed out to David Hicks (years and years) - and many others, innocent and guilty - by a country which is supposedly the leader of the free world, and which in this matter and the question of torture should have known better.

How about using hanging as a metaphor to make your point? Sure thing:

Or how about this for something really radical, seeing as the Melbourne Anglicans felt that a self professed terrorist needed support because he was held without charge: “Justice for Stern Hu.”

I’m not going to swing by the neck waiting.

Well I'm not going to state the obvious, which is that high church types seem to love supporting the pillars of state, and think the church should be one of those pillars, so that then the true believers can berate all the do gooders and lefty activists. Just like Gazard:

The point of this column is not to state the obvious. That the social justice wing of the traditional church is infected with Left-wing activists, many of whom would be agnostics at best or atheists at worst is well known and well documented.

And it’s not to have a crack at the social justice agenda or the people deeply committed to making their society or community a better place. And it’s not to make the argument that the church should never involve itself in politics. That would be ridiculous.

Yep, that's the christian church all right. Infested with agnostics or atheists. In fact atheists can't think of anything better to do with their time than go along on a Sunday and stand shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of Ned Flanders. 

Which is terrible when you think about it. Because the church should of course support right wing politics, as natural and relevant today as part of Christ's message when he was way back riding donkeys and saying things about the ease with which rich people could get through eyes of needles straight into heaven (while the poor would be left waiting to collect two hundred dollars from go or Old Kent road). 

After all, General Franco was a jolly good Catholic and he ran Spain in fine style. Back then the traditional church was really relevant. Right now?

... the traditional church is ushering itself to irrelevance.

I write this in the full knowledge that the church has made a big difference for the better on some big political issues, the abolition of slavery for one.

Not that in the old days the church had any understanding of the policy positions in relation to slavery, or the expertise to push any position at all when you remember that slavery successfully underpinned several economies. 

And still does, and still can if we had only a modicum of policy sanity in the church. Unlike the festering lovey dovey position in relation to gays and women, two groups who seem to think that somehow they deserve equality in all things, when we know that doesn't serve the bible or the economy.

But on some issues, the church has no business pushing any position. It does not have policy expertise to do so. It’s trenchant opposition to the GST, for instance, proved that.

And there’s a big difference between slavery and garden variety political issues of the type that the church involves itself with more and more these days.

Yes, they should stick to tea and cheese and cucumber sandwiches.

Stop globalisation rally, the church will be there. Walk against the G8 Summit, the church will be represented—along with every other activist group and ratbag anarchist.

Leaked union documents before the last election showed the ACTU had a deliberate strategy to infiltrate churches in a bid to get them to push a pro-union message.

And, of course, the church did.

Pro unionist lick spittle lackeys. That's the christians. In fact it might not be so bad to have an honesty survey at the front door of the church, and if we find a unionist pretending to be a christian, he can be prevented from entering the service. Come unto me little children, but you have to draw the line somewhere and it may as well be big fat surly union thugs of the CFMEU kind.

Is the church the winner in any of this? Not if you count numbers, it isn’t.

While traditional church leaders might get a thrill out of seeing themselves in newspapers commenting on “cutting edge issues”, the sad reality is that people are staying away in droves.

Ah yes, cutting edge issues. Like those vexatious gay and noisy harridan women.

Not that this might have anything to do with people actually stopping believing in god or preferring material things or discovering different kinds of spirituality. No, it's because people would much prefer to join the Greens, with their weird religious faith and capable campaigning style:

This makes sense because other organizations are better equipped to run political campaigns.

If you want liberal policies and political campaigns, you go to the Greens website, not waste your Sunday morning on a Uniting Church pew listening to environmental policy.

The Greens don’t bother with rhetoric about saving souls on the way to figuring out how to save a tree.

And dammit christians shouldn't go on about saving a tree when they should be saving souls. After all, the tree can be chopped down and turned into something useful, like a crucifix.

So in persistent advocacy of secular issues, the church has willingly allowed itself to become no different to most of the other voices across the Left of the political spectrum.

And that means that, in the political cacophony, it carries a diminished voice, because it has no specific expertise, no particular skill set with which to argue its case.

Yes, and I've always found the word of god to be singularly useless in understanding the world or why we live in it, and isn't it particularly pleasing that Gazard notes that as policy advice the bible is hopeless, and that his church - even with the bible to hand - is absolutely lacking in specific expertise and skill sets. Christ is just another socialist dipstick, the Lenin to God's rampant Marxism.

And there you have it. What a great rant. 

For a moment I almost felt sorry for the soft core christians being given a lashing by Gazard. After all, it takes a particularly peculiar kind of understanding of spirituality to think that somehow it's like the inside of a walnut, capable of being separate from the world, whether that be left of centre or right of centre, or outside or inside of politics, as if the word of god should have no impact on the ways and means of how you make your way through the world. 

You know, like you loot and pillage the earth and humanity, and then you front up at the end, cheeky and bold as brass, and you get a cadillac class trip to heaven, with gold handles (no gilt please) running on good old fashioned 12 miles to the gallon leaded petrol. As  if there's politics and religion and never the twain should meet, and never have done in the past and never will in the future, unless the politics are Gazard approved political stances. As individual as a cloning stamp.

After all, we all know that Christ said give to Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's. But that was just a cunning answer to avoid being trapped by lawyers, priests and politicians. You will note he didn't say exactly what was Caesar's and what was God's. For that you have to look at his ambit claims and they were pretty wide. Like life and love and death and the whole damn thing.

For example, want Christ's views on the military and on theft and on being forced to go an extra mile?

If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38-41)

Oh yes, it's a tough religion all right, and Gazard doesn't have a clue, so why am I unsurprised to discover he's worked for Peter Costello, who you will recall hung around with clap happy types until they decided the Victorian bushfires were due to abortion law reform.

And at that point I thought what the heck. Let Gazard tear the christians apart like a lion in the colosseum. Where's the harm in that? A few less christians, and more memberships for unions, socialist parties, lefty wanker go gooder revolutionary parties, greenies and Greenpeace. 

Because if a high church is a place for high dudgeon, Gazard's welcome to dwell there with any like mind he can find ... while the rest of us can get on with the tricky business of living and not getting the neighbors too agitated ...

And now we turn to the text for the day:

Mrs. Big Nose: [trying to hear Jesus' sermon on the mount] Oh, it's blessed are the MEEK! Oh, I'm glad they're getting something, they have a hell of a time.
Reg: What Jesus fails to appreciate is that it's the meek who are the problem.

Brian: No, no. Please, please please listen. I've got one or two things to say.
The Crowd: Tell us! Tell us both of them!
Brian: Look, you've got it all wrong. You don't need to follow me. You don't need to follow anybody! You've got to think for yourselves! You're all individuals!
The Crowd: Yes! We're all individuals!
Brian: You're all different!
The Crowd: Yes! We're all different!
Man in crowd: I'm not...
Man in crowd: Shhh!
Brian: You've all got to work it out for yourselves.
The Crowd: Yes! We've got to work it out for ourselves!
Brian: Exactly!
The Crowd: Tell us more!
Brian: No! That's the point! Don't let anyone tell you what to do! Otherwise - Ow! Ow!

Mike Rann, twits twittering, and the joy of not having a filter

You can always rely on a preening Mike Rann, premier of South Australia, for a bit of old fashioned hypocrisy.

This week the ostensible subject is Twitter, with the subtext how wired Rann is, along with the democratic joys that hot electrification brings. Get busy Tweeting or get busy dying, he triumphantly blogs, and perhaps best of all is the way politicians can avoid the filter of the mainstreeam media:

Twitter followers want straight talk, humour and occasionally a stoush.

They don’t want sanitised, bureaucratic blandishments.

Funnily enough, some reporters can’t deal with Twitter. It makes them defensive.

This puzzles me.

After all, Rupert Murdoch understands the new media. Some of his journalists don’t.

Is it because pollies are now able to communicate directly with the public, rather than through a filter?

That'd be the local media filter rather than Stephen Conroy's internet wide filter? Suddenly I prefer the local media filter.

You can hear the sneering resentment when we are quoted as “speaking on the social networking site, Twitter, …”

That’s like newspapers reporting quotes gleaned from a politician speaking “through the fax stream” or even “through the internet device known as email”.

Or perhaps like newspapers reporting quotes gleaned from a politician speaking from behind the Chinese bamboo internet curtain, or the theocratic Iranian intertubes censorship system, or Stephen Conroy's Steve Fielding approved network wide internet device known as network level filtering, as a bonus add on to the NBN.

I’ve also been attacked because a handful of my Twitter “followers” may be involved in “unsavoury activities”.

The Liberal’s raincoat brigade trawled through thousands of my followers and handed over the naughty tit-bits to a fellow traveller in the media.

It was the same team that brought down their own leader by peddling dodgy documents. Sleaze is their substitute for substance.

I’m sure the risqué also follow Malcolm Turnbull.

Well we won't have any sleazy stuff or the risqué to worry about when Stephen Conroy's grand plan kicks into gear, along with his three strikes and you're off the intertubes plan for dealing with pirates. Then the raincoat brigade will have to go back to trawling through garbage bins or their local purveyor of brown paper cover publications.

‘The Australian’, in particular, seems to have got its knickers in a knot.

It’s the newspaper that campaigns against censorship, and its sister publications carry advertisements for “escorts”.

Lordy, say it ain't so. Well Stephen Conroy will soon sort out that mob. Once the intertubes are banned from carrying anything hinting at escorts, maybe it'll be time to start on the filthy hard copy brethren.

I guess I could vet those who follow me on Twitter.

But that would be like employing a bouncer, or a censor, at my street corner meetings.

Yes, and why employ a bouncer or a censor when Stephen Conroy is to hand.

For me, Twitter represents a “virtual” town hall meeting.

It’s a talkback show involving thousands of people who are interested in policies, programs, and personalities.

After all, politics is a contest of ideas and personalities.

Soon, Twitter won’t seem so threatening to journalists, especially when they realise that their own jobs are likely to be on-line.

Or perhaps on the line, unless they adapt to new technologies.

Ultimately, it’s about giving people what they want, whether they are readers or voters.

I always thought that twitter was for twits, and know I know that giving voters what they want is giving them the tweets of Mike Rann, I'm sure of it.

Meantime, after all this talk of freedom from bouncers and censors - and presumably that includes right wing thuggess from the federal Labor party - I look forward to Mike Rann's active campaigning against Stephen Conroy and his desire to impose a network wide filter on the intertubes in Australia.

I'm dreaming? 

When will we be rid of the prattling prats from the Labor party? Oh and here's a warning from Rann to Mark Day that newspapers are dead, along with a guide to what we can expect when twits are ascendant:

I started using Twitter earlier this year.


Essentially, because I rarely saw young people at my street corner and town hall meetings.

Newspapers are having to appeal to a new, younger, audience by going on-line.

People are no longer content to have their news thrown over the fence once a day.

So media is adapting to changing consumer demands. If they don’t, they’ll perish.

The same is true for politicians.

By Twittering, I am reaching a different audience.

But it’s not just a one-way street.

Through Twitter, people ask me questions. They argue. They disagree. Feedback is healthy in a democracy.

Twitter also takes up very little of my time.

Takes up very little of his time? Gee, I guess that means the healthy feedback is very short, the questions are simple minded, the arguments soon disposed of and the disagreements just a misunderstanding amongst chums. See it the Rann way, or see the highway.

Presumably that's because Rann can dispense with the twittering twits providing tweetish feedback. 

You know: healthy feedback. 

Oh Mr Rann, you're wonderful. Thnks u2.

And then even healthier feedback:

Oh Mr. Rann you do blather on. I b so 1337 Teh ful be pwned.

And then Conroy style feedback:

Oh Mr. Rann ain't freedom wonderful. Ful, pr0n b deadly, phreak off. Conry b teh d00d

Ah yes, the brand new state of the art uncensored world of high technology in the land of Labor twits twittering their tweets. And yes if you want to see Mike Rann in his full intertubes glory, so wired he's so over My Space, rush off to to see him in his old media My Space days here.

Props to Don Dunstan for this (no not the real Don you ghost whispering optimist), but one of Mike's loyal fans, and how long before this page goes down? Here's R. Diddy sending Mr Rann a greeting on 25 April 2008: happy birthyday motherfucker

Hey, that's short enough to go in a tweet.

Mark Day, Matthew Robson, troublesome teens and the way ahead for Murdoch rags

(Above: the Daily Telegraph continuing its online campaign for adult content).

Poor Mark Day remains traumatized by the future of newspapers, when he really should just be facing the future with a 'meh', for what will be will be.

Casting through the runes, fossicking amongst the entrails, he gets agitated by the findings of Matthew Robson, intern at investment bank Morgan Stanley, aged 15 years and seventeen months when he wrote a report on teen media habits picked up by the London Financial Times.
(And if you're interested you can pick up a pdf here, a link Mr. Day should really have provided in this new media world, and if that link drops out, you know how to google).

In Teen as media news guru, Day recycles the alarming news that teens don't read newspapers.

Matthew is blunt when it comes to print.

“No teenager I know regularly reads a newspaper,” he says. “Most do not have the time and cannot be bothered to read pages and pages of text when they could watch the news summarised on the internet or on TV.”

Day recycles Robson's insights into other media - Twitter bad, Facebook good - and teen multi-tasking skills, and things that are hot - anything free, online game playing, free voice calls, phones with large memories and good battery life, and giant screens.

But it's the bit about newspapers that worries Day, and he finds ways to reassure his own fevered brow:

All this provides an interesting window into how a small section of society thinks.

But it is dangerous to assume too much from it—especially the assumption that because teenagers act this way now, they will continue to do so.

It is simply illogical to draw from the revelations of a teen mind anything masquerading as profound insights to future media. It would be wrong to assume that if it is nigh on impossible to reach such a fragmented, flipperty-gibbet teen audience today, it will be equally hard to reach them tomorrow.

Teenagers are going though a phase. We did it in our youth; our grandkids’ grandkids will do it too. Soon the grunts, grunge and spottiness will give way to confident young men and women in their 20s—Generation Z, or whatever name they adopt.

Phew. It's just a phase, like pimples and braces. Soon enough, when they get kids and a mortgage, they'll want to settle down and read a decent set of school league tables in a tabloid Murdoch rag:

And as they enter their 30s, they’ll come to embrace the same issues that consume most mature adults: how to buy a house, where to get the best mortgages, finding the best school for their kids’ education and getting the best advice on health and lifestyle matters. It has always been the way.

In my era, many people adopted the newspaper habit around the time they put their youthful years behind them and settled down to raise families.

But what about all these other digital distractions? What about the full to overflowing intertubes? Will dad want to settle in a comfy old lounge chair and get newsprint on his paws while missus whips up grub in kitchen and kids play cricket in back yard?

Newspapers may find it harder to develop this habit in a future dominated by digital dissemination of information, but people will still want to get their news from sources they can trust.

Like the Murdoch press? With due respect, the only news I'd trust from the Daily Terror is an update on Kyle's kinky sex kitten, knowing that anything said therein should be taken with a grain of salt.

And what happens if older folk confronted by the consistent dumbing down of the Murdoch press begin to take other paths? For example, we were astonished, while picking up tickets at the Sydney Opera House, to see the Saturday Sydney Morning Herald lying in racks - as they do at airports - waiting to be picked up for free by any passing punter, and no doubt counted in circulation figures.

Ostensibly it's a subscriber thing, but no one was guarding the gold and the rags were in essence being given away for free. The only thing going their way was that the punters tend to stay outside collecting another zillion images of the opera house to the quadzillions already available on the intertubes.

When we got the thing home, we were startled to have a paper in the house. We didn't quite know what to do with it. We poked and prodded it, and then my partner went online to get the news, and we both ended up reading The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, both of which have much better in depth articles (along with a smattering of fiction and cartoons). 

In fact, we first began to drop off the newspaper habit when it became clear that most internationally orientated articles and columns were being picked up by Fairfax and Murdoch rags for their hard copy runs. But if Maureen Dowd is available online on The New York Times and the article from The New Yorker is a cut down version of the hard copy that now lands in my mailbox less than a week after publication, why should I pay double for this cheap assed double dipping? Or if I was less old school, I could find online with bonus footnotes?

Whatever you do, don't mention payment for content:

The teenage concept of knowing what’s going on by osmosis will morph into more regular and bankable media habits.

Bankable media habits? Well it's a nifty evasion for that deep question. How to make kids pay when they have more redbacks in their pockets than Uncle Scrooge. When even some older folk have broken through the pay fence and found the free grass greener on the other side?

If Matthew has a message for today’s editors and media managers it is that we should adopt a “horses for courses” approach to various products.

Today’s markets are broken into many sections and subsections, and the notion of one-size-fits-all is deader than the dodo.

Well I guess that means the odd page or two dedicated to comics will soon be lost to the world of tabloids, but the idea that you can save generalist publications by turning them into a one size fits one reader model is a radical, extreme kind of optimism.

For generations the mantra in publishing has been to “down age”: to adopt a youthful profile and attitude in order to attract young readers.

Today, in the face of evidence that young people are not reading, a compelling case can be made for newspapers—particularly our state-based dailies—to be edited to meet the demands and expectations of those that read them: adults.

But what if adults are jack of them as well? What if an adult reader thinks The Punch, allegedly the most intelligent conversation in the southern hemisphere is a bizarre mix of free kicks for passing politicians, airheads and eccentrics with bees in their bonnets.

You can sense each week in Day's writing an incipient nervousness that the old ways are dying or dead, and his beloved newspapers are going the way of dinosaurs and dodos.

I share his nostalgia - I can still remember my father turning up smelling of beer and newsprint, with the long gone Daily Mirror folded and tucked into his trousers' back pocket - but once a habit is lost, it's hard to get it back - unless of course it's something decently addictive, like cocaine.

Newspapers aren't cocaine, nor even a cup of tea. Once the issue of a universal reader is solved, the days of the old generalist rags will truly seem remote and astonishing, and the new forms might in fact find a kind of bankable alternative market. But they'll be so different it would be a stretch to call them newspapers in any meaningful sense of the word.

And there's another problem - while Day provides insights into the media habits of his grandson in Perth, he doesn't once mention piracy or other alternatives which happened to be 'free' in relation to other media.

For example, last year British teens averaged 842 illegal tracks per iPod, and while this year file sharing percentages have dropped, they're still the go, and where they aren't, they've been replaced by listening to streamed music, sharing burned CDs and bluetoothing tracks via mobile phones. And where once music trod alone, now movies and television tread with them.

Above all, anyone - no matter the age - familiar with technology has the capacity for flexibility and a diverse way of getting what they want for free.

In this new digital world - to which anyone with hardware has access to the golden key - to imagine that by targeting adults, and hoping that teens will grow up, settle down and start reading hard copy newspapers, is the way forward in saving hard copy newspapers is fanciful in the extreme.

If Day is right that the young are lost and that down aging isn't a viable strategy, then tabloids like The Daily Telegraph are dying, but just don't know it. But if what he's offering as adult content is The Australian, then it's time for that rag to take a look around at the competition offered by publications providing genuine adult content (and we're not just talking about thinking person's erotica).

Could it be that in fact relentless down marketing is the way forward, while toffy up market rags with 'adult' content get taken over by niche specialist suppliers who can do a better job than imagining Greg Sheridan, Glenn Milne and Janet Albrechtsen constitute a sufficient sampling of world views?

In the end I'm with Robson, and the ability to read or watch when and how you want, on portable devices or up on a big screen. And that's not just a phase. Reclaiming the right to watch a TV show without ads is to hand for anyone with a dvd player. And I like it free, unless the content is so irresistible (or the avi such a good small screen promotion) that I stump up the cash.

And hard copy newspapers bulging with a variety of sections and advertisements found for free in a rack in the city?


(Below: the National Library of Australia's campaign to find lost newspapers. Look in the free racks at the Opera House mebbe?)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Hal G. P. Colebatch, G. K. Chesteron, the ballad of Alfred and eternal truths and verities

Every so often, we love to drop in on favorite authors, and who could be more favorite on loon pond than Hal G. P. Colebatch.

It being a slow Sunday, what better way to fill in the empty hours by a visit to The American Spectator and his last column.

Sure you might be greeted by the unsettling visage of Ben Stein begging for money for the site - y'all will remember Ben Stein for his epic Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which managed to celebrate the science of intelligent design while conflating the theory of evolution with the rise of eugenics, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.

But intrepid explorers of ideas are made of stern stuff, and so on we go to Epic Chesterton.

For those who've come in late Chesterton was a twentieth century writer who has largely disappeared from the popular imagination he once occupied centre stage, though there are still some who see him as part of a trinity of Christian writers, the others being C. S. Lewis and Evelyn Waugh (though truth to tell Waugh creams the other two in the art of writing). (As usual Wikipedia has an extensive entry, here).

Chesterton turned Catholic in later life, and there's no doubt that Hal G. P. Colebatch regards him as close to sainthood:

While some scholars have begun meeting at Oxford to discuss the cause of his eventual sainthood, G. K. Chesterton is remembered largely today by the reading public as the creator of the Father Brown detective stories, in which a humble Catholic priest solves crimes largely because his experiences in the confessional makes him exceptionally informed about the real nature of good and evil.

But Colebatch has other fish to fry than Father Brown, and for that he turns to Chesterton's epic poem The Ballad of the White Horse:

In its style, though not in its ultimate concerns, The Ballad of the White Horse is a rather different work from the adventures of Father Brown. It is not perfect as poetry but it is one of those works -- there are not very many -- that can actually change the reader's life and is a perennial source of inspiration and hope.

Now let's not linger too long on the poem itself, life changing and perennially inspiring as it is. Colebatch quotes from it extensively, and presumably he's paid for his important work, so it's important you click on his column to boost the American Spectator's numbers, but if you have a hankering for the whole event in free form, you might like to avail yourself of a free copy from Project Gutenberg here.

It might take you a time to wade through the whole thing - it's in eight books and runs to a flatulent length - but it's about the legend of Alfred, the sort of visionary stuff which chills an English spine as they smack and smote the colonials all over the field in the way they once taught the Vikings a lesson. It even has its own Wikipedia entry here so you know it's pretty significant, and might even have been ripped by Tolkien!

Colebatch's first quote gives you flavor enough, with things looking grim for the Christianized kingdom of Wessex and its symbol, the golden dragon:

There was not English armour left
Nor any English thing
When Alfred came to Athelney
To be an English king …

And the God of the Golden Dragon
Was dumb upon his throne,
And the lord of the golden Dragon
Ran in the woods alone …

Now some of the wretched Saxons just want to give the game away, but Alfred is made of sterner stuff, and is intent on setting the course of England to its ultimate situation, with conservationist Bonnie Prince Charlie ready to inherit the throne and save the world, with or without Al Gore.

Well things in the poem go on apace for many pages and then - spoiler alert - it looks like Alfred and his arm are hopelessly beaten. Luckily Alfred gets his act together and smotes the Vikings with his axe and Odin falls. Take that you filthy Scandinavians with your Ikea and your Nokia and your Volvo.

But there's a bit of a downside. You've always got to watch out for the heathens threatening to topple civilization. As Colebatch notes:

In the final part, describing the years of peace that follow, the king warns the fight will go on: barbarians will come in the future armed not only with warships and burning torches but also with books, with "the sign of the dying fire," and: "By this sign shall you know them: that they ruin and make dark."

Let's consult the holy text in detail so we can be forewarned and forearmed:

By this sign you shall know them,
The breaking of the sword,
And man no more a free knight,
That loves or hates his lord.

Yea, this shall be the sign of them,
The sign of the dying fire;
And Man made like a half-wit,
That knows not of his sire.

What though they come with scroll and pen,
And grave as a shaven clerk,
By this sign you shall know them,
That they ruin and make dark;

By all men bond to Nothing,
Being slaves without a lord,
By one blind idiot world obeyed,
Too blind to be abhorred;

By terror and the cruel tales
Of curse in bone and kin,
By weird and weakness winning,
Accursed from the beginning,
By detail of the sinning,
And denial of the sin;

By thought a crawling ruin,
By life a leaping mire,
By a broken heart in the breast of the world,
And the end of the world's desire;

By God and man dishonoured,
By death and life made vain,
Know ye the old barbarian,
The barbarian come again--

When is great talk of trend and tide,
And wisdom and destiny,
Hail that undying heathen
That is sadder than the sea.

Yep, the anti-sword pacifists are at it again, along with the greenies and their like, not to mention clever post modernists and post structuralists and post semioticians, with the leather patches on the elbows and clever dick words, doing old England down, bringing on the ruin and the dark. Is it a sign, a portent, that bonnie Prince Charlie is a charlie? Must noble warriors take to the streets yet again?

C. S. Lewis has said that The Ballad of the White Horse is "permanent and dateless…does not the central theme of the ballad…embody the feeling, and the only possible feeling, with which in any age almost defeated men take up such arms as are left them and win?"

Feel ye not the stirring within your loins proud Englanders? Thrash the Australian cricketers, throw away the color television sets, abandon your love of the Beatles and take up the bowler hat yet again. One day perhaps India and Pakistan and the middle East will recognize what they lost and welcome you back as conquerors, as opposed to weekend travellers blitzing Spain, Amsterdam and any European soccer match in which English footballers might be participants.

Join with Colebatch :

It is good to read The Ballad of the White Horse, and also to reflect that it is basically true. There really was a climatic battle at Ethandune (possibly modern Edington, where a white horse is carved on the chalk hillside, possibly originally in memory of the battle), and where, against all odds, the nascent Anglic civilization and its noble and undaunted king, after years of defeats and betrayals, really won the day, and where the barbarians really were not only defeated but Christianized: Guthrum, with Alfred as his Godfather, took the Baptismal name Athelstan and kept the peace for the rest of his life. In England learning, culture, and civilization were revived under Alfred's rule, and we really were saved from being savages forever. Thank you, G. K. Chesterton.

Onward Christian Anglic soldiers, saved from savagery and marching off to war. Better a heathen in hell than happy in this world ...

Thank you Hal G. P. Colebatch for reminding us of eternal verities and truths. Let's keep yearning for a past that never was and a future that will always be dark with fear and uncertainties, knowing that a good man with a rifle can sort out the heathens ... (or a cricket bat, unless a good nuking is required, and that too can be delivered, for along with the thwack of willow on leather there's nothing like the cleansing of split atoms on philistine skin) ...

And now as republicans threaten Australia and we suffer under the yoke of the evil tyrant Chairman Rudd, we turn to the north and mutter a silent prayer ... save us oh bonnie Prince Charlie ...