Sunday, May 31, 2009

Rupert Murdoch, the newspaper game, and premium payment for online content

(Above: avoid contracting deadly Dead Sea mud foot by paying for premium newspaper content online).

It's excellent news that Rupert Murdoch believes that there's a future in the newspaper game, and that the business model for the intertubes will involve charging for content.

He showed up on the Fox Business Network last week, and of course the content of his talk was promptly recycled for free, and you can read it here (Murdoch says no to U.S. government newspaper bailout).

“You’re going to have to pay for your favorite newspaper on the Web. [Free content online]…that’s going to stop. Newspapers will be selling subscriptions on the Web. The whole thing [premium content] will be there. The Web as it is today will be vastly improved, they’ll be much in them and you’ll pay for them. (Source here).

Personally I don't get it. News of the fair average kind will still be peddled by free suppliers, like the BBC, and in Australia the ABC, and presumably in America, the likes of NPR, though no doubt they'd all like a little taster if the action gets going, instead of thanking subscribers and people like me for helping them out.

But to make a premium content scheme a success it will require an oligopoly on news supply, a kind of bamboo curtain where free content is proscribed, and free suppliers enter a kind of twilight purgatory for deviant behavior.

Indeed the notion of premium content, which presumably includes the ramblings of the commentariat, whether left or right or somewhere in the middle, was the preferred model for The New York Times, and it failed. 

Unless you're selling vital niche news (as to trades to keep them up to date with professional events, technology etc, or the finance sector, or retailers or advertising about the current state of the game, or statistical information, polls, surveys, whatever), it'll now, in this brave new world of free content, be hard to transfer charging users - as opposed to advertisers - in the shift from hard copy to digital delivery down the tubes.

Where for example would a premium content model leave a tabloid like the Daily Telegraph (no, not the UK paper) which even in Australian newspaper terms is a minnow with only poor average content, much of it online already recycled from other sources in the Murdoch stable. Would anyone in their right minds pay for the rambling hysteria of a Piers Akerman, or pay to join Tim Blair's blog and post a comment bashing greenies, lefties, warmistas and femininists? Therapeutic it might be, but how much to pay for that kind pleasure? 

Considering the rest of the rag offers tits and football in the usual tabloid style, there's nothing much on offer which competes at a higher level than the five minutes it takes to read Murdoch's throwaway railway litter Mx, which is offered free to commuters so they can send a text message to the girl they've been ogling for their half hour train ride.

But even when you come to the premium content of a flagship like The Australian, a lot of the columnist commentariet are just more of the ideological same - whether Janet Albrechtsen, Christopher Pearson or a host of Ian Plimer devotees. Fun to read, but to pay for the pleasure? You can get half baked, uninformed prejudice in thousands of places across the tubes already.

I guess I'm the last person to talk about this, because I gave up hard copy newspapers long before the intertubes became fashionable as a free delivery source. I got my ambulance chasing stories from radio and TV, and paid money for magazines, which could deliver more thoughtful content at longer left - as much as 5,000 or even 10,000 words. Not only was the information more useful, but the articles usually lacked the 'print the controversy' kind of in your face argumentation that currently bedevils newspapers.

We still pay for the magazines, even though they too have shifted a lot of their content online for free. But can or should newspapers attempt to match that kind of content when it's never really been their game - unless you count printing re-hashed, edited highlights from some of the magazines to boost their tired magazine sections (another reason we gave up on newspapers, since the only good stories we read we'd already seen in our magazines). 

Even now, the habit persists in the Fairfax media of re-printing a column from The New York Times when their readership is just a click away from seeing the story on the tubes in its original home, along with a host of other stories. This kind of interbreeding would have to stop if newspapers were start to charge for their content.

Murdoch's right about one thing - the notion that governments should bail out the newspaper game and turn it into some socialistic Pravda-like enterprise would be a disaster for government, newspapers and readers. If they can't survive in the marketplace, they should die, as we're constantly told by The Australian's commentariat is the fate of all dinosaurs that fail to adapt to the changing world and find customers for their goods and services. 

Whatever they do,  newspapers can't become indebted to government - otherwise all the market driven commentariat should as a matter of principle resign on the spot, rather than become conflicted commentators on government press releases.

Will the newspaper game be saved by new technology of the kindle kind? Well not in its current form, but it might help down the track if they devise a more effective reader display, which can display easily downloaded content and resembles a little more the kind of reading experience a newspaper delivers. But Murdoch has already given up on the headlines approach, as delivered to your iPhone:

You’ll be able to get the guts or the main headlines and alerts and everything on your Blackberry, your Palm or whatever, all day long. People need news. Communities live on news about their communities to be able to live and enjoy the world.

But as news descends into a series of twits, what place for premium content, when any twit will do to satisfy a sense of community?

If newspapers attempt to revive charging for content, there will be a leaching of readership to sites which reprint the content (as did one blog I used to visit which reprinted the likes of Dowd and Brooks on a same day basis to undermine the NYT's then business model).

Newspapers will then face up to what the music film and television industries are facing, and the book industry is about to face. When the free model has been out there for awhile, how do you compete? And what do you do about pirates, always eager to supply for free what someone has put a price on, and how to deal with consumers quite happy to pay nothing, even if collectively that causes the death of the things they love?

What everybody wants in this kind of game is a painless way to clip the sheep without causing the sheep any alarm or excessive bleeding - a model that works relatively well for charging road tolls or parking fees at an airport or office workers the cost of making a coffee, but has fallen on hard times for newspapers.

It seems that the newspapers are anxious to revive the good old oligopolist days and have been holding music industry like meetings to try to revive the charging for content game (Shhh. Newspaper Publishers Are Quietly Holding A Very, Very Important Conclave Today. Will You Soon Be Paying for Online Content?).

Just like the music industry gets terribly agitated about piracy, the newspaper game gets terribly agitated about third parties and networks that appropriate newspaper content without paying. They see the way forward as technology or services which can track content on the web and extract payment from these villains.

To which - rather like the music industry's futile attempts to stop the pirates - all you can say is good luck, and don't hold your breath.

Of course the idea that bloggers or downscaled news sites like The Huffington Post could offer the kinds of services that newspapers once did - is fanciful, and yes Virginia, there really is a role for paid professional reporting - but the newspapers were their own worst enemies as they spiralled downwards in the service of new owners, who saddled them with debt while cutting staff and actual quality journalism to the bone. 

As you sow, so you reap. James Warren puts it nicely:

At the behest of new corporate superiors (yes, some from radio), I helped oversee the painful layoffs of about 100 in the Chicago Tribune newsroom last year, before being dispatched by someone the Marlon Brando character in "Apocalypse Now" might characterize as "an errand boy sent by grocery clerks to collect the bill."

Fine. It was now their company. I just wish that what would have ensued might have been a strategy beyond a rather pedestrian one, rife with talk of "relevance" and "utility," with a multitude of lists, consumer reporting and de facto aping of local television; all the while needlessly undermining the loyalty of tried-and-true older readers while chasing after youth. It's less what the late philosopher Hannah Arendt tagged the banality of evil than it is the evil of banality.

Of course, if the newspapers locked the likes of Akerman and Albrechtsen behind pay for premium content doors, this blog would cease in an instant. And frankly the world would be no poorer for all the loons being locked away behind closed days, forcing likely mug punters to part with a few shekels to read them. Let the loons pay for the loons on the pond, I say.

But deep down I have a feeling that newspapers, having already bungled the transition to online, are now in a position like the music industry's failure to read the real meaning of the downgraded quality of mp3's been sent around the world, or the film and television industry's reluctant awareness that, where once avi files could be fitted on a CD, now video TS files are becoming the staple of file sharing sites - and that the botched attempt to force users to upscale to Blu Ray and Playstation, at a greatly exaggerated price to pay for the Sony inspired HD wars, is still blowing in the wind.

What newspapers really face is not a subscriber but an advertiser crisis. Advertisers have worked out they can get more bang for their buck more cheaply online in a host of sites, and they're no longer as interested in supporting old media with their old, hidebound ways and their dwindling market share.

And that's the real problem for newspapers. The crisis in advertising.

They've always kept their hard copy prices down - Murdoch in fact led a series of price wars that reduced the price of newspapers to virtually nothing in Britain as a way of getting rid of competitors - balanced by the notion that advertisers could get their ads in front of more eyeballs as circulation rose. 

Which is why a free handout model has always tempted some in the game, in the way that local community newspapers throw you a copy over the fence, thereby guaranteeing local advertisers that they'll reach their local community. If you could guarantee advertisers that three or five hundred thousand readers would eyeball your ads because they'd been given a free copy, then they might be tempted back.

This is already a model for newspapers trying to hide their failing circulation - head off to the Opera House or the airport and free newspapers fall at your feet like confetti. The trouble is, if you've taken to the intertubes as your source of news and comment, it's a bit like being offered a 4 band 8 transistor radio or a 78 rpm record, a lovely trip down memory lane, but a one off experience - because it's free.

The old game's goalposts have shifted, and any price for premium content online will not alter the failing equation about advertising content and prices. Nor will it help newspapers battle rival suppliers for the job of selling used cars, or real estate or whatever you want to put on ebay. Long gone are the rivers of gold classifieds that kept the likes of Fairfax afloat.

That's why for all the current urgent attempt to get things back on the rails, it'll be sackcloth and ashes for hard copy newspapers for a long time to come, and surely in time - a time comng soon enough - for their demise. And for all Murdoch's confident speculation - finger in the dike style - about the bold, brave new future of newspapers, which coincidentally still make up a large part of his empire, the upheavals have only just begun.

And I can guarantee one thing. The day I pay for the kind of premium content currently on view in The Australian is the day my estate mistakenly took out a subscription to console my partner for the grief at my passing ...

(Below: try doing this with your premium online paid content, a lovely bench which is number fifty one in our one hundred and one silly uses for dead newspapers). 

Piers Akerman, evil Kevin Rudd, and the diplomatic skills needed to deal with the evil reds under our beds

(Above: Jack Nicholson in The Shining, dealing with a door the way Piers Akerman thinks the world should deal with Kevin Rudd).

It's always great when the pot calls the kettle black, because the likelihood is that if both have been over a camp fire for any length of time, both of them will be encrusted with a thick layer of soot.

I can't think of any better image for Piers Akerman than an encrusted layer of soot covering his visage, and he shows off his kinship with Chairman Rudd in Language of diplomacy eludes our PM.

In much the same way as the language of a diplomat eludes our PM, so it eludes Akerman, our very own fat owl of the remove, who is in a constant state of yarooh garooar when it comes to the diabolical Rudd.

It wasn't so long ago that our Piers found an enormous number of Chinese reds under our bed, our top military chiefs dumbfounded, and the lickspittle lackey CSIRO in a state of naive complicity by getting the Chinese to build antennae across this wide brown land for a price jealous competitors determined was commercially unrealistic.

This awesome scoop - one of those wonderful hold the presses scoops that even produced an editorial - heralded the way that the Chinese might have planted trapdoors in software which allows them to enter Western defence systems at will.

It was such an awesome beat up of the Chinese red menace that I had to go without fried rice for the rest of the month, so terrified was I to enter a Chinese restaurant for takeaway, since in all likelihood they would have been taking away all my secrets for use in a fiendish plot to undermine western civilization as we know it.

Strangely we haven't heard much about it since. The walls of Jericho thus far haven't tumbled down.

Flash forward a few weeks, and the big news is that the fiendish Chinese have now revealed to Comrade Akerman that they were much more comfortable with John Howard than with Kevin Rudd, for all his purported mandarin speaking skills (which for all we know sounds more like an orange than an actual language).

Forgotten is that perilous moment when there were reds under all our beds. Now Piers sheds a crocodile tear for the confused and hapless Chinese, misled, misguided and disabused by the fiendish Rudd:

``When Mr Rudd was elected, there was an expectation that a more intimate relationship between the countries would result, because he knows China so well and speaks Chinese,’’ Zhu, the deputy director of the School of International Studies at Beijing University said. ``But it has remained just at the commercial level. Bilateral relations as a whole are still far from intimate; they are undeveloped. We haven’t even agreed a strategic partnership, in the way we have with 24 other countries.’’

Under Rudd, the Australia-Chinese relationship has hit a few potholes, including the $26 billion Chinalco bid for 18 per cent of Rio Tinto; the defence white paper’s focus on China’s military rise; the secret visit of China’s propaganda chief Li Changchun to Canberra and Chinese-Australian businesswoman Helen Liu’s sponsorship of Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon.

No wonder China’s is confused. Are we courting Chinese trade or building an arsenal to deal with China as our greatest military threat, and if the latter is so, why is the defence minister living in a house owned by his Chinese sponsor?

I wonder if that's because Chairman Rudd took Comrade Pier's advice that the Chinese were simply diabolical spies that couldn't be trusted in any circumstance, and should be banished from the land?

One thing's for certain. If the Chinese turn to Piers Akerman for guidance or understanding, they might learn about bilious, grumpy men, but the confusion will quadruple. Why on earth would we want an intimate relationship with these filthy reds, who spy on us and win unfair contracts to build antennae, and take our minerals and generate an economic boomtime for us?

The rest of the Akerman column is pure Rudd bashing in his own inimitable way. How about taking a rumor started in sister paper The Australian for a way to close out the column?

With such ineptitude, Rudd shows himself to be admirably equipped for the top UN job, which he is said to covet. Given the general dysfunctional nature of the UN, and its myriad global failures, let no-one stand in his way.

Stoop and crawl through the gutter or the trashcan for any rumor that can be turned against the arch fiend? Sure thing. Because it's a two for one knockdown two dollar store value. Bash Rudd and the U.N. Sweet.

How about a way to start a column showing the due respect for the office of PM, as suggested by Gerard Henderson?

One of candidate Kevin Rudd’s big selling points - other than that he was not John Howard - was his experience as a diplomat.

We now know that he was at best a low-level paper shuffler, reaching third secretary status, which is just a rung up from the embassy chauffeur. Further, it is now blindingly apparent that he is not in the least diplomatic.

That's right, Australia is being run by a man just a rung up from a chauffeur. With the diplomatic skills of the always insulting Akerman.

The rest of the column is a tiresome and tired rehash of Akerman talking points, about the wondrous ways of that tinpot suburban solicitor John Howard, his skill with Indonesia, the dangers of a hundred boat people, low jinks in the attempt to get African votes for an Australian seat on the security council, and so on and on and on. 

He bangs the drum endlessly about our relationship with Asia and with the US and Obama (as if we should care about that librul socialist) and somehow imagines that the times Howard spent sucking up to George Bush were the golden days for Australian diplomacy under Howard. Sure thing, bomb the shit out of a country, and see how they respect you.

It would be so much simpler, and save readers so much time, if Akerman just wrote one line: I hate Kevin Rudd, and repeated it over and over until he ran out of space, a bit like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. All this scribbling over and over again, without any play, makes Piers a very dull boy.

(Below: Jack Nicholson in The Shining, brooding on the unfairness of Australia being run by a chauffeur).

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Christopher Pearson, Kerry O'Brien, the ABC, a tequila chat, Barack Obama, abortion, and militant Christianity

(Above: a valiant lion, with just a humble lad to help, surrounded by leftie bloggers, Fabians, and militant abortionists).

Over the years, I've cast many a stone at Kerry O'Brien, presenter of the ABC's current affairs program The 7.30 Report, not least for the carrot top's smarmy, smirking desire to do star fucker interviews with stars.

And over the years the format for the show has become dull and calcified, due in no small measure to the desire of the ABC to keep its corporate head down during the head kicking Howard Costello years.

But you have to shed a tear for the poor lad after he made some unexceptional comments over a tequila at 2.30 am on budget night in Canberra to a bunch of young Liberal staffers. O'Brien simply said what any intelligent observer of current federal politics might have said in an off the record, private situation, and now he finds himself being pilloried by the commentariat.

O'Brien's thought crimes, as quoted by an indignant Christopher Pearson in Tell us what you really think include the following:

In reply to one staff member's remark that he had a high regard for Peter Costello, O'Brien reportedly said: "Well, good luck to you then ... I don't. He doesn't like politics; he has always been the first one out of here (Canberra) on Thursday. Peter Costello does not have the nation's interests at heart; he is only in it for himself, always has been, always will be ... He needs to get out ... He is a sponge."

In reply to another comment from the same staff member, to the effect that he had a highregard for some of the reforms of the Hawke-Keating era, O'Brien is noted as saying: "Howard and Costello never recognised the importance of their reforms ... Costello was lazy, he simply rode on the consequences of the Keating and Hawke wave of economic reform."

Well apart from being remarkably kind and tolerant to the fundie Christian loving, self regarding, self absorbed narcissist that constitutes Costello, nobody could have summed up Costello any better, and while the truth might hurt, you'd hardly regard this thought crime with outrage and horror.

So what other thought crimes did O'Brien commit?

Of the incumbent federal Treasurer, O'Brien is said to have volunteered: "Swan is a lightweight", and that he was not impressed with the budget ("It was soft"). Asked who he thought should be leading the Liberals, he reportedly said: "Turnbull is the best you've got." Before the group dispersed, one of the staff members tells me O'Brien offered them "a group hug" but they politely declined.

Well it can't be for calling Swan a feather duster, or abusing a soft Labor budget. Maybe it was for praising Turnbull, as against dipstick Costello? Ah, now I get it, it was the offer of a group hug, which established that O'Brien was either (a) a closet homosexual or (b) a nerdish fan of Galaxy Quest. Now there's thought crime thinking of the highest order.

Pearson, in his usual snide, guttersnipe, petulant way, is exceptionally peeved and indignant. It seems no one at the ABC has bothered to approach Gerard Henderson or Andrew Bolt to correct, comment on or deny the story in their online sites. So being a knight in shining armor or perhaps worming his way amongst the weevils to get to the bran of the story, Pearson himself approached O'Brien through the ABC, and here's what he got:

"There are significant errors of fact in the (Henderson) blog article as they relate to me, but my post-budget conversations that night were private and I see no need to discuss them further. In any event, whatever my personal views are, they do not intrude on my professionalism."

Pearson immediately proceeds to brood about the rough time that O'Brien gave John Howard and any hapless coalition member who strayed on to O'Brien's program, as if a currrent affairs interview should be some kind of suckfest and love in, of the kind approved by thought police but which make for deadly dull television (just watch any O'Brien love in with any celebrity blowing through town for irrefutable evidence).

But Pearson won't have any notion of exciting television, as he draws himself up to whatever indignant height he can muster in the hope of claiming O'Brien's scalp, harking back to the days when "Red Kezza" (we still prefer carrot top in honor of his hair dye) was - gasp - Gough Whitlam's press secretary.

Lordy, there's a red under the bed, or worse still a Whitlamite everywhere as we live through these Whitlam-esque end days. So how to end this wicked reign, which has gone on for an eternity, ever since O'Brien took the presenter seat in 1995, and since carried on as if he was some kind of Ed Murrow?

How long, you may wonder, does one man get to keep the ABC's key job in current affairs? I'm afraid the answer is probably: as long as the corporation is indifferent to problems of apprehended bias and assumes that Fabianism is the default position for all sensible people.

Well as long, one hopes, as Andrew Bolt manages to ruin every ABC show in which he appears.

Let's hope that fabianism - or at least a professional approach to television - stays the default position for all sensible people a little longer than fundamentalist Catholicism. And if you want apprehended bias, just toddle off to Pearson, Bolt, Blair, Albrechtsen, Akerman, Alan Jones and the whole commentariat out there ready to be biased in a loud voice from the roof tops, even without being asked in an allegedly private conversation over drinks. Sheesh.

Speaking of fundamentalist Catholicism, it wouldn't be remiss for Pearson to round out his column by chipping in with a churlish view of Obama giving a talk at a Catholic university. 

But first warrior Pearson must remind himself to gird his warrior loins, and step out to do battle with the heathens who surround him and his faithful flock. Haunted by lefty Australian bloggers and denigrators of phonics in the teaching of reading, Pearson is ready to smote the wicked, and sound just like an Islamic fundamentalist loon:

That is why Christianity refers to itself as "the church militant here on earth", on the assumption that, this side of the apocalypse, it will be engaged in constant combat.

One of the great pitched battles for the foreseeable future is between those who are against abortion and the supporters of abortion on demand.

Great pitched battles? Church militant? Constant combat? The apocalypse? I say old sport, any one for a re-run of the Crusades?

Oh noble warrior Pearson, and so ready to take to task women who think they have a right to control their bodies. Foolish women, supporting abortion on demand, as if women blithely enter into abortion as an economical form of birth control, rather than a deeply distressing matter of emotional turmoil. As if they should have the right to do what their situation demands, as they see it, and as they see fit, rather than doing what the Pearsons of the world want them to do (which is have babies, bring them up as reviled single mothers, adopt them out, or best of all send them off to an orphanage where priests can fiddle with them and they can be brought up happily Catholic).

We've never heard from Pearson about what he thinks about the Brazilian arm of the Catholic church excommunicating doctors for aborting a nine year old girl because her life was threatened by the twins she was carrying as a result of alleged rape by her step father. Guess dancing on that pin is theologically tricky, when simple minded abuse of Obama would suffice.

Instead we now know Pearson is distressed that Obama's invitation to speak at Notre Dame University was hailed as a public relations coup, but Pearson consoles himself that for the first time a Gallup poll found 51% of Americans considered themselves anti-abortion, and yet 53% found the procedure should remain legal under certain circumstances.

There's no great revelation here - I think anybody sensible enough (or ever having seen the emotional impact of abortion up close) would think of it as a last resort option, but if necessary, an option that should be legal and available. But what's more amusing is Pearson's befuddled notion that the rights of women should somehow be understood through the gauze of public opinion polling.

Allow me to break Godwin's law and ask whether I should care that the National Socialists scored 43.9% of all valid votes in an 88.7% poll in March 1933 when it comes to the rights of Jews?

Thank the lord that the Catholic church and the current Pope, and supporters like Pearson and Pell control neither America nor Australia. If you can remember the days of backyard abortions, and doctors and women being forced to operate like criminals,  you'll know the bad old days they'd like to cast women back to. And if abortion isn't legal - which is to say illegal like they want it - then that's where it will end, in a vale of tears, and shadowy nightmares and coat hangers. 

Check out the 1950 world of a backyard abortionist in Mike Leigh's wrenching Vera Drake.

If you can tell me what's particularly Christian about that brand of pain and suffering for women, you'll surely be a man.

(Below: gird your loins Christian warriors, get with the lions, there's heathens to be slain, and mighty battles to be fought, and many a tale to be told of how the vicious feminist ice queen was slain, with the odd laugh at how the polar bears were beaten).

Tim Blair, Sarah Palin, Joe Biden, Christopher Buckley and well ... whatever

Sometimes a Saturday produces a shock, a surprise, as the loons gather to celebrate the newspapers publishing their large weekend editions, once filled with classified rivers of gold, now filled with trickles of lead.

What to make, for example, of Miranda the Devine sounding sensible, almost rational, when it comes to discussing the issue of cruise ships and their passengers spreading swine flu in the streets of Sydney? She sounds almost socialist, understanding the predicament of authorities, the difficulties they face, and the steps they've taken to combat the problem:

Our whingeing culture needs a reboot. Looking for scapegoats and making unreasonable demands on authorities only hampers the ability of the people in charge to make good decisions.

Instead of whining that NSW Health has not delivered them a free meal, we should be thankful the disease is not yet too virulent, that the anti-viral Tamiflu still works and that we have a first-rate health system.

Yep, that'd be the public health system and public purse bureaucrats. Eat it up while you can you first rate socialist lads, because surely the storm will come again at a later date. (see Bad case of moaners going overboard).

Fortunately, Tim Blair is always to hand when loon pond is desperately short of entertainment. During the week he was quick to link to bad reviews of The Chaser's new outing on the ABC, but you have to put that down partially to professional jealousy. The Chaser boys are genuinely funny, in an up and down off and on way, while Blair, who purports to be a humorist, always comes across as someone driven by ideological rage.

The Chaser lads never let ideology get in the way of a terrible bit of slapstick, and even if their latest outing shows that re-invention is the hardest task in comedy, at least they've managed some decent comedy in their time.

What to make, for example, of this Saturday Tim Blair outing for the Daily Telegraph in Spoken down to by dimwits?

First I'll have to deliver a spoiler, so if you want to read Blair unencumbered by outcomes, head over there right now. On the other hand, if you never read Blair on principle, the punchline for the story is that he takes a series of quotes of varying quality, purports that they might have come from Sarah Palin, and then in a punchline, reveals that they've actually come from a speech by US Vice-President Joe Biden.

The purpose of the speech? A commencement address at North Caroline's Wake Forest university, where of course the real purpose is to see how man times you can get the students to laugh, and where the worst crime is to anything other than be light and be positive about the world, in a way peculiar to all go getting Americans.

Now nobody would  pretend that Joe Biden is the sharpest steak knife in the drawer, or that he's the a top notch stand-up comedian when trying to ingratiate himself with students. If you want a good example of the genre, drop by Christopher Buckley and read his column My Address - and Apology - to Yale.

A Buckley ampler:

I’m tickled, and a bit nervous, to find myself standing here today. As Mark Twain once said, facing a large, intimidating audience, “Homer’s dead, Shakespeare’s dead, and I myself am not feeling at all well.”

That's the opener of course, but then Buckley gets deep:

They used to screen late-night movies in Linsley Chit. Maybe they still do. Almost every night, in those happy, bygone days, you could catch an Ingmar Bergman movie, for a buck. What better way to unwind after a long night at the library than sitting in hard upright wooden seats, watching incomprehensible black-and-white Swedish art movies?

And every night, it always happened: Right at the climactic moment when Death was playing chess with Max von Sydow and the eerie music was swelling and you didn’t have the foggiest idea what the heck these brooding Swedish persons were talking about, someone at the back of the room would shout out, “What does it mean?”

Your generation, being more sophisticated than ours, came up with an all-purpose answer to that pressing existential question—Whatever.

We didn’t have that word in our day. It was your generation that came up with the whole concept of “whatever.” And on behalf of my generation, I want to say, Thank you. It’s just brilliant and philosophically airtight.

There is no proposition, no argument, dogma, asseveration, boast, or claim that can’t be stopped dead in its tracks by an American teenager with an iPod in his or her ears saying, “Whatever.”
Try it.
To be or not to be. Whatever.
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Whatever.
Mission Accomplished. Whatever.

Well indeed whatever, strangle me in the shallow water before I get too deep, but to get back on topic with Blair, his diatribe about Biden is in fact a kind of outrage at the unkind lashings copped by his heroine Sarah Palin. Blair can't stand that David Marr calls her as thick as a brick, claiming he's misattributed one Palin quote, and even if indeed she is as thick as a brick.

And let's make no bones about it, Palin is as thick as a brick, and perhaps even as thick as Hadrian's wall on occasions, and her home made family drama has become a source of endless titillation to a US media always willing to spend an hour or two watching the sitcom Life with the Palins, or the soap Days of our sordid Palin lives. 

But to be fair, as a media sensation Palin has been a rip roaring success, and it's hideously wrong of Marr not to recognise the fine job she's done selling newspapers, shifting electrons and giving the world a deeper understanding of the fine art of moose dressing. Still, Blair smarts at the pain his heroine continues to suffer:

Anyway, smart people were relieved when Palin's White House bid failed. But what if John McCain and his dimwitted running mate had been elected? Right now we'd be listening to some of the most spectacularly stupid speeches ever made.

Okay, so how's it go with Blair and Biden?

"I had planned on driving my '67 Corvette up the middle of this area here. But the Secret Service said they wouldn't let me do it." Such disregard for the environment would be typical of an ignorant woman who shoots moose and wants to drill Alaska for oil.

Oh please, whatever. You might have a go at jolly Joe for delivering a terrible joke, a kind of get down with the guys piece of nonsense about driving a '67 Corvette to the levy (oh wait that was a Chevy), and then doing a reverse pike by boasting about the secret service connection, but Blair's retort is just ... well lame. Feeble, pathetic, tragic, more tragic than Biden's original outing.

And so it continues. For every half assed Joe Biden utterance, Blair provides a half assed, half baked, totally unfunny comeback, as he pretends to assault Palin for making such dipstick remarks while really trying to assault Biden.

Funnily enough, I felt a warm regard for Biden, and a bizarre understanding of just why the likes of Blair don't get recent changes in the world. And why things won't change, if this is either (a) an example of conservative humor or (b) an attempt to redeem Sarah Palin or (c) Blair thinks shooting himself in the foot is a funny way to demonstrate that Biden has shot himself in the foot.

Another sample:

"Remember your physics class? You're driving along in an automobile and you move the wheel slightly to the left or right, and you send the car careening in the direction that absent another change will end up a significant distance from where you were aimed." My car generally goes where I aim it. What kind of comedy opposite-steering clown cars do they drive in Alaska?

Well Blair's car might go where he aims it, but his keyboard don't go in the direction of comedy, not even when he aims it, unless you count a hammer smashing a peanut as a total hoot. Second thoughts, try picking the wings off flies.

So there you have it, a column about being spoken down to by dimwits which quotes a dimwitted speech allegedly by an Alaskan dimwit but really by a dimwitted Biden, and rebutted in a heavy handed dimwitted fashion by Blair for what must surely be a dimwitted readership, if this is how they get their comedy rocks off.

Which leaves me with only one thought. Whatever.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Francis Collins, the Discovery Institute, good news from Amanda Gefter, and time for an extreme Christian cage fight

Excellent news from the New Scientist, in Amanda Gefter's column Christians battle each other over evolution.

It seems the much loved Seattle based Discovery Institute, font of all things wise in the area of intelligent design, has just launched a website, Faith and Evolution.

Curiously the clip currently featured on the site starts with some views from the street that shout the joys of evolution, but presumably that's cunning reverse marketing, designed to scare the faithful flock away from these dumb satanists towards the joys of intelligent design.

Below the fancy clip with the sombre voice, the real target stands revealed, and that's Francis Collins:

Is Francis Collins Right about Evolution?
By Jonathan Wells

Francis Collins feels that intelligent design poses a serious problem to Christian belief because it rejects Darwinian evolution, which he feels is supported by overwhelming evidence. But the only evidence Collins cites for Darwin’s mechanism of variation and selection is microevolution—minor changes within existing species. And the principal evidence he cites for Darwin’s claim of common ancestry is DNA sequences that he says have no function—though genome researchers are discovering that many of them do have functions.

Collins’s defense of Darwinian theory turns out to be largely an argument from ignorance that must retreat as we learn more about the genome—in effect, a Darwin of the gaps.

The site has been cranked up as a rebuttal to Collins's own recently established site for the BioLogos Foundation, which pushes both a strong Christian and a strong evolutionary line. It's all for peace and harmony:

BioLogos represents the harmony of science and faith. It addresses the central themes of science and religion and emphasizes the compatibility of Christian faith with scientific discoveries about the origins of the universe and life. To communicate this message to the general public and add to the ongoing dialog, The BioLogos Foundation created

Funded by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, the Web site is a reliable source of scholarly thought on contemporary issues in science and faith that highlights the compatibility of modern science with traditional Christian beliefs. features responses to a myriad of questions received by Collins, author of The Language of God, Karl Giberson, author of Saving Darwin, and Darrel Falk, author of Coming to Peace With Science since the publication of their books.

Collins, who was recently named a rock star of science, in an advertising campaign launched in GQ that also featured Joe Perry, lead guitarist of Aerosmith - a campaign designed to make science rock as a career choice for the next generation and "to raise their platinum voices in demand for future research funding". (You can catch a pdf of the campaign here).

The Discovery Institute really hammer away at Collins:

According to noted biologist Richard Dawkins, Darwinian evolution makes it possible to become an intellectually fulfilled atheist. According to Francis Collins, former head of the Human Genome Project, evolution is perfectly compatible with his Christian faith. Who is right? And why does it matter? This website is designed to help you find out. Here you will find articles, debates, video and audio, discussion questions, and other free resources as you explore the issues surrounding faith and evolution. This site is designed to be especially helpful for pastors, lay leaders, Sunday School teachers, and students. 

Are you starting to reel a little and think only in America?

Gefter doesn't have much sympathy for either side - for Discovery Institute pretending that intelligent design is science, while also wondering how Collins' crusade to sell interested observers on "theistic evolution" will work out. And she gets a little anxious about science getting caught in the cross fire:

The Discovery Institute has now made it crystal clear that they have no interest in reconciling science and religion – instead, they want their brand of religion to replace science. Which makes it all the more concerning when their new website includes resources and curricula for high-school biology classes, and promotes the pseudoscientific documentary film "Expelled" as part of their campaign to introduce non-scientific alternatives to evolution under the banner of "academic freedom".

I guess she has a point - dumb political science under Stalin put real science back a generation, and if fundamentalists have their way, then America will suddenly discover the reality of dumb science in their own backyard.

But when Christians get into this kind of slanging match, I think science benefits by just standing by, with a bemused look. Instead of listening to another round of Christian baiting by the likes of a Richard Dawkins, this kind of feudin' and fussin' and name callin' gets personal as members ostensibly of the same religion, and sharing the same god, hunker down for verbal combat, video wars, and intertubes campaigns.

But why stop there, when it could all be sorted so easily. Just get a representative from the Discovery Institute and put them up against Collins in an Xtreme cage fight, no holds barred, with the last man breathing the winner. It might even be better if there was a tag team match, with the WEC involved, so it could be staged in one of their fancy octagonal rings. 

Either god will step in and support his old testament team, or the evolutionary Christians - toughened by survival of the fittest thinking, and also with god on their side - will kill off that branch of backward theology.

Talk about win win, and no need to muddy the waters with any actual science.

Sing it for us Mariah:

Do you know where you're going to?
Do you like the things that life is showing you?
Where are you going to?
Do you know?

Do you get what you're hoping for?
When you look behind you there's no open door
What are you hoping for?
Do you know?

Well yes, I do, I'm hoping for a rumble in the jungle, a thriller in Manilla, a chiller diller showdown between the true believers ... and the true believers. Ring that bell ...

Prince Charles, banging away at climate change, and delicious ironies to be savored

(Above: Prince Charles, still banging away but now with climate change deniers in his sights).

People, nation, fellow Ozzies, this is just a short message to bring you a vital message from our future king, the bonnie Prince Charlie, aspirational tampon.

It concerns of course climate change, and his message is urgent:

There is now only a mercifully small (if vociferous) number of people who do not accept the science of climate change and who should know better, but there are still a great many who fail to recognise the urgency of the situation.

Can I just add my own sweet little message to all the monarchist, climate change sceptics out there, and their republican-denying commentariat columnist comrades.

Chew on it. Better still, suck on it.

And by the way Gerard Henderson, when you talk about the GG being above the common ruck of ordinary politics, what do you make of our future king taking the stand to berate climate change deniers? Is to preach against him treason? Come on down Ian Plimer and the gang, as jolly a bunch of Guy Fawkes as we've seen in awhile.

If you want to read the full load of solemn homily, enough to send a climate change denier into a frenzy, The Sydney Morning Herald, still with dim memories of its ancient monarchist past, when it devoted screeds to the doings of royals and their colonial representatives, has published an edited extract of a speech by the Prince of Wales to open the Nobel Laureates symposium on climate change, under the header Value of natural capital: priceless.

And what's even cheekier? The Herald was running an ad for Greenpeace about our dependence on coal and the terrifying impact of climate change right next to Charlie's text. It's a conspiracy I tells ya.

I fear our grandchildren will not care very much about whether in the early 21st century we sustained 20th century-style economic growth. They will be far more concerned, I suspect, about climate; about whether there is sufficient food and water; about the security measures and economic resources needed to cope with millions of environmental refugees.

That will require the emergence of an economy that not only takes care of both people and planet but also breaks the mould in terms of how we look at the world. We need a form of globalisation that empowers local communities and local cultures, with all their accumulated wisdom, to maintain their own environments. Enabling these things is not only our most urgent priority but it is also our greatest opportunity.

Right on princely dude, but I'm sure Australians won't want to be so locally empowered that they no longer swear fealty to such a wise and lovable monarch, and one who hates modern architecture as well. Smote those naysayers mightily, and if anyone tells you that perhaps the monarchy is a conspicuous, even unseemly devourer of the planet's resources - in much the same way as they rebuke Al Gore for catching jets - ignore them.

And when Gerard Henderson tells you that you should be above the fray, ignore him too. Never listen to a prattling Polonius when someday Denmark will be yours.

Now the big question is, will The Australian spend the next week trashing the Prince and monarchists, and urge a vote for a climate change denying republic within the year? Surely this is a chance to revive their "Ian Plimer for president" campaign, so that we can have our very own Vaclav Klaus.

Or how about Paul Sheehan? Time for a big reveal on the Prince and his mad greenie credentials? Or what about Tim Blair and Andrew Bolt denouncing the monarchists, and our right royal Charlie, and campaigning vigorously for a republic, since they seem obsessed with environmentalists on a daily basis? What do they make of a very large one coming to reign over us?

Will Janet Albrechtsen wander around the pubs of north western New South Wales, urging the good folk that it's time to get rid of this monarchist wastrel, with his unseemly hatred of Ian Plimer's message? She might have a hard time in the clubs of Tamworth, where you can still see pictures of Her Majesty hanging on the walls.

Some ironies are so delicious, like three pieces of Turkish delight, irresistible and yet to be savored slowly. I like to think of them as a triangle of delights: monarchist, republican and climate change deniers. Ah, which one to eat first ...

Michael Costa, that vile Kevin Rudd, the hideous pension increase, and Chicken Little comes to town again

(Above: watch out Chicken, the sky's falling, and according to Michael Costa, it's the Rudd government that done it).

It's got so Friday just wouldn't be the same without Friday night football, where boofheads go the bash, or a Michael Costa column for The Australian, where the one time Labor politician goes the biff.

This past week, the dear boy has been campaigning for the abolition of the states, without once mentioning the best reason - the performance of the Labor government in which he once served, or indeed his own cherished role as, variously, Minister for Transport, Police and Treasury.

These days he spends his time on the sidelines, a touch judge who spots the slightest infraction of the rules by his onetime Federal Labor colleagues - especially his bete noir, Kevin Rudd, whom he dislikes with a passion that makes Piers Akerman look like a toddler in kindergarten.

So this is how the game is played between Labor mates, cockroach versus toad, mano a mano, state versus state, tribe versus tribe, as we gird our loins with Age will weary Kevin Rudd, and spin condemn.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's clumsy attempt to spin his plan to lift the age pension eligibility threshold to 67 as a tough decision by the Government to address the financial challenges of an ageing population is coming unstuck. The measure is drawing increasing criticism, particularly from key sections of Labor's base. In practice it will alone make very little real contribution to the important challenge of dealing with the costs of an ageing population.

As is becoming increasingly evident, and unfortunately consistent with the Government's general approach to policy, little real consideration was given to the practical consequences of this measure before it was announced. Concerns about its impact on the blue-collar workforce are legitimate.

Ah yes, it's another huff and puff piece as Costa beavers away trying to blow Rudd's house down. And all because he cares about the blue-collar workforce, this recent convert to Thatcherism. Oh those glycerine tears, so convincing and moving.

Sadly, Costa really doesn't have much of any use to say on the issue. His main contention is that the measure of lifting the age of pension entitlement from 65 to 67 won't pay for the government's increase in the pension by $32 over four years.

But the implication of Costa's argument would be that the age should have been lifted to 70, in line with suggestion in the Harmer review that longer life expectancy meant people should be expected to play a longer role in the work force.

But Costa also bangs on about superannuation, presumably having failed to hear the news that the recent downturn has done over superannuation in fine style, and that such is the fee laden, rorting nature of the system - transferring to the private sector previous activity by government in this area - many people would have been better investing in bonds than tucking their money away in an industry only too willing to clip the sheep of their compulsory savings, and then cluck when aggressive share based portfolios took a dive.

Politicians are sheltered from such unseemly events, which is why they can wax lyrical about the benefits of superannuation, while blithely ignoring the real world problems they've helped create. But anyhoo let's see how a caring government manager would look after his flock:

In an ideal world people would have enough foresight to fund their own retirement. We don't live in an ideal world and the growth in a culture of government welfare provision which extends well beyond a legitimate social safety net means that people have been conditioned to expect the government to fund their retirement needs.

That's right, you broken down blue collar workers, don't think you're somehow entitled to a pension, when it's just an insidious form of welfare. I'm from the government, and I'm not here to help you pinko commie perverts. You thought I was a socialist comrades? Wrong I'm from the NSW Labor party, and I stand firm, shoulder to shoulder, with Margaret Thatcher.

Anyhoo, there's a lot more Costa blather, about how Paul Keating and Bill Kelty fly with the angles, even if they mde a few mistakes, and how Rudd could have pissed his $52 billion up against the wall of the superannuation industry rather than finding ways to put it into peoples' pockets and purses to do what they liked with the lolly.

But really it's just so Costa can indulge in Rudd bashing, when really he should take a weekend off and go do a bit of eel bashing with an axe handle. Therapeutic and it helps with fitness too. Because it seems we're all doomed by the situation in health:

Of course these measures relate to the retirement income problem. The real challenge with the ageing population is in the area of health care. The explosion in medical and pharmaceutical costs associated with the ageing of the population are mind-boggling. Accurate estimates of this problem are difficult because of the rapid evolution of medical technology. The NSW Government has estimated that at the present rate of growth the whole of the state budget will not be sufficient to fund its health-care obligations by 2035.

Well there goes Chicken Little Costa again. The whole of the state budget won't be sufficient to meet its health care obligations by 2035!! And just what are these health care obligations? To keep everyone alive until they're one hundred? There's reality, and then there's stupidity, and when you get this kind of nonsense, you can see why the sky really might fall in. And that's because the NSW Labor government is still in charge, and listening to the kind of fear mongering fury spouted by the likes of Costa.

Still it's an ill wind that doesn't blow a crow a very happy croak.

Commentators, as a result of the Government's bungling of its post-budget message management, are becoming increasingly sceptical of Government motives. Rudd's exceptionally long honeymoon with the media appears to be beginning to come to an end.

The increase in the age pension eligibility threshold is the sort of issue that can quickly change the broader electorate's perceptions of the Government's competence. The large budget deficit and the growth in public debt and the projected increase in unemployment have created a sense of uneasiness in the electorate.

The Government will try to manage this uneasiness in the short run by pointing to global economic uncertainty. The advantage the Government has is that economic policy debates, laden as they are with economic jargon, are confusing and the electorate understandably loses patience with both sides.

These types of debates only become meaningful when they crystallise into issues that directly affect individuals' expected living standards. The lifting of the age pension threshold, particularly if it is applied to superannuation, could become the crystallising issue that finally ends Rudd's honeymoon with the electorate.

That's right, we're doomed I tells ya, with unease the disease that will sow the saucy doubts and fears that will see the demise of the demon Rudd, no longer able to befuddle the world with their fancy economic jargon, and their fancy clothes and their fancy walk and talk.

But I guess if we're all doomed, there's an upside. Kevin Rudd is doomed too. That's right, nothing makes a Costa so happy as the image of lemmings jumping off the cliff together.

But soft what lovely glow of light comes over that hill. Why it's Malcolm Turnbull, with the shadowy figure of Michael Costa by his side, and lo and behold the 67 threshold won't be fully applied until 2017. 

Why Malcolm, you've heard Mr. Costa's urgings. How about a firm policy commitment to review and revoke and resile from that cursed Labor Rudd policy? Assuming you nail the buggers next year, that gives you plenty of time to put this hideous policy into reverse gear. A core promise. Can we hear it now and save the restive blue collar workers from their fear? It's simple. "The Liberal Party will reverse Labor's flawed pension age policy, and return the pension retirement age to 65. It will not be increased during the course of my government."

Don't hold your breath. 

Ah well, we've gone the Costa biff, now the lads can settle down for a night of bash. What's that you say? There's only one game on because next week the cockroaches will demolish the toads? Well there's an awesome prophecy for comrades Costa and Kevin.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Tony Abbott, Hard Hats, Impotence and Snake Oil salesmen

When a politician hasn't got anything useful to say, the verbiage and the word games start.

Come on down Tony Abbott and show us how the game is played with Labor close to snake oil salesmen spin. First, since you want to do well with a hand of lay down misere, how about you lead with the two of spades?

The most revealing parliamentary moment this week was the prime minister’s reference to the opposition understanding in their “hard of hats”.

He’d meant, of course, “heart of hearts” but he clearly had hard hats on his mind.

Chortle, whiz lead. All that talk of construction and all that talk of Liberals rocking up to sod turning ceremonies for works they voted against starting to get to you Tony?

It’s no wonder because Labor MPs can’t open their mouths without talking about “35,000 building sites” and parliament is virtually the only place (other than coming out of church) where the PM can be photographed without helmet and safety vest.

Ah well, never mind, prerogative of government, and all that stuff, a side benefit of getting out the credit card and bankrupting the nation. A lifestyle enjoyed by the Liberals for a decade, as they built the nation splendid infrastructure, on the back of the mining boom, and never once worried, not a whit or a jot, about buying votes with blatant middle class welfare.

But still, you need something a little bit more punchy. Some kind of jab, of the kind they used to show in Yes Minister.

These days, it seems, politics is all about imagery and spin. The ABC’s Hollowmen series is not a skit but an instruction manual.

These days? It suddenly became imagery and spin when Chairman Rudd took the stage? That's an almost defamatory attack on masters of spin from the past, from Billy Hughes to Hawke to Howard.

How many of Labor’s announced infrastructure projects, such as the broadband rollout, are likely to happen any time soon? How many of them, such as the highway projects, are new rather than the forward programme of the former government for which Labor is now claiming credit? And how many of them are good value, such as the school projects which could have been done much more cheaply by the local builder?

Well how many? Instead of the rhetoric, why not demolish the buggers with some hard core statistics, and some fancy footwork telling us how to save money?

Right, it's all too hard, so let's pick a nice easy patsy, the worst state government in Australia.

The NSW ALP has perfected the daily announcement strategy. It’s designed to create the impression of a government ceaselessly working to deliver an even better life for its citizens. Over the past 15 years, for instance, the NSW government has announced $28 billion worth of rail projects that have never gone beyond pipe dream stage. For a long time, voters gave Labor the benefit of the doubt.

Ah, at last we can agree, at last we have something in common. But apart from rail, what else could you say about the NSW government's ineptitude? I could think of a dozen examples right off the top of my hard hat:

Now, of course, NSW government announcements are about as credible as claims that “nasal delivery technology” can cure impotence.

A cheap bloody joke about a wonderful medical miracle (and instead of making the joke, why aren't you calling for an inquiry into the cure?)

Ah, to be sure, we're back with imagery and spin, and so quickly my head whirled. One actual jab that landed, and the rest of the blog dedicated to a few easy jokes and a few cheap thrills. Can we have one last metaphor to establish that we really are in the land of spinmeistering?

Is Mr Rudd going down this path? I hope not because the national government is too important to be taken over by snake oil salesmen.

No silly, he's going down the path to the Whitlam years. For god's sake, read the song sheet and stay with the right words. 

Snake oil salesman? But I've already made a solid purchase from a couple of shady snake oil salesmen. It was, not to put too fine a point on it, John Howard and Peter Costello, and they were peddling Telstra shares. 

Perhaps they should have been pushing the nasal spray. Didn't it work for ugly Dave Gray and Ian Turpie? Oh that's right, it didn't, Turpie told a porkies about it curing his impotence. (Turpie admits ad misleading). 

Well guess it's back to the snake oil. But remember when one snake oil salesman calls another snake oil salesman a snake oil salesman, all you establish with the electorate is that they're in the same game as a bunch of name calling snake oil salesmen ...

Yep, politics and politicians, same as it ever was ...

Ralphy Horowitz, Sam Newman, the Chaser lads, and how to grope a mannequin with style

(Above: Sam Newman and dummy. Sam Newman is on the right).

Poor Ralphy Horowitz is terribly upset. It seems he's still brooding about the very harsh times the media gave that sweet lad Sam Newman about stapling a picture of Age journalist to a mannequin's head and announcing to the world "I tell you what, she's a fair piece, Caro".

The Chaser lads v Sam Newman: media commentator hypocrisy vents Ralphy's rage, as he rails against media commentators, and those (stay with the double negatives) who deny people on the Eastern coast who can't think for themselves the opportunity of being told what to believe by the media.

At the time of that particular mannequin outing with the later indignant journo Caroline Wilson, the dummy was clothed in a satin bar and underpants, and after referring to a newspaper clip about Wilson's wardrobe Newman proceeded to fumble around the dummy's chest and crotch, as he dressed the dummy in sundry outfits.

Wag Matthew Richardson chimed in with a remark about it being awhile since Newman had put clothes on a girl. 

To some viewers, it was worse than watching furry porn, and the complaints poured in to network Nine. Newman claimed that it wasn't meant to be degrading or offensive, and said he couldn't understand what was insulting about putting clothes on a mannequin.

Horowitz is indignant that Newman still carries this cross, while no one on the eastern seaboard seems to have noticed that West Coast coach Ken Judge made a crack to a co-commentator about him being bigger than Hitler's gas bill. 

Last time I thought or heard about Perth I thought they'd seceded from the Commonwealth, but Horowtiz wants everyone on the east coast to stand up and shout Judge down, though it also seems that Judge has profusely apologized for his remark. For Newman, an apology generally sticks in the craw like a rather large corn cob.

But now, shouts Ralphy, the derelict east coast media have also failed to pay attention to the Chaser boys and their return to television. First there's the obligatory glad handing, just to make sure everybody understands Ralpy is a fellow trouper:

Which brings us to the sensational Chaser who returned to the screen last night in their usual style, reminding everyone that daylight is second when it comes to the best talents on Australian TV at present.

Well done lads, Ralphy loves ya. So what's the problem:

One of their sketches involved them manhandling a mannequin of Governor General Quentin Bryce. She was groped, dragged up a ladder, and after a few unsuccessful attempts, thrown over a fence.

Stand by. The hypocrisy Geiger counter is starting to make a funny noise.

Ah, the dummy thing again, that's why Ralphy's spitting the dummy. And the Chaser boys seem to have got away with it, and poor Sam didn't. And the GG of all people, whom Gerard Henderson says we must respect and put on a pedestal so she can stand above the fray!

But Ralphy, questions have been asked, and by no less a newspaper than that Melbourne institution the Herald Sun, under the header The Chaser is back on screen, satirising Cronulla, Sam Newman:

Chaser star Julian Morrow has defended the team’s mannequin skit in last night’s return of The War on Everything.

Morrow featured in a skit where a mannequin dressed as Australia’s Governor General Quentin Bryce was thrown against and then over the back wall of the city headquarters of the exclusive all-male Melbourne Club.

The sketch follows controversy last year over a skit on
The Footy Show in which Sam Newman grabbed a female mannequin by the crotch, dressed it in lace lingerie and stapled a photograph of a female journalist to its head.

“People are drawing a pretty long bow to say that it is comedy based around violence against women,” Morrow, who wrote and starred in the Chaser sketch says.

“The purpose of it (Chaser sketch) was pretty obvious – to show the maximum amount of disrespect that we could for the Melbourne Club, which is a male only institution. “I would have thought that women who think about the point we’re trying to make would understand that it was a piece of physical comedy and nothing more.”

And they scored more than 1.5 million viewers.

Life's unfair, I guess, but now that I've finished my latte and started sipping on my chardonnay, let me give you an unsophisticated guess as to why this is so.

Sam Newman is a boofhead dickhead, and the very sight of him feeling up a dummy is enough to make most women go faint, or at least feel sleazy and sick (this is of course only a commentary on his professional life as a television football comedian, I'm sure in his personal life he treats his women with exceptional kindness and gallantry).

While the Chaser boys are witty and clever and funny, and will be remembered unto eternity for their APEC Leaders summit stunt. They can grope a mannequin any way they like and all it will do is bring on a bout of sexual arousal of the highest order in any fair minded, thinking woman.

Call it hypocrisy, set the geiger counter running if you like, but in a situation of sleazebucket stunt versus having a laugh, the laughs win every time. I'm even betting Quentin Bryce could have a chuckle about trying to get into the Melbourne Club and being flung over the fence as the only way to do it, while the thought of pinning her photo on a dummy and having the dummy groped by Newman fills me (and I'm sure Gerard Henderson) with horror.

That's the way it goes Ralphy. Live with it.

(And if you missed The Chaser skit on getting the GG into the Melbourne club, you can catch it here).

Piers Akerman, Arthur Calwell, and Wong jokes about Whites

(Above: Arthur Calwell, Piers Akerman and a cartoon of Calwell at work as immigration minister).

Way back when, before Clare Werbeloff was born and could begin to joke about wogs, the Australian federal Labor party was once led by Arthur Calwell, a boofhead hard man with a grating voice and dour manner, who perhaps achieved his fifteen minutes of tabloid fame when he became one of the few victims of attempted political assassination in Australia.

Perhaps the only other claim to enduring fame was his very own Werbeloff moment in a parliamentary debate:

The [deportation] policy which I have just mentioned relates to evacuees who came to Australia during the war. This Chinese is said to have been here for twenty years, and obviously, therefore, is not a wartime evacuee. Speaking generally, I think there is some claim for him to be regarded as a resident of Australia, and I have no doubt his certificate can be extended from time to time as it has been extended in the past. An error may have been made in his case. The gentleman's name is Wong. There are many Wongs in the Chinese community, but I have to say - and I am sure that the Honourable Member for Balaclava will not mind me doing so - that "two Wongs do not make a White".

The phrase dogged Calwell for the rest of his political life, and his explanation was even more labored than the joke:

It is important to me, at least, to set out the facts about a remark I made in the House of Representatives on December 2, 1947, which has been so often misrepresented it has become tiresome. On that day I was asked a question by Rupert Ryan, brother-in-law of Lord Casey, on the deportation of Malayan seamen, Chinese and other people who had contravened our immigration laws. I said, amongst other things. that an error may have been made in the case of two two men named Wong. The Department had served a deportation notice on one of them, but it was the wrong Wong. I then said, and I quote from Hansard: 'there are many Wongs in the Chinese community, but I have to say - and I am sure that the honorable Member for Balaclava will not mind doing so — that "two Wongs do not make a White"'. It was a jocose remark, made partly at the expense of the member for Balaclava, who was at the time the Hon T W (later Sir Thomas) White. I expected that I would have been correctly reported, as I was in Hansard and that the initial letter 'W' on both the names 'Wong' and 'White' would have been written in capitals. But when the message got to Singapore, either because of some anti-Australian Asian journalist or perhaps because some Australian pressman with a chip on his shoulder, a Labor Party hater, the name of White was deliberately altered into a definition of colour, so as to read 'two Wongs don't make a white.' The story has lasted to this day. I have often answered questions about it from young Chinese students at universities in Melbourne and Sydney. I notice whenever reference is made to it in newspapers or periodicals, or whenever the quotation is used anywhere, the Singapore abomination is generally repeated. Latterly the true version is being printed. There was never any intention in my mind to raise any question of colour. I have repudiated the whole story so often that I suppose there is nothing more I can do about it. But I put the facts on record in this book. Calwell, Be Just and Fear Not, 109. (you can catch more on Calwell here).

Now truth to tell, there's little surface evidence Calwell was a racist, but the play on wongs and whites says it all, even if at the subconscious level he can't rationalize away. 

Calwell was an enthusiastic supporter of the White Australia policy, and when immigration minister he made sure after the war that while shell shocked Europeans were welcome, any wayward Asians were deported. His replacement as party leader by Gough Whitlam in the nineteen sixties was a sign of the new broom sweeping through Labor politics.

Why am I reminded of the generally hapless Calwell, who lost three times to Ming the Merciless? Well of course I was reading Piers Akerman, Trading our future away with very poor politics, and I couldn't help but notice his opening gambit:

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong says the Federal Government is determined “to keep, continue to press forward” on emissions trading legislation because “it is the right thing to do”.

No, it is the Wong thing to do.

Ah yes, the old Wong joke. What a fine and colorful life it leads. But it does ease my conscience. Every so often, I think it's terribly unfair to label Piers Akerman the fat owl of the remove, our very own Billy Bunter, or Janet Albrechtsen Dame Slap, as if she was a severe teacher in an Enid Blyton book.

And then I read Miranda the Devine chortling about wog jokes, and Akerman leading with the Wong sensa huma, and I think what the hell Archy, toujours gai, let's have a go at the dingbats.

The rest of the column is a standard tirade from Akerman about Australia attempting to do anything about global warming, which given that Akerman doesn't believe it's happening makes perfect sense - from his point of view. It also means he can just spend his time in carping criticism rather than attempt to construct any positive alternative to Labor's current flawed plan.

But what's interesting is that a couple of his readers noted his remark about Wong:

Piers Akerman! this sounds like a cheap nasty racist remark.’No,it is the Wong thing to do’. On your part.

Well Akerman wasn't having any of that nonsense. And in best debating style, he turns the tables, by calling the accuser what the accuser has called him. You see it takes a nong to see a use of wong as wrong.

Richard Ryan, it might - to a racist - but not to people of commonsense.

Why then so it is and so it shall always be, that Akerman is Billy Bunter, fat owl of the remove, not just for the physical resemblance but because it's a matter of commonsense. If you have the manners of a guttersnipe, why not be called one.

Even then, another reader had a go at him:

The link to your article from the front page was “The Wong Thing To Do”. This is very similar to Arthur Calwell’s ridiculous joke. Why do you think it’s appropriate to make these racist remarks? Makes jokes on someone’s surname, particulalrly a non anglo surname, is not clever.

James of Alexandria 

James, you should check your reference to Calwell’s remark - it was all about a certain Mr White who was then in Parliament. Racism can be seen anywhere, if one wishes to see it, Wong is a pretty common Australian name these days. Am I Wong about that?

Yep, not only is he recalcitrant, he's determined to remain recalcitrant. 'Am I Wong about that' is just such a clever put down, so subtle and witty. Perhaps he was flailing about because James of Alexandria spelled his name Pies, which when you come to think about it, isn't nearly as side-splitting and hilarious as two Wongs trying to change a lightbulb. Which is almost as funny as the hilarious joke about two Smiths trying to change a lightbulb. Seeing as how they're such common names, you might find them hard to pick apart, and yes indeed Smith and Wong are synonymous in my mind. There's not a social, cultural or indicator embedded in them to give me a clue as to how they might connote different tribes.

But you know when you go back to the days when Australia was a genuinely upfront racist country - with a White Australia policy out there in the open, named and legislated and acted upon - it could still manage an uproar about the mis-use of a person's name as a cheap racist joke. 

These days it almost goes without passing amongst grubby commentariat columnists, especially the likes of Akerman, so full of fury, fear and loathing that he'll stoop to anything, even to deploying Arthur Calwell's rather tragic defence of his grievous political error. 

Dress it how you will Calwell's joke revealed a racist mindset, then deeply embedded in Australia ... dress it how you will Akerman's joke and the current fuss about Clare Werbeloff reveals ...?

The upside of course is it shows that really Akerman and old school Laborites like Arthur Calwell are just two peas in the dinkum Aussie pod. Welcome comrade Piers, ain't it grand you could channel Arthur at the Spiritualist church,  now tell us the one about the celestial and the white missionary and the nun ...

(Below: Arthur Calwell as a cheerful cocky).