Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Happy "Liberal" Feet

Thanks to Crikey for pointing out that the movie Happy Feet is creating outrage in some parts of America.

It appears the movie has been labelled big-time objectionable by someone on Rupert's Fox channel. The ultimate criticism was that the film was like an animated Inconvenient Truth. This, of course, comes from that section of the US commentariat that thinks "liberal" is akin to "subversive radical".

What's funniest is that one of the earliest "postmodern" critiques I read was a book that outlined the theory that Donald Duck comic books were US capitalist propoganda. Yet the same people who want to criticise "left leaning" themes in cultural presentations (like, why can't they be) are the same who want an education system that doesn't teach students how to "read" texts in that way.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Murdoch and Packer Punting on Broadband

Well, we've now had the daily double - Packer and Murdoch both decrying the state of broadband in Australia. It started with Murdoch who said "When you have broadband - real broadband, not the type they're talking about here - where you get, say, 20Mbps of data into your home, it changes everything. People then spend a lot of time with their laptops and computers. In Australia we only have a couple of million people on broadband and they don't even get 1Mb."

Packer followed last night saying "I think that Telstra is in ... is perfectly entitled to say that, you know, I want to make a commercial rate of return on the investment that I'm putting in. And if it such a good deal, why isn't someone else doing it? And to the extent that the Government wants, as the Government should want, a best practice broadband infrastructure, if the Government has got to do something to help Telstra get a commercial return.

Someone might like to explain the market structure in Australia in which Murdoch and Packer are joint venture partners with Telstra in a Pay TV business - leaving Australia devoid of the competition between fixed line telephone operators and Pay TV operators that some claim would see this change. Two leading economists Joshua Gans and Jerry Haussman argued in a recent AFR article Telstra should be required to divest its HFC network as part of T3.

Is this some orchestrated campaign by Packer and Murdoch with their Payy TV partner? Or is it some softening up for the Government concerned that broadband is becoming an election issue.

I guess the final word goes to Crikey who noted "You have to almost admire the hide of Rupert Murdoch, managing on the one platform to demand major tax cuts and that the government spend $10 billion to $12 billion on broadband that will just happen to help his own business. As one of the world’s biggest content providers, there’s plenty of self-interest riding for Rupert."

Or does the final word really belong to the Pay TV consortium under its original monicker of PMT?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Jonestown Part 2

My post on Jonestown has elicited a response which I will comment on here.

The last chapters of Jonestown take us to Chris Masters core of concern. It is not so much a concern with Alan Jones, but with how the whole city of Sydney and hence NSW politics, and to a far lesser degree Australian politics, has allowed itself to become subject to the "power" of this broadcaster.

My anonymous commentor falls into this trap, trying to describe the Jones radio show as some kind of "higher democracy" and praising Jones for getting resulys. This perhaps opens up a more interesting question of whether the media (or the "fourth estate" to borrow the French revolutionary term) is performing its role. I have a colleague who decries modern media of being only interested in reporting "a horse race or celebrity", and look at the coverage of politics ad you see just that.*

I suggest people read the book if they want to claim that Jones is some kind of modern democratic form. The theory that he is accountable to his audience is wrong, given that he controls what his audience is able to hear.

Read the chapter on his voluminous correspondence, read the chapters on the causes he "chooses" to take up.

If Jones were truly engaged in some democratic form I suggest he might actually care about the conclusion in "cash-for-comment". As Hitler proved - a demagogue is not a democrat.

* As an example this weekend's newspaper coverage of both Beazley's and Debnam's leadership, both devoid of anything about what the politicians might stand for.

Milton Friedman

Charles Richardson writing in Crikey (subscription required for full item) has fallen into hagiography of Milton Friedman. To claim "his great achievement was to rehabilitate the notion, now accepted almost universally, that inflation is primarily a monetary phenomenon" is to ignore the fact that the theory he espoused was all about setting money supply targets and a supposed direct relationship. Yes, he did remind us that monetary policy was important, but he was completely wrong on how to run the policy.

And yes Friedman was a great libertarian, but his incessant drumming on establishing that the purpose of a corporation is the generation of shareholder value is responsible for much of the governance dilemmas of the 1990s and is directly responsible for the obsenity of "options".

The best column I've seen so far is by Ross Gittins in the SMH

Monday, November 13, 2006


The less than flattering review by Ross Fitzgerald in the Oz makes me feel it is time to blog on Jonestwon.

I have very nearly finished the book (about twenty pages to go) - and thus far I haven't read anything "new". I mean the story of the Queensland upbringing, the school teaching jobs, the departure from Kings, the Rugby coaching, the London arrest are all pretty old ground. The fact that Jones likes the company of twenty something males is also not particularly new, his fascination with various sporting favourites being particularly common knowledge.

The territory that Masters explores and has made headlines is the labelling of Jones as a homosexual, though I'm not sure if he ever claims that Jones is anything more than a "platonic" homosexual (though there are some fumbling moments later in the book that are never truly consumated). What I do find fascinating though is the relevation in the book about the two females he was linked to in his younger days, Madonna Schacht and Inge Bishop. Jones is claimed to have boasted of bedding them both, claims which both deny. The question of Jones' sexuality is only of interest to me because of the extent to which he seems to have constructed a lie of being an active heterosexual.

This, combined with the extent to which he morphs his own history regularly, raises some real questions about a man whose own image is one of resolute adherence to truth. This ultimately goes to the book's claim, the one that Fitzgerald dismisses as psycho-babble, that Jones suffers narcissistic personality disorder.

While using websites is not a great way to diagnose mental illness, it does seem that one could conclude that Jones is not a well man. Anyone who has subjected themselves to the experience of listening to him would both know his tendency to hold simultaneously mutually exclusive positions and that the "rages explode without warning like terrorist bombs" - a claim Fitzgerald dismisses as foolish.

Reading either transcripts where Jones is actually taken on by someone he can't intimidate, or his ludicrously pompous "correspondence" shows the measure of a man whose ludicrous sense of self-importance is clearly out of control. If Jones truly had friends in the "pick and stick" club they would help him adress these behaviours, not pander to his insecurity.

It reminds me of the film "The Aviator" and the way the relationship between Howard Hughes and Katherine Hepburn is portrayed - if Hepburn had been a true friend of Hughes she would have helped him get well, not wallowed in the insanity.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Climate Change and Media Watch

It is hard to figure out what to make of Media Watch's attack on Andrew Bolt's writings on climate change.

It seems to me that this focus on the first of Bolt's claimed ten errors isn't really in the proper Medi Watch territory of highlighting the careless or practised plagiraism, or the careless or practised misuse of information. It seems to me territory over which reasonable minds could differ and does realy plays to those who label Media Watch as a modern day commie conspiracy (or words to that effect).

On the actual matter of greenhouse/global warming, I recall an AUstralia and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Canberra in 1975 where I first heard the theory of greenhouse from scientists promoting nuclear power. I believed it then as I believe it now, but not that nuclear is the answer.

As I've already posted here the Gore movie is full of unnecessary dramatisation that weakens rather than strengthens the argument.

One of the latest "sceptic" argument is that we don't need to worry about greenhouse - it is just like the Y2K problem, lots of hype - but the world didn't end then. Problem is that because of all the hype every computer program on the planet was scrubbed looking for bits of code that would fail because of the date problem. No one ever did the stocktake afterwards but most companies did find one that if they had all triggered unsuspectingly on the one day could have had cataclysmic consequences.

That for me is the lesson on climate change - how hard is it to say we should get on and fix the emissions problem because the outcome if the scientists are right is SO bad, and when it is incontrovertibly clear there will be nothing we can do.

Death Sentence

I made it into Crikey's comments section yesterday with a comment on their coverage of the Saddam Hussein verdict.

Your intro yesterday that "there is no doubt Saddam deserves to die" rests on two premises; that Saddam is guilty of a "heinous crime", and that for that crime the appropriate penalty is death. There are a number of difficulties with this proposition. To begin with if we believe in the "rule of law" you have to find a law that Hussein broke and there isn't one on the Iraq statute books. If you believe in the concept of "crimes against humanity" then the charge needed to be brought by an international court. So the first part itself is problematic, at least matching the crime to the court. The second part is that some of us believe the death penalty is never warranted, no matter how severe the crime. So I think there is a lot of doubt that Saddam deserves to die, while not defending his rule or conduct in any way. PS How many Iraqi citizens have the coalition of the willing now killed? When do George Bush and John Howard go on trial?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Justice, Closure and Victims

I am confused about how our society based on its Judeo-Christian ethics has over recent times reverted to the Old Testament version where-in justice is measured as an "an eye for an eye".

The sub-editor's description ("Instead of being dispassionate, prosecutors should fight for victims") of Miranda Devine's column summarised her argument completely (SMH, 2 Nov). Devine seems to believe the purpose of the criminal justice system is retribution for victims. In the name of achieving that retribution any legal tactic should be employed.

This is based on the assumption that, of course, the prisoner in the dock is always guilty - because the prosecution wouldn't have been mounted otherwise. That therefore any legal tactic is okay, and that to have judghements overturned because of the tactics is unreasonable because the most important right is that of the victim.

I think the pathway to this insanity was the psycho-babble of "closure". Clearly, when victims or families of victims get caught up in the legal procedures some time after a crime, that "re-opens" the set of mental and emotional traumas undergone at the time of the crime. So the victim potentially has to relive the crime.

This has morphed into the idea that the victim cannot have "closure" until after the trial. But that closure is because the trial process itself prohibits closure, not that the trial process and "punishment of the criminal" (or vindication) is necessary for closure.

The purpose of a criminal justice system is to ensure that the penalties for crime, which primarily exist as appropriate punishments designed to deter crime, are applied to the guilty. To ensure the process is just the system has very strict rules of procedure. To breach those rules is to have a system that is not just.

If guilty criminals go free because prosecutors over-step these rules, then the blame rests with the prosecutors, not the system.

To imagine that the purpose of the criminal justice system is retribution, and that retribution will be what makes the victim or victim's families feel better is simply a delusion. The teaching of the New Testament was that the victim needs to forgive those who have done them wrong. It has been a far more sturdy moral compass than the new age ethics of hate and revenge.