Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bolter: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

It may not be common knowledge but a piece written in The Australian on Monday by Glenn Milne with allegations concerning the Prime Minister (but nothing more than a nasty muck-raking excercise) was pulled from the online edition of The Australian (it can be found here if you want to read it in full).

It was replaced by the following apology:
THE AUSTRALIAN published today an opinion piece by Glenn Milne which includes assertions about the conduct of the Prime Minister.

The Australian acknowledges these assertions are untrue. The Australian also acknowledges no attempt was made by anyone employed by, or associated with, The Australian to contact the Prime Minister in relation to this matter.

The Australian unreservedly apologises to the Prime Minister and to its readers for the publication of these claims.
Not some sort of half-arsed apology. A pretty full, all encompassing, "boy did we screw that one up", apology.

In addition to this retraction and apology, News Corporation also censored a couple of blogs posted by Andrew Bolt, he of the local tabloid, Herald-Sun.

This was all done allegedly as a a result of some harsh words between the Prime Minister and the CEO/Chair of News Limited, John Hartigan.

Good old Bolt has then had a good ol' dummy spit today.

Appararently he went on strike. For a couple of hours. I'm not sure if too many people noticed.

A bit of a whine on the radio.

And now this article which I am guessing will be in Wednesday's Herald Sun. Read it in full here:

Prime Minister Julia Gillard's Hand Overplayed.

Sometimes these blogs just write themselves, with the help of Andrew Bolt, the gift that keeps on giving.

Where to start?

For an columnist who continually oversteps the lines of decency, I find the opening line a case of the pot calling the kettle black:

THE Prime Minister overstepped the line when she called the chairman and CEO of News Limited, John Hartigan.
Then a line that seeks to suggest without actually stating:
Calls that look like an attempt at censorship have many sinister overtones, with threats of inquiries and forced sales left hanging in the air.
Then the line that promised so much. But unfortunately failed to deliver:
I was considering resigning as a News Limited columnist.
There were shouts of joy, and parties being hastily arranged. Unfortunately it appears the streamers may have been hung up a little to early, as it the resignation was only considered, and not acted carried out. More on that in a moment.

All this because of his articles were pulled from his online blog.

Interestestingly he states that on Saturday he was instructed not to comment on the alleged matters until further legal advice had been received. No mention is made of the outcome of that legal advice. But, no matter, Bolt went ahead anyway. As a result ...

Posts from my blog were pulled on Monday, although I believe they were fair, accurate and in the public interest.
Because his beliefs are apparently stronger than legal advice.

A few paragraphs down Bolt makes the implication that the Prime Minister's judgement is questionable as a result of being involved with someone who later turned out to be a con. That's pretty much it. The manner in which this involvement (which occurred many years ago) somehow means that she is not a fit person to hold the office of Prime Minister is what one might consider to be "drawing  a very-very-very long bow".

Still throw enough mud and some of it is bound to stick. Which is what Bolt hopes with blogs like this.

The fact that the Prime Minister actually has enough clout to speak directly to the News Limited CEO to get the original articles pulled and for an apology to issue is what really riles Bolt. Someone with more "power" than him has actually used it, and has stopped him from writing something.

What then follows are a couple of "join the dots" paragraphs where it is implied that News Limited could be nervous about potential political action being taken by Government to somehow affect the way News Limited operates in this country. I find this very funny indeed as the implication normally is the exact opposite, that politicians need to keep chummy with the media so that they keep the negative reporting to a minimum. I guess the current attitude by Gillard and the Government is "Bugger that. What is the media going to do that is worse than what they are doing now?" Sometimes the best form of defence is attack and Gillard is using this strategy. The bully boy media organisation doesn't like this and steps back, shaken.

Well here comes Bolt to rescue the poor media empire. But first the suggested resignation:
Not being able to report on what I consider improper pressure by a desperate Prime Minister to kill a story meant I could not report fairly on the political scene as I saw it.

I could not do my job, and I consulted friends about resigning. I am now told that News Limited was just being cautious while it checked its legal position. Hartigan told me: "At no stage is my job to stop stories getting into papers."
That's a curious, but slightly meaningless thing for Hartigan to say. And what exactly does that mean? And how is that supposed to placate Bolt? Well it seems to have. For he hasn't resigned. Yet.

So then back to attacking the Prime Minister by Bolt.  But not before a suck up to his employer:

I thank News Limited for defying the Prime Minister and letting me write as I have above.

I apologise for doubting its commitment to free speech.
And then the final insinnuation about the Prime Minister:

But be aware how endangered is our freedom to speak as we find, especially of this Prime Minister.
Something tells me this is not over. Not by a long shot. But I think Bolt needs to be careful as the Prime Minister has her back up, and quite frankly so she should. The constant smearing of her name and reputation by the likes of Bolt would slowly but inevitably lead to a reaction by the Prime Minister.I just don't think he is fully prepared for the sort of repurcussions that this will lead to.

The article is a dummy spit and reminds me of the saying "If you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen".

I think Bolt got his fingers burnt yesterday.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Space Filling on The Drum

Barrie Cassidy seems to have quickly typed up an article regarding Craig Thomson on ABC's The Drum this morning.

You can read the full article here.

What is interesting is how the title of the piece, "Never mind the substance, feel the hyprocrisy" doesn't accurately reflect the contents of the article. Well, not in the way that it was hoped by Barrie and the ABC.

The piece tries to tie together a number of current issues involving the government and politics at the moment, including low opinion poll numbers for Labor, the Carbon Tax, pokies reform and Craig Thomson. It also includes a trip back to the early Howard years in a bizzare attempt to connect code of conduct breaches made in parliament to Carig current "alleged" issues.

Now Barrie may or may not be writing with a political bias. It is really not for me to say. Sometimes his writing is so haphazard that it is difficult to see this clearly.

Anyway, here is my response which has been forwarded to The Drum for posting.

Barrie, I have a number of issues in respect of another poor article that you have written.

Let me say from the outset that it's not a good look for Labor at the moment.

However I am glad that our judicial system does not work on whether something is a good look or not.

A police investigation is underway in relation to this matter. It is too soon to say whether charges will be laid. And then the man has a chance to defend himself in court.

We live in a society where in a court of law a person is considered innocent until proven guilty.

It's a real shame this doesn't seem to apply in the media, and the court of public opinion.

I also consider that your attempt at comparing the Liberal ministerial resignations in the late nineties due to breaches in a "code of conduct" to Mr. Thomson's alleged activities to be a bit of a red herring. It is interesting that you didn't refer to a more recent and more relevant comparison with current charges against a member of the Liberal Party. You may have strengthened your case had you done so.

Barrie, you may not like the coalition currently in Government and think that it is unworkable. I guess I would look at the volume of legislation that has passed through parliament as evidence of the fact that it is workable.

You may point to the current opinion polls as evidence of the dislike of the current arrangements but dislike does not mean unworkable. The electorate, as a collective, has provided the mix of politicians ad parties in the current parliament, meaning that this is the new political reality. Deals need to be done in order for a major party to form government. Liberal would have done the same. It is indeed fortunate for the Labor Party that the current opposition leader has managed to alienate himself from the independents to such an extent that a future Liberal/Independents coalition is unthinkable whilst Abbott is in that role.

In respect of your comments that "the jurors have been announcing their verdicts one by one" I can only believe that you think that you and your ilk, as political commentators, are the "jurors". If that is the case then that is extreme arrogance. If the next election sees a change in government it will not be because a bunch of journalists and commentators think that this should happen.

The Carbon Tax is certainly a brave step for a government to take, as is the pokies reform. Reform is always scary. Fear plus loud opposition does not necessarily mean bad reform. It just means that the communication from the government needs to be clearer about the benefits of the reform. If the current government is guilty of anything it is that they can't sell a policy to save themselves.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fruit Loop

For the first time in a while I have had the opportunity to sit down to watch "Q and A" on the ABC. Normally this is a fairly benign program with a bunch of mildly important and sometimes amusing people answering questions from both the audience and online.

Tonight's Q and A was no different with a couple of pollies on both sides of the spectrum (Doug Cameron and Nick Minchin), activisits, authors and the like. And then there was Daniel Pipes.

Wikipedia describes Pipes as an American writer and political commentator.  Most of his commentary is based on the Middle East political affairs, including commentary on Islamism and its dangers to the greater world. Ho Hum, you are probably thinking. Another American commentator sticking his nose into Middle Eastern affairs. So what?

Whilst I watch Q and A I also read the twitter feed of commentary of the show, using the hashtag #qanda. Most times the twitterati are more entertaining and more informative than the panellists on the the show.

Anyway, one of the twitterers provided a link to an article written by Pipes on his website, titled Bushfire Jihad? If you really want to you can read the full article here. By why would you waste your time? I did, and am struggling to appreciate the manner in which a number of loose facts, speculation and suggestion can be strung together to produce an article suggesting that the Black Saturday bushfires were the work of Islamic terrorists.

Apparently you need to consider these facts (according to Pipes):

  • Humans cause fires
  • Terrorists are known to play with fire
  • Other people have written in the past fearing that Islamists might use fire as part of attacks in Australia
  • Some non-Muslim groups have used arson as part of terror attacks in the last 40 years
  • Bin-Laden's group apparently celebrated the Black Saturday bushfires
  • Islamists have caused fires in Israel

After these important facts are articulated (sort of) the next sentence provides the connection. And I quote directly from the article here (so you can understand I am not making this up):

Despite this evidence, Bendle notes, the Victoria Police hyperbolically dismissed the possibility of an Islamist attack even as the blaze was in full force and well before it had any knowledge of the fires' cause.
And then:
Were the fires part of a jihad effort, it would fit an established Islamist goal.
The rest of the article provides apparent examples of other possible arson related terrorist attacks (I probably should use the word "alleged" here, a couple of times) in other countries around the world, most notably in Israel.

OK, it might be that I am a resident of Kinglake and have experienced these fires first hand, but I am reading this guy's article and just shaking my head. This is a person that seems to enjoy conjuring up conspiracy theories to validate his opinons in regards to the Middle East. And uses a devastating natural disaster here in Australia to do that? And then the ABC invite him onto Q and A??

I am sorry, but What the Fuck??

Daniel Pipes, leave the country now. And never come back.

ABC, what were you thinking?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sunday Night Tomfoolery (12)

The melody's origins are from Ukraine and now played throughout the world, the song Hava Nagila is sung in Hebrew and the title literally means Let's Rejoice. According to "the site that knows all", Wiki indicates that the text to the song was probably composed in 1918 to celebrate the British victory in Palestine, during World War 1.

Legandary singer, Harry Belafonte, was well known for singing Hava Nagila as a standard during his performances. Hear is an early video of Harry and Danny Kaye performing the song as a duet..

Sunday Night Tomfoolery, however, seeks out the strange and the unusual.

The first cab off the rank is Dick Dale (descibed as the Jimi Hendrix of surf music) and his Del-tones from his 1963 album "King of the Surf Guitar".

Chubby Checker released this version in 1963, combining it with his Number 1 hit, The Twist.

I could subject you to Hava Nagila being played on the accordian, but I wont (there are just too many versions of this on accordian to be found on YouTube. Just don't go there.)

I'll also spare you Andre Rieu's version. He has too much exposure already. And the audience has way too much difficulty in clapping in time to the music.

This next clip can only be seen once, if only to work out how The Four Squeezins play Hava Nagila.

Anyone who is familiar with the Monty Python hit movie, Life of Brian, will possibly understand the humour in this next version, played on bagpipes.

I don't think I have previously featured any banjo playing on this blog. This will only happen on rare occasions, such as this Clawhammer Cello Banjo player playing, um, you know:

1963 must have been the year of Hava Nagila. Here is another 1963 release, this time by Swedush group The Spotnicks:

This one just wrong on so many levels. Apologies for the poor video quality. Here is a Bollywood interpretation of this song:

Yes, I have a brass ensemble arrangement, or to be more precise a low brass arrangement, performed by Ithaca College Tuba-Euphonium Ensemble, complete with poorly timed clapping:

This one is truly annoying. Hava Nagila is sung from about the one minute mark. Before that time, prepare to be entertained by cats singing What Child Is This:

And yes, I have painted myself into a corner this week. Unfortunately that means that animals singing songs will be next week's Tomfoolery, unless I can come up with a better topic.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sunday Night Tomfoolery (11)

George, John, Ringo and Paul. Together they were known as The Beatles, and were a musical phenomenon. I wont go through their list of achievements; you can read about that here. They would have to be the most recognised band in the world, and their songs have been copied and rereleased by numerous artists over the years. Indeed, Yesterday has over 1,600 covers recorded, at one time making it the most covered song in the world.

Well tonight's Tomfoolery has sought out parodies of The Beatles and their songs online for you entertainment.

Eric Idle and Neil Innes created The Rutles in 1975, orginally for UK television. They are probably the best known of The Beatles parody bands, appearing throughout the mid to late seventies. They released a couple of albums during that time, including The Rutland Weekend Songbook (1976) and The Rutles (1978) together with a documentary titled All You Need is Cash (1978).

Here is Ouch! Can you guess which Beatles song this is a parody of?

And here is Cheese and Onions, probably one of their best efforts, complete with a brilliant video ripping off Yellow Submarine.

The final Rutles clip I have here is the first part of the mockumentary, All You Need Is Cash. This is an all star cast and includes Michael Palin, Bill Murray, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Mick Jagger, Paul Simon and George Harrison (as an interviewer). You can definitely feel the Pythonesque influences of this piece, courtesy of Eric Idle.

I really don't know how to introduce this next clip, except to say it is Hey Jude, as you have never heard it before.

The next two clips feature when I'm 64, and work on roughly the same theme. The first is When I'm 94 by Bruce Kerr/harley5521. The second is by one of my favourite Australian comedians, Tony Martin, as sung on his radio show, Get This, back in 2006.

This next one is actually the first clip that comes up when you type "Beatles parodies" into Youtubes. It's from the Peter Serafinowicz Show:

Now a clip from Sesame Street, with a song sounding remarkably like Twist and Shout:

Back in the 1989/1990 on ABC television Andrew Denton hosted a show called The Money or the Gun. Each show ended with the well known song Stairway to Heaven sung in a different style by different artists. Here is The Beatnix with their version:

The final clip (and yes the topic of next week's Tomfoolery) here is the tribute band, The Mop Tops, singing Hava Nagilah.

Fear and the Perception of the Diving Economy

This is a recording made back on 4th March 1933, of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's (FDR, the USA's longest serving and arguably best president) first Inaugural Address as President of the United States. As a bit of a backdrop this speech was made during the Great Depression, when unemployment was around the 20% mark, and in the middle of a "bank panic" (sort of like the current GFC). The reference to the often quoted "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" was specifically in respect of this bank panic. (As an aside, if you have some spare time read the entire Address made. Can you picture any current day leader making a similar speech? How times change.)

And so we come to the present day, where we the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

Now, I know that hyperbole is apparently what make papers sell, but haven't they all gone just a bit over the top in recent days. Let's take a look at some of the stories in our papers over the last couple of days. First The Age:

This Time It's Serious
Share Market Set For A "Wild Ride"
Europe's Leaders Escalate Crisis Talks as Panic Threatens

And now the Murdoch press - The Australian:
Another Brick In Wall Of Worry
Reserve Slashes Growth Forecast

And our local tabloid - The Herald Sun (home of The Bolt):
$40 Billion Wiped From Aussi Superannaution Funds
Brace Yourself For Chaos. Welcome To Official Crisis 2.0
and with a headline to insult those impacted by the February 2009 bushfires
Black Friday: How Does It Affect You?

I wont even start with the ABC with it's wall to wall doomsday coverage.

Now I am not saying that the media should ignore the economic events. There are news stories hear and they should be reported. My beef is in the manner in which they are reported. What you currently have is an upside down cynical version of The Lion King's Circle of Life:

The fear being reported will lead to uncertainty being felt by the average investor (and even those that should know better). They will try to sell their investments in a soft market, leading to lower prices. This will then be reported on resulting in increase uncertainly and fear and thus the circle is complete.

Not all in the media are intent on feeding this fear frenzy. Take for example this article by Fairfax economics editor Ross Gittins - Are We Talking Ourselves Into A Recession?. Whilst I don't necessarily agree with his deflection of media failings, I think this paragraph, in the middle of the article, is a nice summary:

So if the underlying reality of the economy is enviably good, why are we so dissatisfied and anxious? Why are we so ready to think the worst about the prospects in America and Europe and to conclude - contrary to all the evidence - that tough times for them spell tough times for us? Well, not because the media are revelling in the bad news and forgetting to mention the good. They always do that. It's just that, when we're in an optimistic frame of mind we ignore the gloom mongering, whereas when we're in a pessimistic mood we lap it up.
Annabel Crabb, from the ABC, does have a point when she identifies how our federal political landscape is helping to feed this level of fear that we have in Confidently Going Where No Confidence Has Gone Before. In particular, about Tony Abbott:
 On the other side of politics, we have a chap undertaking a horror-theatre tour of the nation, donning garish costumes to frighten householders back into their homes. “Coal is doomed! Steel is doomed! People who make those little widgets that help shower doors roll properly are doomed! DOOMED, I tell you! You there! You with the sandwich! Enjoy that sandwich! Because sandwiches are DOOMED!”
And don't get me started on the lunacy that is politics in the USA. For any local readers of my blog, if you are wanting to get a handle of the US political situation, but in a slightly humurous way, you could do worse than watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report (with 2 silent Ts). As an aside, Australia desperately needs a similar program, with the demise of The Chaser only John Clarke and Bryan Dawe provide any form of satirical observation of our politicians on television (I miss the days of The Gillies Report and Back Berner).

Sorry, back to the topic at hand. So we are currently in a position where the perception of poor political leadership, by both sides, coupled with actual poor leadership being shown overseas (both in the USA and in Europe) has lead to a reduction in spending, combined with an increase in saving.

The problem of drawing back on spending is that there are a lot of businesses out there that rely on you to spend, spend spend. Whether it's the manufacturer, importer or retailer of that thing you used to spend money on, or the operator of that entertainment venue, food place, holiday destination you're now not going to. And they are now feeling the pinch.

So, they start shedding staff. They delay payments to their suppliers. Or they close their doors.

This is how a recession starts. All this because you believe what you read in the newspapers and hear on the radio and television and are too afraid to spend your money.

We do not have the financial issues that other countries are facing at the moment. Not even close to it. But we may get that way if you listen to the doomsday merchants out there, both in the media and in politics.

The answer is simple. Ignore the media and the opposition and go out and spend. Your economy will thank you for it.

What are you afraid of?