john howard

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ABC chair Maurice Newman, who is not a climate scientist or even any kind of scientist at all, is pleased to hear more non-scientists talking about climate science. I reckon that apart from being a tool he’s way out of line.

He clearly has no clue about how the ABC, as the national broadcaster, should be helping the public understand this complex issue. And by speaking directly to staff about how they should be covering a specific highly-political issue he’s undermining the role of managing director Mark Scott.

Yesterday Newman (pictured) told ABC staff that the scientific consensus on climate change and anthropogenic global warming was “conventional wisdom” and “group think”.

Judging by the ABC News report, Newman’s speech was riddled with contradictions. He contrasts “wisdom and consensus” with “other points of view”, as if he does understand that there are those with actual knowledge of the field, versus those who just have an opinion.

But later…

“I’m not a scientist and I’m like anybody else in the public, I have to listen to all points of view and then make judgements when we’re asked to vote on particular policies.”

No, Newman, you don’t listen to “all points of view”. You only listen to those who know what they’re talking about.

If I need medical advice, I might seek a second opinion from another doctor, maybe a specialist. But I don’t seek out the views of a kitchenhand, a hairdresser and an architect. For “balance”.

Similarly, if I’m after an understanding of climate science, I ask climate scientists. If I’m the national broadcaster, then I find a good science broadcaster who can turn the complex jargon into a clear narrative. That’s what broadcasters do, and maybe Robyn Williams or one of his colleagues is up for the job.

Climate change is one of the most important issues facing us globally. Even if you still “have an open mind” and are “waiting for proof either way” — and what would that proof have to look like, Mr Newman? — you owe it to Australians to present a clear, reasoned perspective. And that’s not about “balancing” properly-developed scientific knowledge with every swivel-eyed serial fabricator with a media profile.

You owe it to Australians to have the ABC weigh up the validity of these points of view and present the best consensus you can — not just dump an unsorted mess onto the public’s laps and expect them to sort it out.

Yes, the ABC and its staff should be free to say, in their own voices, that some opinions are wrong. They shouldn’t live in fear of being branded “biased” simply for applying rational analysis. That the ABC has become so cowed through endless political attacks is disturbing. As its Chair you should be encouraging greater boldness, not this enfeebled “balance through mindlessness”.

It is outrageous that you’re suggesting we waste more of the public’s time and money on these self-promoting fuckwits. Their little repertoire of cherry-picked factoids has been comprehensively debunked so many times already, and our climate scientists have better things to be doing with their time.

Even if you have doubts, the risk analysis is so simple even a merchant banker and “close personal friend of John Howard” could understand it. If you don’t get it in that 10-minute video, try the follow-up.

The risk of not acting on real climate change vastly outweighs the risk of having spent money on addressing climate change which then turns out to be false — because the worst that’ll happen is we end up with a safer, more efficient society anyway.

Or if an amateur video isn’t your thing, try today’s piece in The Drum, Climate debate: opinion vs evidence, where Stephan Lewandowsky explains why your notion of “balance” is just plain wrong.

And once you’ve done that, Mr Newman, butt out. Directing the ABC’s staff is the Managing Director’s job, not yours. Your job is to somehow move beyond the blatantly political nature of your appointment and ensure the proper corporate governance of the ABC. For all Australians, not just your old mates at the Australian Stock Exchange.

[Update 9.30am: I've just discovered that there were more of Maurice Newman's comments on last night's edition of PM.]

Photograph of John Howard's campaign office in Epping by Trinn ('Pong) Suwannapha
Yesterday ’Pong and I journeyed to Epping in Sydney’s north-west suburbs to photograph this monument to history: John Howard’s campaign office for the 2007 federal election. It’s still empty almost two years later.

Epping seemed strangely bleak. This was far from being the only empty shop on Beecroft Road. Signs were dilapidated. In the alley behind the shops, magpies rummaged through restaurant garbage bins in search of food. The eucalypt smoke enshrouding the suburb — the result of back-burning operation before summer — didn’t help.

Two years ago posts referencing John Howard dominated this website’s tag cloud. It’s been a long time since he was Prime Minister, but he’s still prominent here and in the mainstream media through things like his Menzies Lecture — and that was a strange attempt to stamp his own rhetoric onto Australia’s political history.

I wonder how long it’ll be until we stop hearing about the miserable old toad?

[Photo: A Space for Howard ©2009 Trinn (’Pong) Suwannapha. All rights reserved.]

Here are the web links I’ve found for 12 September 2009 through 19 September 2009, posted not-quite-automatically.

Daily Telegraph (UK), 19 August 1939, page 3 (part): click for a closer view

If the world was about to explode into a Total War lasting six years, would you know?

As I wrote back in 2007, TV documentaries about World War II cover the rise of Adolf Hitler in a few minutes. We forget that Hitler was head of the National Socialist Party from 1921, fully 12 years before he became Chancellor in 1933. It was another 6 years before the invasion of Poland.

What did it look like for people living it in real-time?

My guess is that for the vast majority of people the rise of Hitler had very little impact on day-to-day life — just as today the distant wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have virtually no discernible impact on my life in Sydney. Nor do the many minor changes to our laws which increase the powers of central government without any balancing increases in our own ability to hold that government accountable.

In the summer of 1932, a few politically-aware people sitting in sunny cafes might have discussed that odd Mr Hitler’s failed run for the presidency, but I doubt anyone would have seen it as heralding global war.

This is why I’m starting to find George Orwell’s diary intriguing.

Initially, as the Orwell Prize published the entries exactly 60 years after they were first written it was, to be honest, boring. Laughably so, in fact, as the meticulous journalist documented the day-to-day activities in his garden. On 30 November 1938, it was nothing more than: Two eggs.

But now, we’re only eleven days out from the German invasion of Poland. Thirteen days from Britain and France declaring war on Germany.

Orwell notes a Daily Telegraph report (pictured): “Germans are buying heavily in copper & rubber for immediate delivery, & price of rubber rising rapidly.”

Orwell’s journalistic eye could see the signs. Could ordinary citizens? Sure, gas masks were being distributed and air raid drills held, but did people believe them?

In 2007, did we believe John Howard’s “alert but not alarmed” scaremongering? Or didn’t we? And if not, but they did in 1939, what’s the difference?

I reckon Orwell’s diary will be an interesting read over the next 13 days.

Here are the web links I’ve found for 22 May 2009 to 27 May 2009, posted automatically.

  • The Age of the Essay | Paul Graham: This essay dates from 2004, but it’s still valid. The essay, the kind that’s about exploring an issue, is a natural form of writing online. Plus I like his comments about disobedience and creativity.
  • GLAM | Wikimedia Australia: One for your diaries! A little conference called “Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums & Wikimedia: Finding the common ground” at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 6-7 August 2009. Hosted by Wikimedia Australia, with discussions on four themes: Education, Technology, Business, Law. To be opened by Senator Kate Lundy, Senator for the ACT.
  • That 180ms is the bane of my life: Network engineer Glen Turner explains why the 180 milliseconds it takes for Internet data to cross the Pacific causes problems. “You’ve got to realise that Australia is almost unique in being a long way from the centre of gravity of its language. Broadly, almost all German-speakers live in Germany, whereas a tiny proportion of English-speakers live in Australia. That has an effect on Internet traffic. Most Internet traffic in Germany stays within Germany. Most Internet traffic in Australia goes offshore.”
  • One thing PC users can do that Mac users can’t…: Crude but effective.
  • Media and Brand Supremacy: Why the New Media Brand Could Be Nike | The Huffington Post: Heidi Sinclair notes that individual journalists and commentators are sometimes bigger news brands than the outlets they work for. There’s plenty here which meshes with my complains that some folks don’t separate the content (“news”) from the container (“newspapers”).
  • texts from last night: A scarily funny collection of people’s (allegedly) drunken text messages. Don’t click through unless you’ve got plenty of time to spare.
  • Death in Birth – Where Life’s Start Is a Deadly Risk | NYTimes.com: The first of three articles on efforts to lower the death rate in Tanzania. Excellent timing, given Project TOTO. Challenging to read, however
  • The Angelina Factor | Bitchy Jones’ Diary: A ranty article which, in language which may be confronting for some, explores the social and psycho-sexual issues around the idea that Angelina Jolie is universally sexually attractive. Just for the record, I do not find her the least bit attractive.
  • Rethinking the Global Money Supply: Scientific American: China has proposed that the world move to a more symmetrical monetary system, in which nations peg their currencies to a representative basket of others rather than to the US dollar alone. The article includes a little history, too.
  • “We did not know that child abuse was a crime,”says retired Catholic archbishop | the freethinker: The retired Catholic Archbishop of Milwaukee, Rembert G Weakland, says “We all considered sexual abuse of minors as a moral evil, but had no understanding of its criminal nature… [I] Accepted naively the common view that it was not necessary to worry about the effects on the youngsters: either they would not remember or they would ‘grow out of it’.” WTF?
  • Comedy Thrives in Times of Despair | Spiegel Online: Monty Python’s Michael Palin on what the financial crisis is a boon for comics, and the perils of political correctness.
  • Hello Africa | Vimeo: A 42-minute documentary about mobile phone culture in Africa.
  • Shell On Trial | newmatilda.com: Next week, Shell will appear before a US federal court on charges of torture, extra-judicial killing and crimes against humanity for incidents which took place in the Niger Delta. Will it be the first multinational found guilty of human rights abuses?
  • Genital warts take Shoaib out of Twenty20 World Cup | ABC News: There was a time when someone’s medical history was considered private, even if they played sports professionally. Personally, I reckon the specific of Shoaib’s medical problem are none of anyone else’s business.
  • PlugComputer Community: The developer community for Marvell’s Plug Computer.
  • Plugging In $40 Computers | NYTimes.com: Marvell Technology Group has created a “plug computer”. A tiny plastic box you plug into an electric outlet. No display, but Gigabit Ethernet and a USB. Inside is a 1.2GHz processor running Linux, 512MB RAM and 512MB Flash memory. US$99 today, probably under US$40 in two years.
  • Misguided middle-class moaners | BusinessDay: Ross Gittins explodes a few myths about Australia, class, taxation and social welfare.

Screenshot of the Tags page, showing censorship as the new biggest tagFourteen months ago, just after the Rudd government came to power, one name dominated this website’s tag cloud. Out of 944 posts, 91 were tagged “john howard”. Finally, that’s changed.

Howard is still there, of course, in third place with 102 posts out of 1540 being so tagged, including this one. But the new leader is “censorship” with 118 and “crikey” with 106. “tv” is in equal third place with 102 — but that’s because my Stilgherrian Live posts are always tagged that. “stephen conroy” is in fifth place with 91.

As the image shows, the main post categories are Internet and Politics. I’m not at all unhappy with that.

All excellent food for thought as I ponder how I’ll continue to shape my return to doing media work full time…

Here it is. The full video of His Benevolence Stilgherrian’s Christmas Message, originally broadcast on Christmas Night as part of the Stilgherrian Live Christmas Special.

For some reason Ustream only recorded the first 70 minutes of that program, so the remaining 2+ hours is lost forever. Apart from this inaugural Christmas Message, which must be preserved for future generations! If the video player does not appear immediately below, try watching it directly at Viddler.

Warning: There is “strong language”. Well, not by my standards, but maybe by yours.

The full text is over the jump, should you wish to read along. However my main aim in putting it there was to attract Teh Googles.

Also, the Message is riddled with continuity and other errors. Perhaps, if you’re bored, you can amuse yourself by listing them in the comments. I won’t mind.

My especial thanks to ’Pong for the massive amount of work on this silly project.

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Sixty years ago today the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the newly-formed United Nations. After the bloodshed of the WWII, virtually every nation on the planet understood that these values were What It Was All About — and yet Australia is alone amongst Western democracies in not having enshrined them into Law. What’s wrong with us?

I’m still too ill to write an original essay today. However I’ve already written what I think about this in “Let’s just write that down…”. You may also like to read my review of Julian Burnside’s book Watching Brief.

Under the Rudd government, we seem to be closer to rectifying this gap in our laws — though I find it odd that a Bill of Rights sceptic is chairing the panel. Still, anything would be better than the comprehensive erosion of human rights under the Howard government.

Wow! Yesterday @KevinRuddPM said “Looking forward to communicating with you on Twitter” and now he’s said “Thanks to everyone for adding me on Twitter”! The Rudd Government really is about fresh thinking! Look!

Screenshot of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's second tweet: Thanks to everyone for adding me on Twitter

OK, I’m not going to write a blog post every time the PM tweets something. But this gives you an idea of the scrutiny he’s under. He (or an as-yet-unnamed minion) types eight words and suddenly hundreds of people are a’flutter. Or a’twitter.

Mr Rudd’s first challenge will be to explain why he had over 400 followers last night, and had followed most of them back, but now half of them are gone. It’s probably just a Twitter glitch, but we all Need To Know. Now please. I’m sure the friendly folks at Twitter will respond quickly when they know it’s Australia’s Prime Minister (or an as-yet-unnamed minion) asking. That’s like even more important than Sarah Palin!

Have you ever seen Sarah Palin and Kevin Rudd in the same room? Spooky!

Since my welcome to the PM yesterday, I’ve been thinking about some suitably Prime Ministerial tweets.

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Photograph of a sprig of rosemary, for remembrance

Where the fuck do I start? For me, Anzac Day is a tangled mess of emotions and ideas — some about grand themes of global and national politics, others deeply personal.

What pleases me most about Anzac Day is that Australia and New Zealand commemorate the sacrifice of their war dead not through parades of tanks and missiles and a glorification of war but with highly personal ceremonies of remembrance starting before dawn.

We talk not of our nation’s military prowess — though Australia is, by all accounts, capable of fielding professional military forces which make almost everybody else look like disorganised amateurs — but of the personal qualities which have made this nation great.

Those qualities were listed in an Army recruitment advertisement designed by a soldier. They were reiterated this morning by Major General Mark Kelly:

Regardless of religion, racial background, or even place of birth, we gather not to glorify war, but to remind ourselves that we value who we are and the freedoms we possess, and to acknowledge the courage and sacrifice of those who contributed so much in shaping the identity of this proud nation…

The term Anzac has transcended the physical meaning to become a spirit, an inspiration which embodies the qualities of courage, discipline, sacrifice, self reliance, and in Australian terms, mateship, and a fair go. This is what Anzac means to me.

These are the qualities which once gave Australia such a fine reputation overseas — before our foreign policy became one of subservience to American Neocons, and before symbols of military might were perverted into supporting a never-ending War on Abstract Nouns. Before quiet patriotism turned into loud but ignorant flag-draped jingoism. John Birmingham wrote about this in his Quarterly Essay, A Time for War: Australia as a Military Power. But what does it all mean now under Chairman Rudd?

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