Pixels made flesh


“What do we want?”
“A slogan.”
“When do we want it?”

Went to the Canberra “March in March” protest today, so need to write about it. Everyone else has written about their own experiences among the 100,000 plus people who marched in cities and towns all over Australia in last three days, so I should too. 100,000 people, by the way, virtually ignored by the media (except to complain about one or two signs, out of thousands, with a rude word or two, in order to discredit the event), but whose actions, just 6 months into the term of a new government, are unprecedented.

The Canberra event was much like the other events everywhere. It all had a pleasantly amateurish feel – no professional protesters or rent-a-crowd here. Ordinary people with no second names (“I’m Jim” “I’m Lisa” and so on) standing in front of an “open mic”, most clearly for the first time, saying in a few stumbling, and in one case tearful, words, why they had made the effort to come. Young and old, radical-looking and very conservative, men and women (about equal numbers), straight and gay, Aboriginal and “indigenous” (as one Aboriginal speaker put it), local Canberra and “from Goulburn” “from Newcastle” “from overseas”, healthy and not-so-healthy.
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Lights out


The last time an Australian Labor leader came up with a phrase that was both memorable and of positive benefit to the Party was Ben Chifley’s ‘Light on the Hill’. So good was it, in fact, that the media have deliberately tried to turn it into a joke phrase.

Oddly, the phrase is part of an otherwise forgettable piece of prose:

I try to think of the Labor movement, not as putting an extra sixpence into somebody’s pocket, or making somebody Prime Minister or Premier, but as a movement bringing something better to the people, better standards of living, greater happiness to the mass of the people. We have a great objective – the light on the hill – which we aim to reach by working the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand. If it were not for that, the Labor movement would not be worth fighting for.

Indeed the memorable ‘light’ part bears no obvious relation to the rest of the worthy description, and that in turn, though it is worthy, is totally unclear. ‘Better standards of living’? ‘Greater happiness’? You see what he is trying to get at, but it is no ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’, is it?
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Green parasols


‘You have come down here to see an election – eh? Spirited contest, my dear sir, very much so indeed. We have opened all the public-houses in the place. It has left our opponent nothing but the beer-shops — masterly policy, my dear sir, eh?’ The little man smiled complacently, and took a large pinch of snuff.

‘And what is the likely result of the contest?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick.

‘Why, doubtful, my dear sir, rather doubtful as yet,’ replied the little man. ‘Fizkin’s people have got three-and-thirty voters in the lock-up coach-house at the White Hart.’
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Police Academy 9


Here we are 8 days since the election that swept Tony Abbott and his Neanderthals to power (although not quite in the Qld-style landslide they and Rupert Murdoch were hoping for) and they have, astonishingly, not yet rolled into Government House to be sworn in.

For the media, including the ABC, the election seems not to have happened. They (rather like a Japanese soldier still hiding out in the Philipines and following the Emperor’s orders 50 years after the end of the war) are still bashing Labor, stirring up leadership tensions and ignoring policy issues, while Rudd supporters still trot into tv studios to talk about the future of the Party they damaged so badly, Graham Richardson is still billed as a “Labor powerbroker” (the word “power” being wrong), and scum from the RW think tank the IPA, busily planning the Hayekian paradise, are merely identified as “conservative commentators” by the ABC, rather in the way they might identify Genghis Khan as a “Chinese Horseman”.
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Visigoths and Vandals


It is August*, and the citizens are aware of the barbarians at the gates of their civilisation. The Visigoths have a bad reputation, but they have been secretly chatting to the slaves and convinced them they are really good guys, big supporters of the Lower Orders in fact. So one night the slaves open the locked gates and in come the Visigoths who then proceed to rape, pillage and generally wreck the joint, just as their reputation had suggested. The slaves, and this will shock you, ended up worse off.

Forty five years go by. Not very long, really, sufficiently short for old codgers like me to have seen the Visigoths in action and to think, oh shit, not again. But yes, this time it is the Vandals at the gates. No shenanigans with slaves this time, no need, all sorts of silly buggers have been played by the rulers of the civilisation, the politics is a mess, and next thing you know “The Vandals are coming, the Vandals are coming”. Who proceed to try to outdo those wimps the Visigoths and thoroughly trash the joint, so thoroughly that the year 455 is generally considered to mark the end of the once mighty 500 year old Roman Empire.
Yes, Rome, what did you think? Oh, I see, you thought you could see analogies with the citizens of Australia terrified of the arrival of Coalition barbarians on 7 September? Well, I hadn’t thought of that but now you mention it…
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Thus Spake Horton


Sometimes deja vu jumps out and hits you unexpectedly. The kerfuffle this week about one of the new Australian ministers choosing to take his oath on a book about one imaginary friend instead of the other one about, well, the same imaginary friend the others were using, caused an uproar from all the supporters of the second book who love to vent their hatreds on talkback radio. So it goes.

But the whole storm in a communion cup reminded one of my twitter friends of something I had written four years ago about the Prime Ministerial Oath of Office and totally forgotten (so it often goes, these days!). Anyway, read it again, and thought that whoever this young fellow was who wrote this had a few good ideas, and since many of you will not have seen the piece originally you might like a look now. Surprise the ABC with a rush of traffic to one of their former Drum authors.
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I’ve been searching for a cure for Writer’s Block, but the only one that seems to work is to start writing. We shall see whether it is effective or not.

An update on me first, then perhaps some less important stuff about the rest of the universe. I’m doing ok, thank you. Half way through my three-month holiday from Oncology and so far so good on my mutated lymphocyte guerrilla army. But if I am temporarily playing hooky from the claws of Oncology, I am spending a lot of time trying to repair some of the ravages of two years of cancer treatment. Chemotherapy works on the old tested procedure of destroying villages in order to save them. Or, a more modern metaphor, on the IMF procedure of imposing austerity on countries in order to repair them
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500 miles


So this is blog post number 500 and I thought I should do something to mark the occasion, bit of a retrospective.

But no cause for celebration that I can see. I began the blog in late 2005, following a year or so of writing a column for a couple of local newspapers. It seems a very long time ago, and much has happened in personal terms as well as nationally and internationally in the last 8 or so years.

I began blogging in an attempt to add my voice to the many other new voices which were beginning to emerge, in Australia and around the world, to challenge the mainstream media voices. I not only began this blog but began contributing to the new Huffington Post, the first attempt at a commercial version of a blog, and to the ABC, Australia’s public broadcaster, as it caught up with the new medium of blogs.
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Great Expectations


Hooray, hooray, The Guardian newspaper now has an Australian edition as of this morning. Glad cries from progressives, more and more perturbed, no, angry, at the increasingly blatant right-wing bias of all the other mainstream media in Australia, not just the 70% of newspapers owned by Murdoch, but the others (mainly Fairfax), the radio talk shows, and the public broadcaster the ABC. Please please, came the cry, come to Australia, oh lovely Guardian newspaper where reality creates a left-wing bias, come and save us. And here, at last, they are.
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Some Say


Journalists with secret sources a cornerstone of our democracy eh? Not so sure. Oh, I know that “I will never reveal the names of my sources” is the Hippocratic Oath of Journalism. And yes, yes, I know all about Watergate. But still, surprisingly, I have me doubts.

Seems hardly an Australian media political story these days, and reflected from there into Twitter, which doesn’t include “senior government sources” “senior ministers” “a number of backbenchers” “Labor insiders” “political observers” “a former power broker”, down to that deepest of Deep Throats the ubiquitous “Some” who frequently appears “saying” things, as a source of stories inevitably damaging to the government.

Now journalists defend this anonymity by arguing that it is an essential part of their trade to protect identity of sources otherwise no whistleblower would ever come forward. In this narrative (for it is just a narrative like all journalism these days) these intrepid journalists find honest insiders willing to lift the lid on some terrible political wrong-doing hidden behind closed doors, and the public must be kept informed.

But it is impossible to think of such a story in recent years. Instead the “whistle blowing” the “leaks from insiders” all have a single theme and purpose – to “reveal” and exacerbate whatever personal tensions exist within the Labor government. Either because it suits the agenda of a media proprietor, or of the Opposition, or of someone who wants to retrieve a Field Marshall’s baton from a knapsack in which, they believe, it was prematurely stored.

That is, this kind of Leak Journalism is not aimed at the public interest but at private interests in the Great Game of politics. The identity of informants, where they do actually exist (and I suggest some are, like the dead body in World War 2 Operation Mincemeat, not real people at all) , is not being protected because of the value of their information to the public, but to hide the nasty political games they are actually playing.

What’s more their anonymity has become a way of journalists inflating the apparent value of sources, of effortlessly increasing them in both numbers and rank to give a totally false impression of the meaning of a story. Pretending that the journalist has 50 whistleblowers, instead of one whistleblower 50 times. And a way of hiding secret agendas, political and business. And of disguising the informant who is a member of a think tanks, pushing a nasty neoconservative economic agenda on behalf of paymasters. And of pretending that “inside information” from the Labor Party isn’t in fact coming from a cunning Liberal troublemaker. And so on.

The media has been completely happy with fake whistleblowers, helping them, for example, to churn out endless fake “Rudd challenge” stories with no more effort than pushing a programmed function key on a keyboard. But the media have treated with contempt those ultimate real whistleblowers Assange and Manning. Their stories needed investigation, work, writing, and, more scarily, would actually involve speaking truth to power. A function once primary for journalists but no longer.

Anyway, think it is time for a change to this “secret informant” business. Some say all informants’ identities should be made public, in the interests of transparency, unless there is an extremely good reason for not doing so.

What do you say?