More on the Fitzgibbon affair, Bolt, and other trivia

The weekend papers have furnished us with yet another episode in the Joel Fitzgibbon affair.   On March 26 the Sydney Morning Herald splashed the headline Defence leaks dirt file on own minister’  The Age and The Canberra Times did similarly.  The story, by Philip Dorling, Nick McKenzie, and Richard Baker, alleged that an officer from the Defence Signals Directorate had accessed Fitzgibbon’s IT system, a move that was said to have arisen from concerns about ‘possible security implications’  of Fitzgibbon’s friendship with a ‘Chinese-born businesswoman’ Helen Liu, a long-time friend of the Fitzgibbon family.  The concerns were said to have been passed on to top Defence officials but had been ignored.  The saga was commented upon on The Political Sword first in The China intrigue on March 28 and followed up with What has become of the Fitzgibbon affair? on April 27. More...

The Rudd essay on the GFC – was he right?

This is a follow up to a piece posted on 7 February Kevin Rudd’s essay on the global financial crisis and another piece posted a month later The Turnbull answer to the Rudd essay.

The Monthly, which published the Rudd essay, has published in its May issue The Rudd Essay & the Global Financial Crisis in which the opinions of what it describes as five ‘influential thinkers’ from the international scene are given.  Its reason for doing this is stated as being its disappointment at the media response to the essay: “The overwhelming majority have been carping and superficial.  Virtually no one has offered a penetrating critique or proposed an alternative account of the most significant economic calamity since the Great Depression.”   Even the ABC comes in for criticism for not conducting an interview with the PM on the essay.  More...

How do you rate our TV and radio journalists?

What was intended to be a two part piece needs another – this is about TV and radio journalists.

Some of these are the most acerbic and intimidating interrogators.  They look for and enjoy the gotcha moment, and because they are well known for this propensity, politicians are wary of them and cautious with their remarks for fear of them returning in a disadvantageous video clip.  I am most familiar with national journalists.  Let’s start with Kerry O’Brien. More...

How do you rate our political journalists?

The last piece How should we rate the quality of our political journalists? outlined the criteria that might apply when judging their quality.  This piece reflects on individual journalists.  Your views are invited.

First let’s deal with editorials which are a particular problem in appraising quality in journalism. When there is a named author it is possible to compare any particular piece with others by the same person; with editorials, the author is usually unknown and often changes. Editorial writers hide behind the paper’s banner, yet their words are meant to reflect the paper’s stance and potentially have an important influence on readers’ opinions.  Maybe because they are generally anonymous they seem to be bolder in their assertions and opinions.  They often speak with the authority of Moses descending from the mountain with wisdom engraved on tablets of stone.  It’s pretty hard to hold them to account; the only recourse for readers is ‘Letters to the Editor’ published in the newspaper; there seems to be no online opportunity for this. More...

How should we rate the quality of our political journalists?

Bell-shaped (Gaussian) curves abound in nature and human endeavour, no less among political journalists.  They are scattered along a normal distribution curve in more ways than one.  Their political orientation varies from the extremes of conservatism on the one hand, to extremes of socialism on the other.  The vast majority lie between these extremes.   In terms of quality, they vary from the excellent, several standard deviations above the mean, to the bulk that could be described as ordinary or maybe even mediocre, to the shabby, several standard deviations below the mean. 

In his 1974 book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – An Inquiry into Values, in which he explores the metaphysics of quality, Robert Pirsig asserts that quality is indefinable, but goes on to say   "But even though Quality cannot be defined, you know what Quality is!".  Put another way, you recognize quality as soon as you see it.  In the area of rhetoric Pirsig singled out aspects of quality such as unity, vividness, authority, economy, sensitivity, clarity, emphasis, flow, suspense, brilliance, precision, proportion, depth and so on, but found them too difficult to define.  Pirsig also reminds us that the Greeks equated quality with truth, a notion that might help us to discern quality among journalists.

This piece confines itself to journalists who focus mainly on politics. More...

The Coalition’s Budget Rap – deficit and debt, deficit and debt

Although it might be hard to conjure up an image of Malcolm Turnbull, Joe Hockey and Helen Coonan doing the Coalition’s Budget Rap, it would not be difficult to imagine the words that would flow from their throats:
Deficit and debt,
Deficit and debt,
Deficit and debt as far as you can see
Labor deficit and debt that will leave us all at sea.

Do not expect to hear anything positive from Coalition members unless it is prized painfully from them by persistent journalists.  Chris Uhlmann on ABC radio this morning did well to have Turnbull reluctantly concede that the loss to revenue of over $200 billion over four years resulting from the GFC would necessarily result in a deficit.  Only the most determined interviewers will achieve any such concession.  Gloom, disaster, devastation, irresponsibility, incompetence, profligate, reckless, panic, spin, ‘spendathon’, spending spree, cash splashes, casino economics, Pollyanna, nation-wrecking and other pejorative words and phrases will be Coalition members’ stock in trade.. More...

Liberals and Power – The Road Ahead

This book, edited by Peter van Onselen, is a mixture of good articles and several of indifferent quality.  The introduction by the editor does not indicate how the authors were selected, nor whether those selected were given an open assignment to write what they pleased or whether the titles were assigned to them.  The book reads as if the former applied, leading to a somewhat disjointed assembly of pieces that do not hang well together or form a coherent whole.

The book would have been worth reading if only to read the piece by George Brandis, which is head and shoulders above the others.  Several articles are the poorer for the partisan comments they contain.  Some authors seem unable to mount their arguments about how the Coalition might regain power without making disparaging remarks about Labor, often using weary slogans and stereotypical mantras.  Yet others are able to make their case free of these unnecessary encumbrances. More...

The curious case of the man who forgot the GFC

He’s a Rhodes Scholar with a monumental brain.  Yet when Malcolm Turnbull rose to speak at the National Press Club this week he seemed to have a memory lapse – he forgot the GFC.  Read what he said and see if you can spot where he acknowledged it and the massive loss of revenue resulting from the downturn, a loss whoever was in Government would have suffered.

He mentioned ‘global recession’ only once, in the sentence referring to Kevin Rudd: ”They’ve cut him a lot of slack because of the global recession.”    He didn’t use the word ‘crisis’ at all.  So that made it easy for him to lambaste everything, I do mean everything the Government has done to ameliorate the effect of the GFC on this nation.  Every action was portrayed as simply debt accumulation, deficit building and fiscal disaster for decades to come.  There was no acknowledgement of the need to borrow money to cover the shortfall in revenue resulting from the GFC which is well past $100 billion, without which regular Government services could not be sustained.  It was as if the revenue loss did not exist. More...

Is the GFC a manifestation of chaos?

This piece suggests that the evolution of the global financial crisis is an exemplar of chaos theory.  It begins with a brief outline of chaos theory, which is excerpted from Wikipedia‘s Chaos Theory.

The discoverer of chaos was Henri Poincaré in 1890, but Edward Lorenz is widely recognized for his pioneering work on chaos in weather prediction in 1961.  Chaos theory describes the behaviour of certain dynamic systems – that is, systems whose states evolve with time – that may exhibit dynamics that are highly sensitive to initial conditions, popularly referred to as the 'butterfly effect'.   As a result of this sensitivity, which manifests itself as an exponential growth of perturbations (disturbances) in the initial conditions, the behaviour of chaotic systems appears to be random. More...

The logic of Joe Hockey

When Kevin Rudd suggested recently that in order to fund increased pension payments and unemployment benefits in the upcoming budget, a contribution to that should be forthcoming from those who are closer to the upper income bracket, Joe Hockey protested loudly that Rudd was playing ‘the politics of envy’.  As this term is not in everyday use in this country, I checked out its history.  It’s been around for millennia, but contemporaneously the saying seems to be used by conservatives (Republicans) against liberals (Democrats) to use the US nomenclature, and the Coalition against Labor in this country.  At its core it proposes that those less well off are envious of those better off, and by implication support the redistribution of wealth to give more to the poor by taking it from the rich.  So the moment this is mooted the ‘politics of envy’ tag is attached to Labor, which is seen as promoting this envy.  John Howard used this to great effect by suggesting that the Labor Party attempts to ingratiate itself with the working class and unemployed people by questioning the legitimacy of the wealth of the rich and the super rich.  More...