When did the right lose it?

Guy Rundle writes: Re. “The left defend failure – and fail to respond” (Tuesday, item 13). When did the right lose it? I’ve been pondering that question for some time, but a series of contributions by dumb right representative Christian Kerr in his unique genre – the rambling spray – brought it back to mind. Three or four years ago, the right pretty much had hegemony over all sorts of debates, gave the appearance of being the natural party of government. Now here, in the US and sections of the UK press they tend to sound like the sort of people you meet in the park, muttering to themselves about UFOs. What happened? You could talk about all sorts of surface effects, but deep down the right lost its connection with a whole middle section of people because it lost its connection with the capacity to reason, and the idea that you step back dispassionately from the world and analyse what the consequences of your actions might be. In effect you reverse the relationship between reality and thought, and come to believe that the latter can change the former if you simply believe in it enough. Iraq and Afghanistan was probably the first of these. Mark Steyn probably set the benchmark for human stupidity on this one when he suggested that the place would be like Delaware or Akron or some such place 12 months after the invasion. To believe that, you really had to think that the West, and America in particular, was not only the final form of civilization, but somehow an expression of innate human nature – that every other cultural system was somehow just a thin crust beneath which there was a fully-formed shopping mall waiting to jump out. The more that failed to come to pass, a rethink might have been in order. Instead, the right started to blame the critics for thinking negative thoughts – the supreme example of magical thinking, whether it’s witches in Salem, Trotsky-fascists in Moscow, or ‘people who want the surge to fail’. It’s the sort of thing four year olds do. The second case was global warming, which even four year olds could understand. Here the right had a full-scale brain conniption – since global warming suggested that there might have to be limits to growth and markets, it had to be rejected out of hand. Though the greens were accused of being a religion, it was the right who clung to every useful statistical shred – real or fabricated – like it was a fragment of the true cross. This more than anything convinced a lot of people that they were less born leaders and more slightly nutty ideologues. Now we’re seeing it again in the debate around the military occupation of the Northern Territory. Rather than coolly debate the move, anyone who suggests that it might make a bad situation worse is charged with, a la Noel Pearson, ‘wanting it to fall’. The insult – that in Kerr’s vicious insinuation, we don’t care about ‘a few boong kids’ – is nasty but immaterial. The important thing is that people want you to leave your brains at the door, because they don’t have the guts to argue it on the issues – their command of the situation is so tenuous that it threatens to come apart at any minute. Yet as Iraq and Afghanistan – which, despite what well known Gilbert and Sullivan character Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles thinks, are pretty much the same – demonstrate, if you don’t think clearly, you can make a situation so open-endedly worse that no one party can even put a stop to chaos. Magical thinking is ultimately self-defeating, because you can’t actually take soundings of realty, and work out what’s changed. Hence the increasingly sub-hysterical tone of the Steyns, Kerrs, Pearsons’, Melanie Phillips’ et al as they desperately fend off the rising waters of the real. Far more importantly, it’s disastrous for the victims – here and across the world – who are prey to their powerful fantasies.

Howard’s NT plan:

Dr Alex Wodak, Director, Alcohol and Drug Service, St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, writes: The health and social conditions of Australia’s indigenous citizens are intolerable. Numerous reports confirm that this has been the case for decades. Multiple interventions based on widely differing assumptions and perspectives have failed to achieve progress. Excessive consumption of alcohol and other drugs (including tobacco) has devastated Aboriginal Australians and their communities. The situation for indigenous Australians is similar to, but even worse than, the situation applying to indigenous people in other countries such as New Zealand, the USA and Canada. It is impossible to develop effective interventions to deal with the problem of psychoactive drugs among indigenous Australians without also taking into account and at least partly correcting the other multiple severe factors disadvantaging this population, especially health, education, housing and employment. The intervention by the Prime Minister on 21 June rightly draws attention to the immense contribution of alcohol to the distressing problems of Aboriginal children today. Policy in such a contentious and sensitive area announced during the run up to an election will inevitably be dismissed by many as purely politically motivated. Many Australian governments have launched initiatives to deal with the alcohol and drug problems of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders with great fanfare, poorly identified objectives, limited budgets, inadequate consultation and deficient research and evaluation. Alcohol was prohibited for indigenous Australians for over 100 years from the 18590s until the 1960s (and even beyond in some areas). The results of this policy were disastrous. Alcohol prohibition may be beneficial in some isolated Aboriginal communities in remote areas provided that this has the overwhelming support of the members of the community. But alcohol prohibition has been adopted in many countries with generally profoundly disappointing results. Even in the Islamic world, only a handful of countries have adopted and persisted with total alcohol prohibition. The Northern Territory government started the “Living with Alcohol” programme in 1992. This involved increasing alcohol taxation by about 5% with a tiny fraction of this revenue allocated to alcohol prevention and treatment programmes. Careful independent evaluation showed 20-40% improvement in several important parameters. However, after a 1997 High Court decision, the Northern Territory government was forced to close the “Living with Alcohol” programme. The “Living with Alcohol” programme should be reinstated nationally. Only the Commonwealth Government has the capacity to do this. It is not by any means the only action which is needed to control the problems highlighted by recent publicity. But it is probably one of the most important measures needed to reduce the nature and extent of problems due to alcohol which are central to the serious other problems now being discussed.

Daniel Kogoy writes: Why is the Howard government just focused on alcohol, drug and child sexual abuse of Aboriginal communities? There are plenty of other minority groups that also cause these problems. Take for example journalists. A large proportion of this minority group has a drinking problem, though you don’t see Howard calling for prohibition, despite the many benefits that society and journalist’s families would derive from such a move. Punters would be able to enjoy a quiet beer at the bar without having to listen to this opinionated minority ramble on for hours and family would not have to count reading their loved one’s column as quality time spent together. Fairfax and News Ltd should use the salaries they pay their journalists as a weapon to ensure they are able to walk past a pub without entering it. The productivity of university students is seriously diminished by their binge drinking habits. Three to five years worth of Fridays are lost to recovering from Thursday night student drinks. For students living on campus, the result can be three or more days a week spent nursing hangovers. All those hard earned tax dollars wasted on handouts to these students; HECS, Youth Allowance and subsidized meals. Why should they get special treatment?! Professional footballers are notorious not only for alcohol abuse but drug and sexual abuse as well. Why isn’t Howard promising to send in the army to protect local communities whenever a football team travels on an end of season team bonding trip!? I am sick of these footballers having it so easy, sitting around for all but three hours training a day, living off sponsors’ handouts. Child sexual abuse is prevalent amongst the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts communities yet to my recollection there been no talk of mandatory physical probing or a military strike to take control of their territory. Despite the Catholic Church possessing valuable real estate around the world could it be that this dwarfs in comparison to the wealth that lies beneath the ground in these remote Aboriginal communities? Isn’t there a lot of uranium under the ground in the Northern Territory?

Peter Rosier writes: I sense something very disturbing about Howard’s aboriginal peregrinations. Is my hearing so acute that only I can hear the dog whistle in the Prime Minister’s frenetic announcements about the crisis within the indigenous communities of the Northern Territory? Certainly, there’s an horrendous problem, and it has needed fixing (for decades), but I am certain as I listen to Mr Howard that I hear a high-pitched message that tells certain, less caring sections of our community, that what he’s really doing is clamping down and getting tough on those Aboriginal wastrels who get huge government handouts yet still manage to live in squalor while their mates in the “aboriginal industry” live it up on government grants for this and for that. . . and, well, that for so long as Big John faces another election, they’re not getting away with it for one moment longer, and don’t you worry, mate, with Strong John and the Army and Police in control, there’ll be no more of that. God, I’m glad I’m not a dog.

Roslyn Pike writes: In what way does Barry Everingham (Tuesday, comments) think our troops’ experiences in Iraq fit them for fulfilling the roll of fighting drugs, s-xual and alcohol abuse etc. in Australia? Surely he is mixing up the professions. Just because they both start with ‘s’ doesn’t mean that soldiers and social workers can do the same job. Barry, soldiers kill, social workers seek to redress unhealthy relationships etc. Soldiers’ bedside manner would include a rifle, ability to follow orders and shout them too, and their dress in fatigues would be about as helpful as Governments’ approaches to Australian Aboriginal People for the last thirty years leaving out the few notable exceptions of great worth.

Michael Gilmour writes: Re. “Sacred Children and flimsy hearsay” (yesterday, item 4). Guy Rundle states that: “In all the debate surrounding the Little Children Are Sacred report, one assumption has held amongst all participants — that the report is well-founded and clear-eyed. The more I plough through it, the more I’m beginning to doubt even that.” How does leftist Guy Rundle differentiate his position on Little Children Are Sacred to those right-wing columnists that share a similar scepticism on Sir Ron Wilson’s Bringing Them Home report?

David Lodge writes: If Chris Hunter (yesterday, comments) would like to pull his head of out of his ass for one moment he might understand that ATSIC was utterly corrupt and its abolition was whole-heartedly supported by both sides of politics. It was not a valid institution and obviously did nothing for our indigenous people. Secondly what apartheid are you talking about? What proof have you of genocide or indeed any type of restrictions on aboriginals when all they’ve had in the last 30 years is self determination, free welfare and native title? We’ve given them as much autonomy as possible, and the left wants is more! Get real! It’s also very neat how you leave out the majority of aboriginals living in urban centers across Australia who are doing just fine. I’ll bet you’re one of those people who still believes that the White Australia policy was based on racism, as opposed to the flood of cheap Asian labor of which it halted.

Crikey Bias-o-meter:

Tony Allan writes: Re. “Crikey Bias-o-meter III: The federal press gallery” (yesterday, item 1). I was saddened to learn from Crikey that there are no longer any radio journalists in the Canberra Press Gallery. This is a great shame, as their immediate deadlines make it harder for them to “follow the pack”, and their prodigious output of news and analysis, and questions at news conferences and doorstops, frequently provide the basis for what you read in the papers and see on TV. The ABC current affairs programs, AM, PM and The World Today, were considered to be highly influential, along with the Radio National breakfast program. I also lament the absence of Sky News, which everyone used to turn to for breaking stories (along with ABC and the Macquarie and Southern Cross radio networks). If Crikey doesn’t rate their correspondents on the Bias-o-meter, I must presume their bureaux have closed down. On the other hand, perhaps Crikey believes bias has never been an issue with political coverage on radio. If so, Richard Alston can rest easy.

Julian Zytnik writes: The author of “Crikey Bias-o-meter III” writes about Matt Price: “I’m not a journalist. I’m an entertainer”. True, but this is from the same person whose “analysis” of almost every press gallery member is pinned on some two-line joke, dig at dress sense or comment on a physical attribute.

Robert Hughes writes: Tamas Calderwood the inveterate writer of letters to Crikey presented his opinion (yesterday, comments) of where Crikey sits on the Bias-o-Meter in Wednesday’s Crikey. Having read numerous letters from Tamas in the last few years him I see him as:

Deeply authoritarian. Possibly the only person in Australia gullible or desperate enough to completely swallow Senator Rick Santorum’s wild assertion that the discovery of some useless pre-Gulf War One weapons were the WMDs that completely vindicated the Coalition of the Willing’s (COW) decision to invade Iraq in 2003. Sees the Global War on Terror purely as a ‘good’ versus ‘evil’ conflict without nuance and therefore argues, without any sense of irony, that any actions the COW undertakes against suspected terrorists, including torture and indefinite incarceration without normal legal protection, must also be ‘good’.

Bias and the media:

Roger Fry writes: Re. “Bias and content: what do we think of the media?” (Yesterday, item 22). The reason we worry about media bias is that it can influence opinion. But doesn’t this overlook a much greater influence on opinion – the belief systems that already exist in the minds of the receiver of the information? We make the ‘facts’or ‘opinions’ which we get from the media fit our preconceptions about how the world works. We would need to know how each person forms an opinion – that is, how they rank their various beliefs relevant to an issue, and reach a conclusion. It could be that rationality is trumped by reaction to a politician’s mannerism, voice inflection or likeness which is associated with a long forgotten childhood impression of who were the good guys and who were the bad guys.

An entertaining rant:

Philip Carman writes: Re. Yesterday’s editorial. Well said that man, Alex Mitchell! (The only bit I can’t agree with is the broad-brush attack on all ABC viewers/listeners as feeble-brained hand-wringers… but we get your drift and can forgive the hyperbole given the obvious anger felt.) Our Prime Minister is one sneaky little b-stard and he will go down as the worst example of the proof of: “How can you tell when a politician is lying? – his mouth is open.” It is deeply shaming to be an Australian in this climate of fear, greed, racism and division in great part fostered by this mean, nasty little man and his colleagues.

Bill Warren writes: Your enthusiastic support of the over the top rant by Alex Mitchell seriously makes me question continuing my subscription. The rant is entertaining, your bias is not.

Collette Snowden writes: While the focus on the Indigenous issues at hand is quite rightly on Australia, perhaps we should reflect and ponder on their relationship to recent reports accusing John Howard of engineering a shift in Canada’s policy on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. This par from a report in the Globe and Mail has a resonance it did not have on 9 June: “Mr. Prentice has since [meeting Mr Howard] said there are concerns that the declaration is unconstitutional, that it could prevent military activities on aboriginal land and that it could harm existing land deals.” For the full article see here. What a curious coincidence. It certainly makes Alex Mitchell argument more persuasive.

Reviewing history:

Associate Professor Gregory Melleuish, School of History and Politics, University of Wollongong, writes: Re. “Reviewing history: Whose interpretation do we go by?” (Yesterday, item 7). I am not surprised that Mr Nick Ewbank should be leading the cheer squad for Tony Taylor’s model history curriculum. He was member of the committee that framed the questions on which Taylor’s curriculum is based. What is worrying are the assumptions on which Mr Ewbank operates. He seems to believe that history teachers should be free to pick and choose what parts of a curriculum they will teach. When he writes of the curriculum being ‘teachable’ and ‘doable’ what he seems to mean is that if the curriculum does not meet his personal ideological predilections then he will not teach it. He made this attitude quite clear at the History Summit in the discussion over religious factors in Australian history. Teachers may know how best to engage students but, and they may not like to hear this, they are not professionals in their discipline. They are professional teachers. They have limited disciplinary training and do not have the knowledge and skills to determine the content of curriculum. That task has to be left to professionals. Think what would happen if Mathematics teachers decided to pick and choose and decide that calculus should not be taught because it did not ‘engage’ students. So should it be in any discipline. Teachers should develop the skills to engage students in teaching the prescribed content, not choosing the curriculum to fit their personal ideology.

Comparing treasurerships:

Martin Gordon writes: Re. “Why John Howard never made the cover of Euromoney” (yesterday, item 5). Christian is a bit off the mark when comparing the Howard and Willis treasurerships. Christian is a bit off with his government periods too. The ALP won the 5 March 1983 election. The 1981-1983 period was marked by a global recession, and the period post March 1983 was under the control of Paul Keating, which coincided with the recovery from the recession. Malcolm Fraser had managed to pick the absolute trough of the recession for the election virtually to the day. The 1970’s and 80’s were a period of stagflation high unemployment and inflation globally, but a little worse on inflation in Australia and about the same on unemployment. The Ralph Willis treasurership coincided with a recovery from a recession (that was global and made worse by Paul). It is a bit unreasonable to compare two such disparate periods, I would not be so dishonest. The budgetary position of the Commonwealth is currently unprecedented, successive surpluses and the clearing of debt puts Australia in a very good position to confront ageing and is only threatened by the states and territories that are barely in surplus or starting up big deficits disguised as infrastructure spending. The better economic managers were actually the Coalition over the period since 1970; I would refer you to the Phil Ruthven in a recent BRW of 24 May. It covers off productivity as well, and reveals truths that Kevin might not like too.

Smoking:

Denise Marcos writes: Re. “There’s no smoking without smoke” (yesterday, item 20). Can there be anything on the planet to equal the sophistication of a cigarette being smoked? No, I thought as much… certainly not the “Heatbar” which Philip Morris plans to unleash on its tragic nicotine- befuddled customers. Do they seriously plan to market this cumbersome handful to their addicts? Frankly, the sight of Philip Morris’s doomed customers sucking on cigarettes is sad enough, puffing on this contraption will render them downright pathetic. Nor is it smoke- free, it merely cuts emissions by roughly 90%.

Tax:

David Maguire writes: Perhaps I am missing something but Peter Hill’s comment (yesterday, comments) that conference fees do not reduce tax, rather merely reduce taxable income seems to be a front runner for non sequitur of the year. A reduced income means a reduced tax liability, thus the deduction for the conference surely reduces tax?

Voodoo and politics:

David Lenihan writes: Re. John Arthur Daley. (Yesterday, comments). Well you are a real bundle of joy, are you sure next year will not also see the end of civilisation as we know it, butter will cease to melt on hot toast and seagull’s droppings will be consistently accurate in hitting their targets. Please! There is enough voodoo being practised by this Government, without the invasion of the numerologists. Dare I ask if any of your crystal ball gazing can perhaps quietly send a telepathic message informing me of this weeks winning Lotto numbers, I promise to go halves?

Computer games:

Gabriel McGrath writes: Re. “It’s no game: Nintendo killing Sony in console sales” (Tuesday, item 29). Adam Schwab says that “Video games may be for kids”… but that statement is as out of date as “it always rains in Melbourne” (cough, ten years of drought, cough). Current (2007) Aussie statistics have the average Aussie gamer at 28 years old. Not 18, not 8. Twenty eight years old. To quote the PALGN website: “By 2014 the average of a gamer will be the same as non-gamers (42). It’s a possibly scary thought, but there will come a time when the word “gamer” is as archaic as “moviegoer”. It won’t be a case of “if” you play, but what you play.” Why is this happening? Consoles like the “Nintendo Wii” are getting more and more “gaming virgins” to play because they don’t have 27 buttons to press. Wanna play tennis? Just hold this thing and swing it like a racquet. Sony’s PS2 was monstrously successful due to games like “Singstar” which is just karaoke with a scoring system. The machine grades how you can sing. Perhaps Adam should meet Irene Hunt, the 85 year old Australian woman who helped launched the IEAA report. Irene plays the online game World of Warcraft. “I still find it very amusing, the horrified looks that my so called peers, friends and relatives sort of give me when I say I play computer games. They think I’m mad… I just say they don’t know what they’re missing out on. Just go back to reading your recipe books girls!”

Oops:

Yesterday’s typos (house pedant Charles Richardson casts an eye over the howlers in the last edition of Crikey): Item 5: “It [the budget deficit] was well on the way to being prepared at the time of the ’96 poll.” In context that makes no sense – I think he means “repaired”, not “prepared”.

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