Afghanistan:

Peter Lloyd writes: Re. “Australia takes the worst of Vietnam to Afghanistan, WTF?” (Friday, item 10). If global warming is the issue that highlights the inability of our neutered democracies to respond to a broad challenge, the war against the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan is its military equivalent. And just as the current environmental crisis dwarfs all that have gone before in magnitude of potential disaster, the prospect of a dark ages regime taking control of nuclear weapons is not something that we have ever previously faced.

In these circumstances, “analysis” such as that of Jeff Sparrow simply won’t cut it.

Assassinating leaders of enemy units is very fair game in the current conflict in Afghanistan, and just because a lazy journalist used Vietnam-era shorthand to describe this does not make it useful to automatically infer all the abuses and failures of that program are taking place in the current context. It is laughable to compare the current war and its “438 bombs in a month” with Henry Kissinger’s destruction of Cambodia.

Cambodia was destroyed by means of US civilians listening to Cambodian army units’ radio nets, and then sending squadrons of heavy bombers to drop free-fall bombs from high altitude on locations guessed to be held by the enemy. Utterly criminal, and utterly unlike what is being done in the current conflict. There remains little evidence that what is happening in the conflict is anything beyond what would be expected in counter-insurgency, even one fought as carefully as possible.

In recent years we have completely failed the people of Pakistan — not just our conservative governments, but those who should have been providing constructive criticism of policy while the dark forces in Pakistan killed off every progressive potential government. Admonitions to take a purely humanitarian approach would have worked in Vietnam, a country that wanted prosperity and to be part of the world. It most certainly will not work in the area in question while backward religious extremism reigns supreme, where the enemy is not remotely interested in any aspiration shared by the world outside Alabama.

We desperately need to remove Pakistan’s nuclear potential, and while this is there the military imperative remains. We must then work out a way to contain the rampant rise of the Taliban while somehow dragging social structures, political culture and intellectualism ahead about 1000 years. The natural agents of this are the many progressive, educated people in Pakistan. They have been abandoned by the West and it may be too late for them to gain enough power to seize their country’s destiny.

Sparrow, Rundle and co should apply themselves to this vexing problem.

Budget fundraising:

Mitchell Holmes writes: Re. “The ALP’s budget fundraising bonanza” (Friday, item 8). Major party fundraising via Budget events (or any other time of the year) may be common place these days but in my opinion, it is down right disgusting.

I don’t necessarily have an issue with corporations paying to have access to parliamentarians, as long as it is made publicly known. However why is the money not claimed by the public purse, instead of by party machines?

The Prime Minister, Treasurer, Cabinet Ministers et al are paid by the taxpayer, not by their political party. This fund raising simply arms the coffers of the party in power so that they have a better shot at the next election.

Taxpayers pay for the democratic process. The proceeds of fundraising should be returned to taxpayers to offset the costs.

Paying for content:

Former newspaper editor Brian Mitchell writes: Re. “Rundle: Sorry Rupert, we’re not paying” (Friday, item 19). Rupert Murdoch is right with his push to make users pay for content. Guy Rundle is right saying users will limit what they choose to buy. These are not mutually exclusive positions.

Right now net readers get a lot of very good quality news and information for free, the vast majority of it generated by online versions of traditional newspapers. Parasites like Google News and Yahoo News feed from this original content to populate their services. One benefit of hiding news content behind paid subscription walls will be cutting supply to these leeches, forcing anyone who wants to read news to pay its creators.

Frankly, I’ve always thought it odd that newspapers that cost $1.50 at the shop spent hundreds of millions developing websites to offer the same content for free. And executives then expressed surprise at the rapid migration of eyes to the screen? What a bunch of dumbos.

One newspaper pilloried for its pathetic online presence was The West Australian, which went so far as telling users they would have to pay $4 to access a full online version of the paper (which costs $2 to buy in the shop). Despite howls of protest from net users demanding a comprehensive and free service The West pretty much said “get rooted”. Even now following a facelift its site is far less comprehensive than other papers’ and what I read online offers nowhere near full coverage of what appears in the printed edition.

In terms of business modelling this makes sense. From a commercial standpoint what has the West got to gain by seeking to satisfy a non-payer?

In hindsight what should have happened when newspapers initially got involved with the net is this — they should have offered a teasing glimpse of their content, with an option to subscribe for full access (much like the WSJ and AFR do). Eye numbers on the screen would be much smaller than they are now but they would be paying eyes, and supplementary advertising could be sold at a premium because of the dedicated nature of the readership. This is clearly the route Rupert (belatedly) wants to head down, and with good reason.

The future of journalism is undoubtedly online: The printed newspaper has had its day; resource-wasteful, expensive to produce and distribute and dated. At best the news in a daily newspaper is at least an hour old and usually more than four. Online breaking news takes micro-seconds to access. Rupert has identified the obstacle to online journalism is commercialising it and he is moving now to right the wrongs of the past.

There will be a lot of turbulence in the years ahead but freeloaders had better get used to the idea of paying to access news. T

he days of proprietors paying journalists to post stories online, for no commercial return, are coming to an end.

SackWatch:

John Kotsopoulos writes: Re. “SackWatch 9: forget the ABS, we’ve got the real story” (Friday, item 1). This SackWatch business is achieving exactly what? You stretch it more than a bit by including people who are working shorter hours, taking accrued leave, 10,000 people who haven’t even entered the workforce and layoffs in international companies that may or may not affect Australia.

Not even the ex-merchant banker has had the chutzpah to go this far.

Jumps racing:

Sharon Hutchings writes: Re. “First Dog on the Moon” (Friday, item 5). In defending the climbing death rate in jumps racing, trainer Robbie Laing compares it with other animal sports that are supposedly more cruel, and he also has the audacity to blame the horse! To top it off another jumps trainer, David Londregan, reportedly threatened that if jumps are banned he will shoot all his horses and deliver a head to the office of Victorian Minister for Racing, Rob Hulls.

Of course once the profitability of most race horses wanes, many are sent to the knackery by this greed-driven entertainment industry anyway. After seven horse deaths in a month and despicable statements like these, there surely no more evidence needed?

Kill the jumps now, not more horses.

Media Watch:

Charles F. Kane writes: Re. “And the Wankley goes to … Golden Tonsils” (Friday, item 23). Crikey referred to some highlights of the “20 years of Media Watch” special. For mine, it was extremely disappointing that the special didn’t revisit the most salacious of all Media Watch‘s scoops: its 2003 hatchet job on its Alma Pater, Stuart Littlemore himself.

With more twists and turns than New South Head Road, the tale has an eerily similar feel to Marcus Einfeld’s. An extremely prominent Sydney lawyer, alleged to have first been amazingly petty, and then botching an elaborate cover-up attempt. And in Littlemore’s case, it was all the more enjoyable due to his years of acerbic form as Media Watch‘s inaugural presenter.

For anyone interested, some of the SMH‘s reports on the incident can be found here and here.

Jury duty:

Omar Khayyam writes: Re. “Jury duty” (Friday, comments). Regarding the jury system debate; I’ve been reading that the evidence is often too complex for jurors to comprehend; surely this is a failure of the lawyers/judges to make the evidence clear. That is their job after all.

I’ve read that jurors are prejudiced and this affects their view; the implication being that lawyers/judges/police don’t suffer from this. My personal experience, and many well documented cases, say otherwise.

I’ve read that judges/lawyers/police are well trained in the law; implying that the law is all. In many cases “the law is an ass” is a very apt quote. We have a system that presupposes that “the law” is of greater importance than justice.

I have heard judges remark that those that made the law did so with great consideration and purpose for the betterment of; …blah, blah, blah. Lawmakers are politicians who have to call each other “honourable” because nobody else will.

I’ve read that jurors should be subjected to “background checks” to ascertain their prejudices etc, by what deity shall this be decided? This also misses the point of juries. It’s a system of peers — warts and all.

I read that judges/magistrates have to give written reasons for their decision; I see no reason jurors couldn’t manage this.

Is our system good? No. Needs change? Damn right. Get rid of juries. No way.

There are any number of reforms that have already been shown to work, the problem, as is so often the case, is the people we leave to make the changes are; incompetent, dishonourable and in no hurry to stop their gravy train.

The election headline of; “I’ll give you law and order”; — to make us “safe” is just too easy to pass up.

Andrew Lewis writes: Greg Barns is right about juries. They should be abolished or perhaps reserved for extraordinary circumstances, perhaps judicial action related to the officers of the courts or about high profile officers of the court.

From my experience on juries, and those of my friends, there is no doubt in my mind that if I were ever to face the court in criminal proceedings, if I was innocent I would insist on a judge-only decision, and if I was guilty I would insist on facing a jury.

Apart from the lack of experience and legal skills, which I believe are surmountable issues, the biggest problem is the dire lack of basic analytical skills in the general populace.

The lack of analytical skills, combined with an attention span of about five minutes, means that the jury system is a lottery and mocks every other aspect of the legal system.

Apologies to my fellow man, but I would not entrust my future freedom to my alleged peers. I’d rather have the judge that falls asleep all the time!

Diana Day writes: I am totally in agreement with Greg Barns. I once wasted half a day suffering through the excesses of jury selection along with many others who were likewise uninterested.

Judges aren’t infallible but if I were in the dock, I’d feel more comfortable with a balanced, professional opinion which must be justified, than with twelve of my so-called “peers”.

I’m very much in favour of being involved in service to my community, but I really can’t see that jury service is anything but an incompetent anachronism.

Swine Flu:

David Kindon writes: Re. “Media briefs: Bob Marley explains Swine Flu… Nipple more interesting than Logies…” (7 April, item 26). As the Swine Flu panicdemic (sic) abates, it occurs to me that there is a more dangerously insidious pandemic spreading around the world. I call it a pandemic of hyperbole where every issue is characterised by strident debate. It applies to everything — global financial crisis, Swine Flu, Y2K (remember that?) — even to local issues like hospital politics.

Once passed, we hunger for the next bout of bad news. Just as we older people claim that the 60s are the new 40s, so it seems to me that hyperbole has become the new norm.

An ancient PR hack once told me that the secret to spin is “First simplify — then exaggerate”. I would add to this that stridency and hyperbole are inversely proportional to the truth.

There is a constant angry denial of good news (e.g. lower unemployment) but an insatiable demand for bad news.

Isn’t it time we stepped back, put things into perspective and saw things as they truly are?

Melbourne vs. Sydney:

Lindsay Beaton writes: Re. “Melbourne vs. Sydney” (Friday, comments). I don’t think you’ll get many responses — because, in general, Sydneysiders don’t care what Melbournians think. Perhaps that says it all.

Interesting … we think:

FleTch writes: Your page by William Bowe is the only result you get when you type “stratospherical defibrillators” into Google. It’s a game we play when bored in class, trying to get a one result search in Google. Just thought you might like to know.

Peter Fray

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