(Image: AAP/Emma Hanswell)

THE ‘THING’

“A vast burden of unpaid care work is being created.” Working parents’ roles and workload are multiplying, and the burden is falling heavily on women. Australians aren’t the only ones baffled by absurd and inconsistent lockdown rules. European leaders are every bit as silly. The epidemiological origins of Trump’s “re-open by East” silliness. The three basic scenarios for how long this will continue for.

Teachers explain how virtual teaching sucks (and some workarounds). Hamfisted crackdowns on innocent citizens by overzealous police will only reduce compliance with lockdown laws, not increase it. The virus is shifting dating away from chat and toward video. “Shakespeare wrote King Lear while in quarantine!”* Capitalism demands ever higher control and productivity of workers even in lockdown.

Governments have been quick to adopt biosurveillance tools and they prefer not to let them go again when this is all over. A new US paper suggests going hard and going early on isolation yields much better economic outcomes than gradual restriction, evidence from a century ago shows.

The rise and rise of esports: how the widespread cancellation of major sport has led to a surge in virtual sports. Why warnings about the pandemic might not have been enough to prevent it.

Sir John Webster (Image: National Portrait Gallery)

*Also, counterpoint: Shakespeare was an overrated, plagiarist hack who wasn’t even the best Elizabeth dramatist — a title that belongs to

NON-‘THING’ THINGS

The Saudi atrocity in Yemen in now five years old and continuing to cost civilians their lives in horrific numbers. And let’s not forget how Barack Obama enabled this ongoing crime.

“Factory farms are an abomination, cruel to animals and a bad deal for humans, too. The sooner we abolish them, the better.” National Review rails at Big Ag.

The fight over what killed the dinosaurs appears to have been settled. Yes the asteroid did it. But a major period of vulcanism shaped the results.

Unlike during the financial crisis, multilateralism has gone missing during the coronavirus pandemic and its economic catastrophe (of course, when the World Health Organisation is a lickspittle of Beijing, that’s a bit of a problem too).

You may not know — I certainly did not — that Marcel Marceau was Jewish, and a member of the Jewish Resistance during World War Two. But he was even less talkative than usual about his efforts to save children from the Nazis. Does Hilary Mantel get too modern in the massive conclusion to her trilogy on Henrician policy powerhouse Thomas Cromwell? Who watches the watchers of Watchmen? A fascinating argument of how Watchmen fails the critique of race and violence that it ostensibly offers.

THINGS I LEARNT FROM SIDE VIEW

Among the many media casualties of the virus, a minor one is Side View, which is finishing up this week, at least for the moment.

Having done this for about two years, I’ve had the chance to observe some patterns in analysis, journalism and commentary about public policy matters available in Australia and overseas.

I’ve tried throughout to avoid amplifying voices found in mainstream Australian publications, preferring instead to give space to lower profile publications and female, Indigenous, non-white and LGBTIQ writers, whose work is of equal or greater merit and in far greater need of amplification than what can be found in a media populated by white, hetero men.

But unfortunately size really does dictate quality and diversity. The overall quality of public policy analysis and commentary in Australia is, I’m sorry to say, weak. A vast quantity of what I read every week could have been written by an algorithm that dictates exactly what it is going to say about exactly what topic.

Whether it’s the left’s endless obsession with refugees, or blaming “neoliberalism” (rarely defined) for every topical problem, or reflexive attacks on the government, or the right’s climate denialism, Islamophobia and vituperation about the left, it’s rare to find anything remotely surprising or unpredictable.

Often times, the best public affairs and current affairs writing is found in literary publications, like Kill Your Darlings or The Lifted Brow.

It’s only among Indigenous writers that surprising, engaging and consistently high-quality analyses and discussion are to be found. Whether it’s the brilliant Celeste Liddle, or Luke Pearson at the marvellous IndigenousX, experts like Hannah McGlade or campaigners like Shirleen Campbell, Indigenous affairs and Australia’s ongoing, unhealed status as colonial settler society attract lively, informed, unpredictable and challenging discussion of complex issues.

It’s better in larger media markets. The UK, like the US, has a strong tradition of literary reviews that often encompass public policy discussion — and they’re big enough to sustain them as viable publications.

Left-wing publications in the UK also suffer from predictability — although few of them are as idiotic as The Guardian’s self-parodic CIF section — but offer more diversity in thought. The Spectator has a quality and diversity of columnists that embarrasses its cheap Australian knock-off, which is a kind of Book of the Dead published from a nursing home for the far right. Europe is naturally more problematic for Anglophones, although if you veer left in your politics, Le Monde Diplomatique English will always have something for you, usually at over 3,000 words in length.

The US, however, has the size to sustain a genuine range of thought in current affairs and public policy magazines. Some of the best analysis of Trump’s America can be found from conservatives and Republicans disgusted by Trump and a GOP that panders to him. They can be found in publications like American Conservative, which now has a decades-long tradition of pushing back against mainstream Republicanism, especially on foreign policy, and in more establishment-aligned institutions like National Review. Whether it’s because of Pat Buchanan’s Catholicism or not, The American Conservative is also home to literate, theologically engaged Catholics enraged by the Catholic Church’s cover up of child abuse.

In US publications, it’s easy to find Republicans who despise Trump, conservatives who regard US military adventurism in the Middle East as dangerous and immoral, and generals who want to shrink the Army. Here, you’d be flat out finding them at all, let alone reading their views.

Having bagged the overall standard of Australian commentary, I acknowledge it’s tough for Australian editors to find high-quality, thought-provoking commentators and pay them appropriately for their work. It’s even harder to find conservative ones given the right-wing gene pool here is ankle deep.

And as the media, and especially smaller publications, face an existential struggle in a bleak media market, there’s a temptation to serve up to your readership — whether left or right, young or old — what you know they want, and avoid offering anything to which they might object, which might encourage them to look elsewhere or, worst of all, cancel their subscriptions. That’s how our silos become bunkers, and eventually tombs of critical thinking.

FINAL THINGS

Well, you know what it’s going to be: a special dog video to console us all in these very difficult times. And, just for once, you can even leave the sound up for this one. See you on the other side.

Peter Fray

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