Saturday, January 25, 2003

You call this journalism?

This would normally go into a a heap of junk for code filed under junk journalism. But its here because it is from the Washington Post, it is about the American left and is an example of the sorry state of journalism in the US.

The article is Michael Kelly's Marching With Stalinists,and he says:

"The left in America has for a long time now resembled not so much a political movement as a contest to see how many schismatics could dance on the head of a pin, a conversation that has gone from being national to factional to simply eccentric.

Then came Sept. 11, and the left found itself plunged into a debate on a subject of fundamental importance. And this was a debate in which to be of the left was to be, by definition, involved: In al Qaeda and in the Taliban and in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, liberal civilization faced an enemy that represented nearly every evil that liberalism has ever stood against.

What was the left going to do? A pretty straightforward call, you might say. America has its flaws. But war involves choosing sides, and the American side -- which was, after all, the side of liberalism, of progressivism, of democracy, of freedom, of not chucking gays off rooftops and not stoning adulterers and not whipping women in the town square, and not gassing minority populations and not torturing advocates of free speech -- was surely preferable to the side of the "Islamofascists," to borrow a word from the essayist and former man of the left, Christopher Hitchens.

.....The debate is over. The left has hardened itself around the core value of a furious, permanent, reactionary opposition to the devil-state America, which stands as the paramount evil of the world and the paramount threat to the world, and whose aims must be thwarted even at the cost of supporting fascists and tyrants.

....The left marches with the Stalinists. The left marches with those who would maintain in power the leading oppressors of humanity in the world. It marches with, stands with and cheers on people like the speaker at the Washington rally who declared that "the real terrorists have always been the United Snakes of America." It marches with people like the former Black Panther Charles Baron, who said in Washington, "if you're looking for an axis of evil then look in the belly of this beast."


This is black and white logic: if you are not with usyou are against us; you are commiting treason andyou side with the enemy. It is mediocre journalism that adopts a knee-jerk adversarial position toward those who are critical of the Bush administration &a sneering tone to the left which is dismissed as totalitarian. You can smell the "stench of contempt".

What has happened to the democratic left who do not support the unilateral action of the Bush administration? Or ordinary Americans who oppose the war with Iraq?

As Lisa English at Ruminate this notes:

"In the past 24 hours, I've noticed a trend in the broadcast, print and online media. The idea is this: extremist right wingers are now aiming to associate Democrats or Liberals or anyone opposed to war, with Marxism."

The pit bull reasoning is simple. There can be no "peace" movement. There can only be a movement that divides Americans and gives aid and comfort to our enemies. Why? Because America is at war.

Update

Scott Wickstein has criticised the above piece for being too one sided----ie narrowing in on the black and white thinking of of the right and ignoring that of the left. Fair enough. As it stands the post should have gone to a heap of junk for code cos it is about junk content.

What I was trying to do with this material on public opinion was to use the above example to talk about the media in the US --but I lost it completely. What I had in my mind was pulling my impressions from reading the US media into some sort of judgement. But I couldn't bring these impressions togther, nor could I connect them with themes and observations in Tim Porter's excellent First Draft in order to talk about gap between the objectivity/reporting the facts/getting at the truth ethos of US jorunalism and its partisan practice.

However, this piece, Bushwacked, by Matthew Engel in The Guardian says it a heck of a lot better than I ever could. Engel has the knowledge to be able to put his finger on what is happening to the media and to spell out the lap dog relationship to the executive governance of the Bush Administration. He says:

" In the American press, day after day, the White House controls the agenda. The supposedly liberal American press has become a dog that never bites, hardly barks but really loves rolling over and having its tummy tickled. Indeed, there is hardly any such thing as the liberal press."

I was then going to use the Washington Post to throw a bit of light on the Australian liberal media---but Engel says it for me. Let me highlight several points he makes that help to make sesne of what is happening to the Australian media. Engels says

"Outside these two bastions, the media landscape has changed entirely. Day after day, rightwing radio talk hosts dominate the airwaves, deriding opponents and cutting off callers who argue.
.....Unanimously, it is accepted that the Bush White House - helped by his popularity, the post-September 11 mood and the weakness of the Democratic opposition - has taken media control-freakery to unprecedented levels.There is a new game in town. It is not merely Bush's opponents who have failed to grasp the rules, but ordinary reporters who believe their sole job is to get at the truth.
.....Most Washington reports consist of stories emanating from inside the government: these may (rarely) be genuine leaks; they may come from officials anxious to brief against rival officials, but that too is rare in this disciplined and corporately-run administration. Most of these stories, which look like impressive scoops at first glimpse, actually come from officials using the press to perform on-message spin.

.... Newspapers have got kinda boring. The industry wrings its hands and asks what's wrong and beats itself up. What it never does is say: 'Well, we could make the paper a hell of a lot more interesting'. There is actually very little pressure to make the papers more interesting."


Thats what I should have said.

Friday, January 24, 2003

New Home for Public Opinion

I have been informed by Bailz, the ace OZ weblog designer thatpublic opinion will be up and running on Moveable Type next week some time. I saw a dummy of the new design yesterday-- it is very cool and swish. It is a minimalist with a white background and apricot colouring

I wil be glad to shift because various posts and comments keep dropping out, site meter is always on the blink, and posting well nigh impossible during parts of the day. Today, a very insightful post by Observa on the Holdfast Bay development in Glenelg evaporated. It was insightful because Observa was from Glenelg and had a good grasp of the public private relationship underpinning that development. Can you re-comment Observa?
Cathie Clement Guest Blogger Returns
Cathie returns with some insights into the cultural wars that bounces off the role of journalists. There is a widespread suspicion of Big Media in Australia, with people from all parts of the political spectrum charging the media with bias and prejudice. There is a fear that the ethos of informed public debate, which had once been supported and fostered by the quality broadsheets, is now giving away to tabloid attack journalism.

The newspaper article by David Shaw that Tim Porter, Tim Dunlop & Cathie refer to is called The more pernicious bias is less substance, more fluff. It's observations are very relevant to what is happening in the corporate media in Australia.


Battle for Australian minds continues

I read Gary's "The Cultural Wars and Australian History" (see below) with interest. I then saw Tim Dunlop's comments of the 23rd re Tim Porter's "Journalists biased? Yes, in the worst way". [20th January]Taking his advice to check out First Draft led me to another piece that meshes rather neatly.

On 20 January, Tim Porter offered a range of quotes from Los Angeles Times media writer David Shaw. One of them read: "Worst of all," Shaw says, "the growing sensationalism-cum-trivialization of the news.....leaves us little time or space to cover the truly important issues of the day."

That comment, I think, sums up what is happening in the debate about Aboriginal history. To my knowledge no journalist or newspaper editor has seen fit to look at the issue more than superficially. Some people, including historians, are remaining silent because their knowledge of the points that are being contested is insufficient to assess the credibility of the conflicting arguments. Others may fear either litigation or the risk of being seen to be participating in an unseemly academic squabble.

But the debate about Aboriginal history is much more than the academic squabble portrayed in newspapers. The current conservative pressure on the interpretation of Aboriginal history will impact on the teaching of Australia history, the content of museum displays, the use of Aboriginal oral history in court proceedings and the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.

It matters little whether we are engaged in a culture war or whether the conservative pressure is seen as an attack on or a backlash against left-wing history. The important thing is that people become aware of what is happening. They will not do so if their reading is limited to the current newspaper coverage.

Australia is no longer portrayed as a place in which "brave white explorers" dodged the spears of "treacherous natives" as they "discovered" and "opened" the vast interior. Some historians, museum curators and art gallery curators are drawing attention to the fact that exploration and colonisation involved massacres. Instead of portraying explorers and "pioneers" as heroes, they are presenting material that includes both indigenous victims of colonisation the and "resistance fighters" who protected their country, and their women, from British "invaders".

This is strong stuff, and not what many people want to hear. It is not an issue that can be resolved by arguing about who is right and who is wrong. We need to look at what is being said, why it is being said, who is saying it, and whether each piece is credible. We also need to acknowledge that, when one group imposes its version of "civilisation" on another, it is impossible for a single version of history to record that process.

Today's Australians, whether they like it or not, consist of indigenous people, descendants of indigenous people, migrants and descendants of migrants. Accounts of their interlinking histories will naturally give rise to discomfort and controversy. The challenge is not only to handle those reactions in a mature way but also to benefit from the process.

posted Cathie Clement, 25 1 2003 10am.
A little skirmish
The guy over at WICKED THOUGHTS who speaks the politically unspeakable has fired a couple of shots. I don't know the fellow myself, but John Jay Ray at Dissecting Leftism does and he says that The Wicked one's post, 'SOUR GARY' gives Leftist blogger Gary Sauer-Thompson a very hard time .'

The Wicked one makes several points which deserve to be taken up because they do reflect on the way we debate and what is being said in the culture wars.The first point made is this:

Gary "despises Anne Coulter because she is as extreme and as unbalanced in her statements as many Leftists are. What’s sauce for the goose is obviously not sauce for the gander among Leftists." The short response is that both sides of the war are doing this. It is a war. The longer response is that though I am personally sour on the fiery Anne Coulter I think that the content of her texts is important because they open up, or provide an opening to the political unconscious of the Republican party and the neo-conservatives. So I will continue to read her, take her writing seriously and spend time deciphering her texts.

The Wicked one's second point was that my comments on ye old English dislike of Australia was based on limited reading:
"Our Gary is also offended by an Englishman making some mild criticisms of Australia -- quite overlooking that the said Englishman also describes his own country as the boot-faced, reinforced-concrete, charm-free dunghill that is England now. I guess Gary is another one who criticizes what he has not read".

My concern is with the old English colonial attitude to Australia of Simon Heffer; not England. I focused on the old cultural dominance has helped to produce an inferiority complex that Australia is second rate. As Ben at Australian Tory pointed it out this is an old lefty cliche that I have recycled. I have done that because this complex is a poison that makes us unhealthy, prevents Australians from acknowledging and celebrating what they achieved in the 20th century, and is an obstacle to finding new values to live by after the old ones lost their currency and hold with the embrace of the open global market in the 1980s.

The Wicked one's third point picks up on a post on Philosophy.com called, An insight into the neocons?
He states my words from that post:

"What the neoconservatives stand for is very relevant to Australia. They were part of the Reagan administration's strategy to force a right-wing economic and social agenda on the country by political means." and then comments,
"I doubt that the New York NeoCons ever gave Australia a thought. And as for “forcing” anything on us! The word “paranoia” does spring rather readily to mind. (And, yes, I know that paranoids DO sometimes have enemies)."

He is quite right. From my reading of David Brock's,Blinded by the Right Australia was not on their radar screen. But the NY neocons are relevent to Australia in their sense that the tactics and strategies they deployed in their war with the Clinton administration in the 1990s can be used to discern the tactics and the strategies of the Australian neocons in their current cultural war with the Keating left-liberals. And the 'forcing' charge? Well, the point of politics is get your hands on the levers of power so as to implement your political agenda. The side that loses ses implementation as imposing and uses the checks and balances to block and frustrate as much as they can because they don't agree with a lot of it.

And the paranoia charge? Well this is a war and paranoia is a complex at that arises from situation. But my focus is on the cultural war as a way of explaining what is currently taking place in Australia over the writing of Australian pioneer history, Indigeneous Land Rights, education and the security state.

As I said its a little skirmish in a cultural war.

But a wider point can be made from this skirmish. It is that we in Australia are deeply affected by what happens in America. What happens in the US touches our lives here in a myriad of ways and this requires us to engage with the US. Once it was the UK, now it is the US.

This point of the influence of the US on others has been made extremely well by Ian Jack at Granata, in an introduction to a back issue of the journal. In Granta 77: What We Think of America. Ian writes:

"America shapes the way non-Americans live and think. Before the Cold War ended, that had been true of half the world for several decades. Now, with the possible exceptions of North Korea and Burma, it is true of all of it. American cultural, economic and political influence is potent almost everywhere, in every life. What do we think of when we think of America? Fear, resentment, envy, anger, wonder, hope? And when did we start to think it?

....The pieces that follow are not about that day, nor are they excuses for it. They are about how America has entered non-American lives, and to what effect, for good and bad and both."


Have a dip into Granta 77: What We Think of America.There is some very interesting and accessible stuff there that Australians can relate to.
Living in the provinces

Those of us who live in the provinces of the global village fully understand that we cannot be the style setters or fashion leaders that set the pace for tomorrow. It is our lot to live amidst the discarded fashions and styles of yesterday. We just don't have the ooomph or street smarts. That only comes from living elsewhere---in those places that understand the importance of style.

I accept this state of affairs in the name of 'resignation to the Real'; and I do so with only a touch of resistance and dissent. I appreciate the need for humor and acceptance about these things, and I am taking lessons in learning how to rework from yobbo (NZ) instincts into civilized sensitivities.

Being who I am I took my cue from the Mayne man at crikey.com. I went around to my local coffee shop in Hutt Street to glance through the newspapers amidst the smell of coffee aroma, cigarettes and petrol fumes.

Hutt Street is developing an real cosmopolitan ambience these days. So said the real estate lady who wanted to sell my innercity 1890s cottage for big bucks; and without me doing any home improvements on it at all. She would do the sell. That was all that was required. (A word of advice from true experience in passing: if you are ever depressed call a real estate agent and ask then to say why they can sell it for a million bucks. They are very good at this sort of therapy.)

Hutt Street, for all your eastern conservatives, is rapidly, becoming a playground for Adelaide's chattering classes. I have been living here, waiting for it to happen for well over 12 years; now that is finally happening I'm moving into the CBD.

So there I was reading The Advertiser and trying to look cool in my designer painting gear. And I found something interesting. Buried away in the middle pages of The Advertiser (no link of course) was a little item about a coastal study of Adelaide's beaches. (Adelaide has a coastal strip of great beaches 20-40 minutes from the CBD).

The report did not say much. Just that the the last study had been done in the 1970s and that someone from Adelaide University had been contracted to do a new one ---an engineer I think.

Why an engineer? Well the sand is running out on the beaches: It is not being replenished by the natural processes of wind and tide. Why not? Because they have built lots of marinas and break waters for luxury apartments at Holdfast Bay near Glenelg in the name development and modernity.

You can have your seaside apartment, boat parked at the marina out the back and drive to work in 20 minutes. Its lifestyle plus capital gains. Trouble is the lovely keeps disappearing, just as the critics of this development said it would.

Since we cannot have the sand disappearing for those who appreciate style and the beautiful living --its the property values really--- sand is being trucked in from elsewhere---at public expense of course. The trouble is the authorities are running out of places to find the right kind of sand.

Now there is plenty of surplus sand being dumped on the beach down the coast a bit, as they are trying to keep the Murray Mouth open by dredging the inlet. Plenty of sand for the Adelaide beaches. But it is not going to be used.

Why not? This is the public purse remember. So it has to be done as cheaply as possible whilst officially saying that the sand is not suitable. So what is to be done, as Lenin would have put it?
Easy folks. You mine the sand from the another part of the coast----say a more working class suburb---and then truck it along to the beach to where the beach is is being eroded.

And what does that do to the beach being mined. Turns it into a big hole and destroys the dunes that have been replanted with volunteer labor funded by Coast Care and Natural Heritage money from the Commonwealth. And families wil just have to go to another beach if they don't want their children playing with trucks.

So what if all this good work is being undone ?Well someone has to carry the burden of keep up the appearances of development, don't they?

And where is that beach that is goiing to be mined. It is Semaphore, one of Adelaide's most popular northern beaches. Whose in charge here? Its the Coast Protection Board

Of course not all of the above was in the little story tucked away in the middle pages of The Advertiser. I have pulled it together from reading other little stories tucked away and talking to a few people who keep an eye on these things.

Oh I know, I have told the story with a touch of class analysis--northern coastal Adelaide=working class; southern and middle coastal Adelaide= middle class. And its crude, I admit. But is not the whole sorry episode one of development trying to achieve a touch of class?

Oh, I know that irony has gone out of fashion in NY after S11. But, remember, this is Adelaide. We won't being catch up with NY fashion for another couple of years. In the provinces we are still caught up in the old habits and traditions.

So that was my little coffee break yesterday. I just thought that I would share it.

Oh, by the way, do have a look at the Mayne man's crikey.com He has a great post on the other unmentionable --oil and war here by Gretel Green.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

The Cultural Wars and Australian History

There is an interesting post by Cathie Clement here which begins to place a cultural context around the historian wars. This context broadens the debate amongst professsional historians over scholarship, primary sources, and historical facts into a wide-ranging public debate within the politics of race.

Cathie says that:

'the tendency for some journalists to identify connections between current events and the conservative criticism of “politically correct” history is becoming more noticeable.' [However] The tendency of Australian newspapers to focus on footnotes and personal opinion is unfortunate because it conveys an impression of academic squabbling.

Cathie's account of the broader context is the use of Aboriginal history as an ideological football, exemplified by the dismissal of Aboriginal oral history as a form of knowledge and accusing some historians of fabricating their history, thereby knowingly generating a bitter public debate.

I want to develop this account by giving a name to this bitter public--the culture wars. The whole point of the culture wars is about attacking and defeating the enemy. History is a weapon to do this.

As Cathie suggests the professional historians, should and will, go back to doing their extensive research to construct their good empirical histories, which give us the 'detailed and dispassionate accounts of day to day life in the numerous localities in which it occurred'. But that still leaves us with the highly polarized debates of the culture wars over race, education, postmodernism, the republic, stem cell research, euthanasia between two sides of politics that see one another as enemies.

You may deplore what is happening, stand on the sidelines, or say that you are sick of all the fighting. So be it. But that doesn't make the cultural wars go away. They continue to rage all around us and the skirmishes are happening across many fields. There has been skirmishes off and on since the 1960s.

What has happened since them, according to the neocon Quadrant account, is that the 1960s left vacated the streets , took the long march through the institutions, retrenched in the liberal university, then set up shop as the postmodern academic left. And there it sat for a decade or so endangering not student minds, undermining Australian economic competitiveness and the very soul of the nation. (Basically the narrative is a recycling of Allan Bloom's, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today's Students.

We know the battlefields of culture war:-- political correctness, multiculturalism, deconstruction, cultural and moral relativism, feminism, rock & roll, television, the legacy of the sixties, and the infamous "tenured radicals." The skirmishes of the culture wars have now flared up again with the conflicts over the writing of Aboriginal/settler frontier history.

What are the culture wars about?

What the neocons are saying is that Australian culture is sick---nihilistic to us Nietzsche's term----and it needs to be made well, or restored to health. This can only be done if Australian culture is put on the operating table and the gangerous bits (eg., postmodernism, radical accounts of Australian pioneer history, feminism) cut off the cultural body with a surgeon's knife.

So what is happening is important since we do not fight wars over nothing much. Culture is where Australian social and moral values get hashed out. The cultural positions and poses we adopt or invent are crucial significations of the way we think the world is -- and the way we think it ought to be. The cultural texts that we produce, read, or take in as consumers, and the judgments we make about these texts say a lot about what we think and believe in terms of understanding Australia. We go to war because we are in big conflict over our different understandings of Australia.

These understanding matter deeply to us.They touch the core of our being.

History matters because it helps to define who we are, and the sort of Australia that we made and are in the process of making. The politics of race is an integral part of that history. That is why the "academic squabbles" have taken on the reasonance of what Cathie Clement calls ideological footballs.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Australia Day Address: Caring for Country

Rick Farley, a former executive director of the National Farmers' Federation, who helped create the national Landcare program and the Native Title Act, will deliver the 2003 national Australia Day address.

The address is concerned with the formation of public opinion through ensuring an 'informed and inclusive national debate', or a 'civil conversation about the things that are important to us.' So what are the things that matter to us? Farley addresses two in detail.

Farley develops the argument put forward in this weblog about the need to care for country. He argues that natural resources were not being properly cared for; farming practices must change; that Australia faces a limited future unless land clearing practices change; and that the federal political system (COAG) is gridlocked by the scale of the problem and what is required to repair the damage to the country.

Farley calls for the introduction of a new environment tax and the creation of an independent body to manage the funds: a move supported by farmers, environmentalists and this weblog here.

Mr Farley also expressed regret at the treatment of Indigenous Australians, saying they had been dudded by the Native Title Act and not treated equitably. He says that:

'...the Indigenous agenda is not going to go away. The real issues are how best to accommodate Indigenous aspirations, how long it takes, and what damage we inflict on ourselves along the way.

In my experience, the overwhelming priorities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are to achieve greater economic independence and protect their culture and identity. The two go together. It’s hard to maintain your own culture when you are dependent on a dominant culture’s welfare.

....Native title now is confined basically to land where no-one else has a permanent interest; where the traditional owners have never been forced to leave their country; and where they can prove to the satisfaction of a whitefella court that they have practiced their laws and customs on a continuous basis since settlement.'


Farley connects the need to address and debate the things that matter to us to the economic reforms of the 1980s, that floated the dollar, opened up financial markets and reduced protection and integrated Australia into the global marketplace. He argues that Australian governments did not manage the transition from a closed to an open economy very well, since the weight of adjustment was not shared equally and the gap between poor and rich has continued to increase. He then says:

'My sense is that Australia still is casting around for values to replace the relative certainties that existed pre-eighties. We are a small nation in a big new game and we’re not quite sure yet of our place in the evolving order of things. The elements which cemented Federation after 1901 all are gone – industry protection, centralised wage fixing and the White Australia policy. Where they used to be, there is only the promise of more change and greater competition. The pace of change, the pace of our lives, keeps on accelerating, and brings its own anxiety.'

He adds that the constellation of issues--the likelihood of war, continuing international economcic and political certainity, the drought and ongoing political and economic uncertainity----has created 'considerable insecurity and nervousness. Australia has a severe 'bout of the jitters, in Geoffrey Blainey's words. Farley adds:

'So I perceive my country now to be a bit lost; still not managing change equitably; searching for its place in the world; looking sometimes for simple truths and solutions which no longer exist - in the middle of a cultural vortex and not quite sure of the exit point.

In that situation, it seems sensible to me to look to the bedrock of our nation, the points that can ground us and give us stability. In my view, these distil down to our country – our land and waters – and the nature of our relationships with each other.

To me, these are the defining features of Australian culture and identity. Together, they can unite our communities, build resilience, and create a firm foundation from which to meet the ever-increasing challenges we face.'


I have outlined Farley's Australia Day Address because it raises issues and themes central to this weblog. We may not agree on his interpretation of the bedrock of the nation that grounds us, gives us stability and signposts our future path. But we would probably agree that we are a bit lost; that we are searching for our place in the world as a nation; that we are in a cultural vortex; and that we are casting around for new values to replace the old certainities.

These things are too important to be left to the politicians to decide for us. They are not much good at debating this cultural stuff anyhow---not as good as us citizens. So we should take them back for ourselves and make them our own.
We're headed for war with Iraq

The news this morning is that We're headed for war with Iraq.The Howard Government confirmed yesterday that Australia would send troops and equipment to the Middle East in preparation for a war with Iraq. Special forces will be on the ground in the Middle East within days under a high-risk strategy that commits the country to a US-led war against Iraq.

This action has been taken in spite of growing public opposition to military conflict, most notably, anti-demonstrations in the US over the weekend, and growing disquiet and consternation.
The Howard Government has sent troops off to war with Iraq before the UN January deadline for weapons inspection; and without Parliament being called and considering whether Australia should go to war.

For the US warblogger's reaction to the antiwar demonstrations in the US, see Instapundant.com; for the case against war see Junis". There Chris Bertram argues:

'that the pro-war case revolved around two notions: roughly pre-emptive self-defence and humanitarian and/or democratizating intervention. I suggested that the first of these was a dangerous doctrine to generalize and that the second, which in principle respectable, was not plausible as an interpretation of the purpose of any likely war given the records of some of the main protagonists (Dick Cheney, for example). I also looked briefly at the "national interest" case for war and suggested that again, we wouldn't want the underlying doctrine to be generalized.'

Unlike Australia the Europeans--especially France and Germany---are not convinced by the American case for war now, as they prefer to work within the United Nations. Other members of the UN Security Council-- China and Russia, who hold veto powers to stop any resolution to go to war, oppose unilateral action against Iraq by a US-led coalition.

An American response to what is seen as European anti-Americanism, can be found at Kevin Drum's recent post at Calpundit
President Bush has said that Iraq has been given "ample time" to disarm, adding: "This looks like a rerun of a bad movie and I'm not interested in watching it."

Another way of looking at this is that Bush's rerun of a "bad movie" is more a disruption of normal life. It recalls the past traces of previous anti-demonstrations, whilst the current anti-war demonstrations recall the past failures to respond to an ethical opportunity to respond to the suffering of the Iraqi people and the missed opportunties to ensure some sort of justiceand democracy in the Middle East.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Anne Coulter & the US Gaze

I have nearly finished reading David Brock's, Blinded by the Right. He is the journalist who was right-wing hit man but left, or was rejected from, the broad conservative movement after writing a balanced book on Hillary Clinton---The Seduction of Hillary Rodham.

Many conservative characters pass by in this morality tale of a reformed soul who saw the light. One who caught my eye was Anne Coulter. So I wandered over to her website Anne Coulter and then explored her column at Townhall.com She's a big hitter for the Bush Administration, author of High Crimes and Misdemeanors and very mean. She is what Brock once was----part of an army of operatives in a culture war posing as a commentator.

I came across this piece, This is war from 2001. It was written just after S11. It is a tribute/remembrance to Barbara Olsen, who wrote a book on Hillary Clinton, Hell to Pay:The Unfolding Story of HIllary Rodham Clinton, and who died in one of the highjacked planes. Coulter concludes this piece by saying:

"We know who the homicidal maniacs are. They are the ones cheering and dancing right now. We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."

Lovely lady. She is going to take on all the Arab nation-states in the Middle East?It is a fantasy image that indicates this is the way reality is experiently lived.

We find similar sentiments from a piece on Al Gore (whom she calls a traitor by the way) called Why We hate them in which she says:

"Good. They should be worried. They hate us? We hate them. Americans don't want to make Islamic fanatics love us. We want to make them die. There's nothing like horrendous physical pain to quell angry fanatics. So sorry they're angry – wait until they see American anger. Japanese kamikaze pilots hated us once too. A couple of well-aimed nuclear weapons, and now they are gentle little lambs. That got their attention.

....Instead of obsessing over why angry primitives hate Americans, a more fruitful area for Democrats to examine might be why Americans are beginning to hate Democrats."


It's definitely a 'take no prisoners 'stance, especially with those people "lower down the evolutionary scale" than warmongering Christians on a crusade.

In case you naively thought that it was just Muslems who had to be attacked and whipped into shape so threy fit in with the Republican idea of how the world of nation states should be ordered, then this should correct that impression. Its simply called 'Attack France'. And she means it:

"We've got to attack France.

Having exhausted itself in a spirited fight with the Nazis in the last war, France cannot work up the energy to oppose terrorism. For decades now, France has nurtured, coddled and funded Islamic terrorists. (Moreover, the Great Satan is getting a little sick of our McDonald's franchises being attacked on behalf of notoriously inefficient French dairy farmers.)"


And so it goes onlisting all the reasons why France is one of the bad guys. Then its pulled together with this:

" ....If this is a war against terrorism and not a Eurocentric war against Islam, the conclusion is ineluctable: We must attack France. What are they going to do? Fight us? "

This is one warlike conservative pundit who uses words as if they are bullets. What France is going to do is exercise a veto on the Americans saying that the UN should attack Iraq after the 27th January deadline.

This position---France is the enemy---is where you end up with a political logic of 'if you are not with George Bush, then you are against him, and so you are with the enemy.' That makes Al Gore a traitor because he questions what Bush is doing in his foreign policy.

I have to admit I do not understand the emotional drivers of the Republican Party's foreign policy. Oh I know that this is centred around 'us & them; fighting a war with an enemy that is variously defined; and needing to destroy the enemy. But I cannot comprehend the political unconscious that surfaces in the expressions of hate in the texts of the attack journalists, such as Anne Coulter.

That hate, the implacable hatred, is a key is what I get from reading David Brock's, Blinded by the Right. What comes through so clearly is that both the conservative movement and the Republican party really hated Clinton, and they did everything they could to destroy him. It was an obsession that consumed them, even though this was at time (1995 ) when conservatism was chic and conservative opinion leaders revelled in gossip-page glitz. Even though they, under Newt Gingrich, controlled Congress in Clinton's second 4 year term, and used this power to try and destroy him with all sorts of inquiries, they still lived in a world of blind fury against Clinton.

Coulter's archives do not go back to the mid 1990s and so I cannot discover what she wrote on the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the Republican-driven impeachment drive, the Kenneth Starr investigations and the cultural and political war of the late 1990s. According to David Brock's Blinded by the Right though, Coulter seriously entertained the question of whether to "impeach or assasinate." (p.309)

Politics as blind fury? Its hard to get a grasp on. But it is what sits underneath the American patriotic narrative of innocence underseige by the Third World, the surge of patriotic pride and the going back to the basics. We can begin to get a grasp on this 'blind fury' if we see it as an aggressive stance of retaliation within Fortress America to the unspeakable Evil from the threatening Outside?

Can the work of Anne Coulter, with its denunciation of a questioning attitude, be interpreted as a paranoiac acting out; a paranoia that refuses to include itself in the picture other than as an innocent gaze confronting a diabolical evil. That gaze is hardly inocent; after all does not the Moral Majority stand of US conservatism condemn the US as a depraved and decadent society dedicated to mindless pleasures. Is this not a society of hedonist materialism, soft liberalism and permissive sexuality-----according to the fundamentalist Christian Right?

Is not this conservative critique of liberal America similar to that of the fundamental Muslems?

The gaze of Anne Coulter is not an innocent gaze.

Monday, January 20, 2003

Politics and Sport: Dareen Lehmann

I have always been amazed by those who say that politics and sport are separate beasts that go their own way rather than devouring one another in a neo Darwinian world. I have often wondered if the 'I just play sport' folks who maintain that sport and politics are mutually exclusive know the history of sport in the 20th century, and the way it has been deeply intertwined with politics at many levels. I guess its a case of liberal dreams and commercial reality clashing.

I have watched the Australian cricket team in action off and on this past year or so . What has caught my eye is that, though they are very good at playing sport they are pretty bad at politics. They are an arrogant bunch----the ugly Australian as schoolyard bully boy. Lehmann deserved to get nailed. The Australian cricket team's politics, which often has more than a tinge of racism about it, keeps on erupting through the public mask of the elite, professional sportsman. It is not a glorious page in Australia's national history.

They are not alone in this. International cricket is awash with the politics of race. This always keeps violently surfacing from the underground, despite the administrator's attempts (such as Malcolm Speed) to keep this politics underground and out of sight in the name of the Law. What we get with the International Cricket Council (ICC) is an artificial, insulated universe in which every eruption of politics is treated in a negative way. What we see is power politics around the World Cup creating its own excess.

Too quick a judgement from a non-sporting person? Check out this article by Patrick Fitzgerald the politics of cricket at Crikey.com Its good. Full marks to all the crew at crikey.com. What is happening on my reading, is that the Australian 'holiday from history' is over: we now hear the impact of reality shattering the carefully -constructed corporate facades of the isolated tower of the liberal attitude to politics and sport.

When I see this stuff being played out in the media I half expect a Greek chorus to chant in a carnivalesque manner 'C'mon, c'mon tell us more! Ooh ooh, the sex, the sex! C'mon tell us more!' And I think, at this point we are at the site where sporting entertainment meets political liquidation. We are seeing a glimpse of the dirty, obsence underside of power. When will the passion for purification surface? What monsters lies buried in the underground, awakening from their slumbers?

But the wild, free-wheeling psychoanalysis of the junk politics and the code of cricketing culture belongs to a heap of junk for code. In the meantime do read the Patrick Fitzgerald piece; Scott Wickstein's remarks on bad behaviour whilst wearing the baggy green at his excellent Ubersportingpundit website; and Yobbo's insights.

Update: Dareen writes the following response in an email:

"There seems to be a lot of naivety surrounding the culture of cricket. It amazed me when people were surprised that the Australian team were sledging the other teams. Having played
the game for over ten years, i couldn't imagine having played a game where players didn't sledge each other.

The sledging was not the sole preserve of working class yobs either. Thus, my distinctly blue-collar club was sometimes easily outdone in its sledging efforts by some of the teams that came from the inner suburbs. Indeed, one of the worstoffenders that we knew of was a member of a team associated with one of Adelaide's most prestigious schools. We didn't even trash their BMWs or Mercs when we lost.

Most of the talk was fairly harmless and sometimes humorous, but the game is played by people who share the prejudices and bigotries of all of us.

I think you have hit the nail on the head. Many people wantto believe that cricket is a noble game, even though it is patently clear that is no more (and perhaps less) noble than other sports, something which should have been made patently obvious in the '70s, if not before (just look at how Aboriginal and Asian cricketers have been treated in Australian and England)."

Iraqi War: What's happening?

Do you get the sense of a lull in the war on Iraq? Is it the calm before the storm? Is it a standoff? What is the US strategy? Has the UN outfoxed the Bush administration? Is the 27th of January the big day?

One attempt to address this lull in the war is given by The Economist in a piece called, 'Will War Be Delayed?, and it can be found here.

And on another note: when does the gun control issue and the right to bear arms clash with national security issue of the war on terror. Easy, when you go into your local store near an airport, buy a fifty-caliber sniper rifles, drive round the corner, park the car, have a cigarette and shoot down a plane taking off. Not possible? Lefty paranoia huh?

Well check this article out from The New Republic. This is the America of George Bush. You can buy this .50-caliber rifle, which when aimed properly, could be as effective as a shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile, from your local gun shop, at gun shows, or even on the Web. They're also relatively affordable: a .50-caliber rifle sells for as little as $1,250, whilst incendiary rounds, which ignite on impact, cost roughly $2 apiece and are also essentially unregulated.

This is the absurdity of negative freedom.

On another note: for different voices on the war with Iraq, see Writers, artists and civic leaders on the War

Sunday, January 19, 2003

Ye ole English dislike of Australia

I had thought that this sort of mockery of Australia stuff went out with the 1960s,even though Barrie Humphreys has continued to push his tired old act on the English stage to keep the money rolling in. But this mockery is being recycled by the Spectator by somone who has lived in Australia 15-20 years. Maybe it makes for good copy in Tory England? Or maybe it is English humor.

Thanks to Crikey.com for the reference. That Mayne man has a sharp eye.
Poor Great Barrier Reef

The health of the Great Barrier Reef continues to deteroriate. Its now a case of Great barrier grief as warm-water bleaching lingers.This piece says that scientists 'are alarmed that extensive areas of coral show no signs of recovery 12 months after last summer's bleaching event, prompting warnings that very hot weather this summer may damage beyond repair parts of the Great Barrier Reef.' Ray Berkelmans, a research scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Townsville, says that last summer was the worst recorded bleaching event; aerial surveys showed three-fifths of the reef's 6700 square kilometres was affected. He added that in some parts, such as patches of the Coral Sea and inshore reefs near Bowen, up to 95 per cent of coral had died. He said:

"Recovery was poor to non-existent in many places. We would be wanting things to pick up very quickly ... What had been beautiful reef is now acres and acres of dead coral covered with algae. We are going to see dramatic changes in the reef if the climate predictions are true, and I have no reason to believe they are not because everything is pointing that way. The prospects are grim, to say the least."

So coral bleaching from 2002 is a very hot issue. But there are other hot issues, including unsustainable fishing, sediment pollution from agriculture and coastal development, and they are spelt out here.

Clearly the Great Barrier Reef is in trouble
John Howard and Australian Conservatism

What sort of conservative is John Howard? Does it matter? These questions are posed by Gummo Trotsky asking in a comments section in the below post?

"Just what is the conservative position in a democracy?"

Gummo says the old English tradition conservative tradition as an attachment to noblesse oblige and a structured hierarchy of feudal obligation makes no sense in a democratic polity in Australia. That is the Tory tradition, and lo and behold it is alive and well in Australia judging by Australian Tory


If Howard is a conservative--- and he says he really is one --- and he has managed to shift public opinion to a more conservative position as Christopher Pearson argues, then John Howard gives us an insight into Australia conservatism. We do need to understand where Howard is coming from and how he practices his craft.

My stab at this places the emphasis on politics. As I see it, John Howard is a One Nation conservative who seeks a middle way between a laissez-faire market order and statist socialism. Such a conservative determines the limits of politics and the state with a judgement of what is appropriate in the circumstances. This conservatism regards a practical, flexible approach to government as a virtue, accepts a stable self-perpetuating governing class who can be trusted to govern well; is concerned to preserve stability and continuity; the purpose of politics is to maintain established power; it upholds custom, tradition and the common culture as necessary constraints on human liberty that help to protect society; holds that the authority of the state is more important than promoting individual freedom and accepts the web of obligations by which citizens are bound to another and the state.

That gives an indication of the conservative position in liberal democracy.

And just to confuse things terribly, my guess is that this conservatism is tacitly held by many in the top echelons of the Australian Labor Party. It is how they understand what the practice of politics is about.

Maybe Australian Tory can help us out with answering Gummo's question.
A Confident Conservatism?

Christopher Pearson, one of the Howard Government's court intellectuals, grows bolder by the week. Its good to see. Maybe soon we will have a strong, vibrant conservatism that is no longer confused about its identity. Comments on C.Pearson's previous column can be found at Christopher Pearson: A junk intellectual? (January 11).

CP--if I may be so bold to call him that----begins this weeks column, 'Howard the Unstoppable', in the Weekend Australian by reminding us of his argument from his previous columns:

"For some weeks this column has been noting straws in the wind that suggest changes in the spirit of the age. Much of the evidence is ambiguous; little is conclusive.Yet what commentators are prone to calling seismic shifts are plainly under way. Certainly, things are less like they were in the 1980s and '90s than anyone could imagine at the time and quite a lot of the current momentum is overtly countercylical. The wheels are wobbly off the triumphal chariot of progressivism and the cultural avant-garde, which once seemed unstoppable. Advocates of socially conservative values are losing the that habitually beleaguered look.

I'm not sure about this. The idea of history as a series of cycles seems to be as dubious as history as linear progress. Confusion abounds. I though the big bearers of progressivism today were the market liberals who identified them with an enlightening economic science leading us down the pathway to the global economy and utopia. Does this mean that CP is an old fashioned conservative Tory and not a neo-con----a liberal mugged by reality---as he lead us to believe? Or does 'progressivism' here mean the liberal values and beliefs associated with Paul Keating when he lead the Labor Party----Aboriginal Land Rights and reconciliation, high culture, multiculturalism, the Republic etc? And by the 'cultural avant-garde' does CP mean avant-garde artists in high culture, the deconstructing postmodernists of the academic left, or the techo-whizz, digital culture of the information society?

We should not allow this nitpicking (is this fisking?) to stand in the way of what CP is trying to us about changes in the spirit of the age as manaifest in the decay of progressivism and the rise of Australian conservatism.

What CP does next is make a reference to one P. Ryan and his essay excerpted in The Australian (no links). Ryan, according to Pearson lists more signs of the shift to conservatism in Australia: the High Court is no longer a playground for judicial adventurism; Keith Windshuttle's challenge to conventional Aboriginal history; and Noel Pearson's commitment to local solutions to long-term indigenous problems rather than posturing in international forums. Symptons of the shift are the displacement of the republic and the new flag as public issues by the issue of national survival in a hostile and envious world and the [liberal] media finally accepting Howard's political ascendency despite their infatuation with republicanism and symbolic reconciliation.

Fair enough: a paradigm shift is taking place. I do not have a problem with this. But what do these signs and symptoms mean? Do they not need to be deciphered? What does it say about an emerging Australian conservatism. Has it broken with liberalism? Is it still a neoconservatism? How different is Australian conservatism different from its US counterpart? Well CP is not really interested in this. He spends most of the article celebrating the socially conservative John Howard and saying he should be PM rather than Peter Costello. The latter is out of step with the spirit of the age or the zeitgeist. Pearson's advice to Costello is that he should pay more attention to the Zeitgeist and less to the Canberra press gallery.

Yawn. Surely there are more interesting thing as to talk about than this, now that a paradigm shift has taken place. How does conservatism view the liberal market order? Does it work within the classic conservative insight that left to itself a market order will destroy itself?All that CP does is venture a criticism of John Howard:

"Howard's greatest lapse as a social conservative was over embryo stem cell legislation. His position, mirroring Carr's, risked alienating the swinging Catholic voter on which both depend."

Fair enough. Good point. But I thought that moral not social conservatism. Even good liberals, such as Christopher Pyne, embraced the moral conservative position on stem cell research. So what is the relationship between conservatism and liberalism then?

But that's all we get. What in the heck does it boil down to? That Howard has been pivotal in the engineering of the shift from left liberalism to conservatism. Or is CP just talking about a conservative moral and culture current within liberalism? All that effort I have expending in reading between the lines and it produces nothing more than successful politicians have their finger on the pulse of the Zeitgeist".

What does that say about neoconservatism? All I can glean so far is that CP is critical about political correctness, Big Brother government, soft totalitarianism. He is sceptical and using this scepticism against Keating icons is striking a blow for liberty. Hey man, this is liberalism:it makes individual liberty the cornerstone not political authority. According to conservatism individuals are not sovereign when it comes to determining the rules of the liberal market order, particularly the moral and political rules.

Methinks Pearson's neocon is a bit of a con. Its is not really a con(servatism) at all.