The (big) little people can’t be trusted

Obviously it’s pick on Aussie journalists week here at WoO. No, I don’t know why either but it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

The SMH’s “senior economics journalist”, Jessica Irvine was paid today to tell us she’s no longer as overweight as she used to be, she’s now a mother, oh, and to advertise her book about no longer being as overweight as she used to be. Nice work if you can get it.

No, seriously, she knocked out a few hundred words to tell us that the secret to her weight loss was eating less and exercising more but because she’s good at spreadsheets she used a spreadsheet to keep track of it.

Also, she wrote this without a hint of irony, which is quite some feat;

But first, let’s address the elephant in the room: why does a senior economics journalist for some of Australia’s most respected newspapers keep banging on about her butt?

There’s two chuckles to be had there, if one is inclined to look for them.

The headline is most interesting though, and it’s taken directly from the body of the article so it’s not one of those usual editorial decisions to put words into the author’s mouth.

Ponder that statement for a moment.

Just whose damn responsibility is it to shed excess kilograms then? I’ve checked Google Maps and they’ve completely failed to label the locations of the human foie gras farms out in the suburbs.

Smashing the personal responsibility framework means acknowledging that most people aren’t maths whizzes and won’t follow the diet I’ve just outlined, particularly not those in lower socio-economic groups among whom obesity is most prevalent.

Sure, it’s about educating individuals to make better food and exercise choices. But fundamentally it’s about redesigning the obesogenic environment we’ve created, by governments stepping in to improve the availability of cheap, nutritious food and opportunities for regular exercise and activity.

Ah, it’s the government’s job to make the stupid masses lose weight because they aren’t as clever as Jessica Smarty(large)pants.

No, really, she wrote that.

Bill’s Opinion

There is nothing quite as obscene as a desire to control other people disguised as altruism.

Jessica doesn’t give a damn about the size of the guts of the people living in the areas of Australia she only ever drives past on the way to the airport or flies over on the way to her foreign holidays.

What Jessica wants is “people like us” to be in charge of what those people can and can’t eat and how they exercise.

And this, by the way, is someone with some level of qualification in that most suspicious of disciplines, economics, a subject with such an inferiority complex it had to invent a fake Nobel Prize for itself in an attempt to gain missing gravitas.

One assumes Jessica played truant in the local McDonalds and Burger King when the lecturers explained the Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman parts of the syllabus.

Long form conversation is the new soundbite

That traditional media is dying a painful and not so slow death is hard to dispute. The body count is rising everywhere one looks, in the last couple of years we’ve seen various mastheads either close down or be reduced to a shadow of their former selves. Examples include the UK’s The Independent (just a website now), the UK’s The Guardian (asking for “charitable” donations at the bottom of every online article), the New York Daily News (half the staff were fired last month) and Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald (bought by a domestic TV station for a fraction of its previous valuation).

Perhaps for a real time illustration of what might be the problem we should have a look at today’s version of the Sydney Morning Herald’s website;

The main story of the day is a feel good piece by Julie Clun about a man who raises money for a cancer charity. Ok, lovely, but it’s not exactly the “news” topic one would expect is it, especially in these febrile days of North Korea, Iran, Brexit, deadly forest fires in Greece, domestic banking scandals, and difficult times for the domestic Federal government, etc.?

Second on the website is our old friend Clementine “the other gift that keeps on giving” Ford, whining on about men not doing enough domestic chores in relationships, especially in the first few years after the first child is born. This might be true and the researchers may well have been justified in spending their grant money on undertaking the study but perhaps the “problem” is multi-dimensional and those men have felt the pressure to work longer hours and harder (and let’s face it, more dangerous) jobs to cover their increased financial responsibilities? Clementine doesn’t seem to be curious about this, and more importantly, the sub-editor didn’t wonder whether her entire article wasn’t just some massive exercise in personal projection.

Third on the website is an astoundingly naive article about a man diagnosed with mental health issues (which the article admits includes the risk of self harm or even suicide) who found it difficult to buy travel insurance. Not “couldn’t buy travel insurance“, but he had to ring around a bit and pay more when he found a company that would cover him. News flash for Rachel Clun, THAT’S HOW INSURANCE WORKS; they asses the risk that you will make a claim and price the policy accordingly.

Next, article number four is probably the best example of “reporting of news” as we’ll get today; Deborah Snow and Nick O’Malley wrote about a breaking political scandal.

Fifth on the list is the story of an airline employee who got so drunk on a layover between flights that he had to spend a night in hospital at the airline’s expense and was unable to perform his scheduled duties on the return flight. The tone of Anna Perry’s piece on this presumably open and shut case of employee dismissal is that the airline is being somewhat harsh by firing him. Anna doesn’t find the space to ponder whether we would like to get on flights staffed by half-drunk staff or pay higher prices for tickets that include the $20,000 hospital bill for their big nights out in the Big Apple.

The sixth article is a fun look at some drug smugglers who were involved in a boat chase before being caught dumping 600kg of cocaine in the sea. Some actual reporting there by Tracey Ferrier, well done.

The last article is a formulaic hand-wringing climate change article by the SMH’s resident “weather is climate” writer, Peter Hannam, with great use of our old friend “could”, as in “if it doesn’t rain soon, we could have to finally switch on the desalination plant we built ages ago and that has cost half a million dollars a day to sit idle ever since“.

If you are a current or former employee of the media company formerly known as Fairfax (publisher of the SMH) here’s a direct message to you; Aristotle said, “the life unexamined is not worth living“. Perhaps you should have a good look at yourself and wonder why people didn’t want to pay money for your work.

It pains me to mention this but there is also a glaring statistic to be found looking at those 7 top articles; of the 8 writers, 6 are women.

I’m not suggesting that this is the reason the newspaper is making its final circle around the toilet bowl, I’m sure women can report on news and write just as articulately as men, but it might be a symptom not a cause of the greater problem; one struggles to believe that Clementine Ford, for example, is the main bread-winner in her household. Perhaps the job of opinion-writer on gender politics (or however it is she would describe her idiom) doesn’t command a particularly stellar salary because, well, people don’t want to read the bloody tosh she writes? Perhaps that’s the case with most of the remaining jobs at the Herald and many of the employees are bringing in the 2nd income in their house, supplementing a primary wage-earner?

The business model of companies such as the Sydney Morning Herald is broken and broken beyond repair. We won’t pay for their output any longer.

H. L. Mencken may (or may not, it’s hard to confirm) have said, “No one in this world, so far as I know … has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people“.

I like much of Mencken’s work but I hope he didn’t say that because I challenge its accuracy.

Why?

Podcasts.

It turns out that this relatively new method of sharing information is hugely popular. The podcasts insights website suggests that half of all US households listen to podcasts on a weekly basis. Comedy being the most popular category but closely followed by education and news.

Anyone who has listened to a podcast will have realised that it differs from the traditional media of newspapers, TV and radio in one significant factor; they are LONG.

How long? The Joe Rogan Experience is in the top 5 of downloaded podcasts and he rarely releases an episode shorter than 3 hours. His average listener numbers per episode? 3 million.

Dan Carlin regularly drops 2 to 3 hour conversations about history that get higher listener numbers than CNN gets viewers. Let me repeat that; Conversations about history.

People such as Ben Shapiro, Jordan Peterson, Dave Rubin, Sam Harris, etc. are having lengthy, detailed and nuanced discussions about, well, all sorts of subjects that wouldn’t get more than 600 words in the pages of the Wall Street Journal or the Sydney Morning Herald. In this format, highly-nuanced points can be made, clarified, challenged and refined in a way we’ve never been able to consume previously. This has also resulted in a move away from the problem with formats such as the CNN panel discussion where each participant is simply waiting to shout a pithy one-liner (or even a one-worder) over their “opponents” rather than listening and responding intelligently.

Now look at our soon to be unemployed SMH journalists; imagine if Clementine Ford was asked to produce a coherent discussion about her apparent area of expertise for three hours a week, how many people would choose to listen to it, do we think? How articulate would it be, how well-thought through and defendable would her arguments be?

Quite.

The lesson from podcasts is that huge numbers of people are crying out for long form discussions that take their knowledge of a subject, any subject, forward and don’t just leave them with the executive summary of the revision notes.

Of course, it hasn’t escaped me that you are reading this rather than listening to it but that’s mainly a function of the fact that I don’t have expertise in any subject that covers 3 hours of conversation and that I have the perfect voice for the written, not spoken, word.

Logical inconsistency boomerangs

Today’s amusement is at the expense of the regressive progressive Legacy Press (c) and their take on the Commonwealth Games, currently taking place on the Gold Coast of Australia.

For those unfamiliar with the Commonwealth Games, think of them as the Special Olympics for countries that were colonised by Great Britain with the exception of the USA and basket case countries like Zimbabwe (although Myanmar is still competing).

To underline the purpose of the games, the original name in 1930 was The British Empire Games. Basically, it’s a way for all the athletes who would normally do “a Brian Jones” (i.e. not exit the pools) in the Olympics to get a medal. Which is pretty sad really, given the fact the Olympic Games itself is just a convenient way to bundle into a single event a collection of sports nobody normally pays to watch.

If the Olympics and Commonwealth Games’ actual sporting events are relatively pathetic spectacles, the opening ceremonies are even more tedious. It’s as if the event organisers sat around the planning table and said to each other, “I know what’ll liven up the prospect of a couple of weeks of synchronised diving and rhythmic gymnastics; a West End musical-style opening ceremony! Someone get Andrew Lloyd Webber and Elton John on the phone, stat!“.

The problem is, of course, if you have signed up to the entire list of left-wing “correct” positions to take on everything, yesterday’s opening ceremony at the Commonwealth Games puts you into a tight spot, logically.

Why?

The Aboriginals; yesterday’s song and dance show was heavily-influenced by Australian Aboriginal dancing, music and ceremony.

On the one hand, commentators such as Phil Lutton want to underline the message that it’s time for Australia to ditch the historic links with the UK, that a constitutional monarchy is an anachronism in the 21st century, and that things were altogether better before Australia was colonised. On that theme, many of his colleagues from his newspaper have campaigned vociferously to change the date of the national day, Australia Day, from its current date of January 26th (the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet) to show solidarity with the oppressed first people.

On the other hand, many of those Aboriginal people willingly took place in the opening ceremony of an event which celebrates Australia’s history as a member of the British Empire and, latterly, the British Commonwealth, and yet there was a small group protesting outside the stadium.

What is the correct position to take without destroying one’s progressive credentials? It’s a fine line to tread and one for which Phil has our deepest sympathies, after all, he desperately wouldn’t want to express the “wrong” sentiment and incur the wrath of the Twitter pile-on crowd.

What results, of course, is an article brimming with cognitive dissonance, probably not helped by the late evening hour that he had to file his copy and the, presumably, free-flowing Aussie beer in the press room;

He starts in rambling, grammatically-clunky style, desperately trying to keep the representation of the para-athletes in parity with the able-bodied, and doesn’t improve much from there;

Surely, this is not the time for jingoism in our fragile sporting climate.

A statement he then quickly goes on to disprove, of course, dismissing the link to England as an anachronism whilst cheering the kilted Scots. News flash for Phil, it was called the “British Empire” for a reason; many of the more successful colonial masters weren’t actually English; Hong Kong’s Jardine (Scottish), Australia’s Macquarie (Scottish), New Zealand’s Hobson (Irish), for example. Further evidence might be found by perusing the place names of countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada, where there will be plenty of instances of Aberdeen, Hamilton and Perth. The monarch of the empire may have been German English, but a large proportion of their subjects probably only stepped foot in England to travel to a port of emigration.

Then we get an anthropological history lesson, which is a nice touch from the Sydney Morning Herald’s sports correspondent;

….but, if we agree that the first people to arrive in Australia landed 65,000 years ago, they’d have done very well to have settled 2,700km away within the same year. Oh well, it’s a sports journalist we’re reading here, after all.

The article continues by celebrating the beaches of the Gold Coast and a cursory nod at some local government corruption in the 1980s, which is, well, obscure and not relevant.

At least we can all agree that Prince Charles and his wife did look out of place. Well, overdressed compared to the dancers at least. Actually, overdressed compared to any resident of the Gold Coast of Australia, a place where “singlet” is considered appropriate wardrobe regardless of the social appointment; beach, bar, court appearance, state funeral, etc…..

Bill’s Opinion

Sometimes a sporting event is just a sporting event and doesn’t really need to be used as a cultural guilt weapon, especially as very few Australians are even related to anyone who has ever oppressed an Aboriginal, let alone actually been personally responsible for such oppression.

Also, regardless of how one feels about the relevance of the role of a monarch in 21st century Australia, surely the one person who looks least out of place at the British Empire Commonwealth Games is a member of the British monarchy?

Lastly, could someone also please have a word with the Aboriginal people of Australia and get them to agree on whether the Commonwealth Games are a good or a bad thing so that we can all virtue signal in the correct manner, please?

I’ve only got three months left to live but at least I’m not Anderson Cooper

“Hello and good evening, welcome to Anderson Cooper 360. I’m Anderson Cooper and for those wondering about the numbers, one way of measuring the planet shown behind me is by dividing it into 360 degrees. Obviously the inference being that, here on CNN, we report all the facts from all angles without bias, agenda or spin.”

Oh my God, I get this goddamn sick feeling in my stomach when I lie. I hate it.

Tonight we will be analysing the latest developments from the alleged hacking of the presidential election by the Russians. We will be discussing today’s explosive disclosure that somebody unimportant to President Trump met someone with a Russian-sounding name at a suburban Starbucks in 2009, or was standing in line at the counter at the same time at least.

On the panel tonight we have my colleague at CNN, Dave Democrat, another colleague here at CNN, Lisa Liberal, and to prove we aren’t an echo chamber, we also have CNN host, Don Lemon.

Christ, here we go again; rinse and repeat, speculation, strawman, question whether there will be an impeachment, discuss it for an hour and then come to the conclusion that it’s still not the smoking gun we’ve been hoping for these past 14 months.

Fuck! It’s been FOURTEEN MONTHS! Please God, when can we move on and start reporting news that actually means something?

So first, let me ask you, Don, what’s the significance of these latest shocking revelations?

Well, I’m glad you asked me that Anderson, and can I just say that these allegations, if they turn out to be true, are the most outrageous developments since yesterday’s news that a Whitehouse intern once drank Russian vodka in a bar in Columbus, Ohio after they graduated from college?

Yes you may, Don, that’s a great perspective, thanks. Do continue, please.

Yes Anderson, these developments are indeed scandalous. We still don’t have the full details of what coffee was consumed by whom although we do know that the member of the campaign in question usually opts for a Skinny Decaf Venti with hazelnut syrup. Whether this was their order on this occasion we are yet to ascertain. (Continues on this theme for 20 minutes)

Is this what I’ve become? Born into one of the richest, most powerful families in the country, Yale-educated, on a trajectory for greatness and I’m stuck here 5 nights a week listening to people agreeing with themselves that we’ve got a buffoon as executive leader?

Where did it go wrong, that’s what I want to know?

I know where it went wrong; my fucking parents. Why on earth did they give me 3 fucking last names? “Anderson Hays Cooper”? They’re all bloody surnames. I was fated to have a shit life from they day they Christened me.

What’s wrong with “David” for fuck’s sake?

(Lemon continuing) ….and so we’ve got a crew on the scene waiting for the local Sheriff’s department to make a statement on the nationalities of the staff at the particular Starbucks and whether or not any of them have Russian backgrounds or, indeed, once played Tetris as a child”.

Thanks Don, great analysis and insight as always. I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got time for this evening. Tune in tomorrow for further breaking news on this historic situation. Goodnight.

Oh, please God kill me now, let it be over.

Bill’s Opinion

Apologies to Half Man Half Biscuit.

“Methinks the lady doth…..”

The Australian Foreign Minister sure does get around a bit. One day in Canberra, London the next.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has stopped short of throwing her direct support behind a ban on ministers having sex with staff.

Curious.

She goes on to give some advice to the press on their job descriptions;

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has warned the media not to take it upon themselves to police the Turnbull government’s new sex ban, saying it is a matter of personal responsibility for ministers to abide by their expanded code of conduct.

That’s fairly unsubtle; “keep your prying noses out of our private lives”.

Some of us may have previously been of the opinion that the press were a necessary part of the checks and balances applied to those who wish to wield political power over us.

And she suggested the ban should be read in the context of the wider purpose of the code, to prevent conflicts of interest, misuse of public money or undue influence.

That’s a helpful interpretation for us all there; “it’s a code of conduct to prevent probity issues so don’t go publicising promiscuity and extra-marital affairs unless you can prove corruption”.

One almost gets the impression La Bishop is becoming concerned about something personal.

“It’s certainly not open season for the media,” Julie Bishop said.

Quite right, we wouldn’t want an open season and all the concomitant erm, openness that would bring.

Ms Bishop said there were aspects of politicians’ lives that were private and should be kept private.

Oh, do tell us more about which aspects you’re thinking about specifically….

Bill’s Opinion

What politicians do in their or other people’s bedrooms is their business and should remain that way. There might be three exceptions to this rule however;

  1. Where there is evidence of probity or conflict of interest issues arising from private relationships.
  2. Where there is a perception of probity or conflict of interest issues arising from private relationships.
  3. Where the behaviour contradicts previously-stated public positions by the individual.

And now for some speculation; this will blow up in the Australian Prime Minister’s face as it is highly-unlikely that this will be the final sexual dalliance to be or have been occurring at senior government levels. By writing his moralistic code of conduct, he’s just given a green light for these stories to emerge.

Of course, he could have just fired the Deputy Prime Minister immediately and watched the news cycle move on to the latest Donald Trump tweet. But that would have required vertebral fortitude.