Thursday, May 22, 2008

Almost speechless...

Britain, what are you doing?

The notion of having free speech in Britain seems to be paper thin, rather than solid rock.

Update: Ok... how thin would you like your free speech? Wafer?

As a sidenote, sadly Manchester United won the European Champions' League this morning (my time). On second thoughts, perhaps not so sad; I would have been sadder had Chelsea won.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Hmmm, innerestin'...

To start with, a couple of interesting links:
And then some entertainment. Online Opinion is a space where opinion pieces are posted. There can be some really interesting articles - and there can be some absolute dross. One issue I have is some of the women's issues articles in the last two months - they're poorly researched, not very well written and come to conclusions like "OMG NOT PRON, THINK of the CHILDREN". To me, the articles' lack of quality almost denigrates the issues.

In the last month, there's been a bit of controversy over articles on Anthropogenic Global Warming and in the ensuing debate, starting with former astronaut Phil Chapman saying an ice age is coming. This proposition was rebutted in an article by David Karoly (a Professor of Earth Sciences at Melbourne University) labelling it mischievous misinformation.

The lines were drawn, with a former astronaut versus Professor of Earth Sciences...

Two more articles in the following days by two marine scientists, one by Charlie Veron detailing the damage that will be done to the Great Barrier Reef, the other by Walter Starck rebutting (some of) his points.

On the 14th of May, journalist/businessman and JP Terry Dunleavy criticised the hysteria over AGW, and the lack of public discussion. However, he started his article with this paragraph:
It has become commonplace knowledge, and is unchallenged, that global average temperature has not increased since 1998. This corresponds to a nine-year period during which the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide, in contrast, did increase, and that by almost 5 per cent.
Unfortunately for him this wasn't a good idea, since it shows a lack of understanding of the basic data. To start with a falsehood in an article complaining that no-one's listening to the skeptics... I wonder if he's a sockpuppet, 'cos that's not a good look.

This article was followed up the next day by an article by the publisher of Online Opinion (and former(?) member of the Queensland Liberals), Graham Young, complaining about the introduction by Robyn Williams (ABC's experienced science journalist) of Don Aitken (a political scientist and historian) in a radio broadcast. In the piece, he also mentions that factual errors in Veron's article are "demonstrated" by Starck on OLO - except there are no references to any studies or data in any of the rebuttal paragraphs, and indeed only calls them "comments" in the disagreement. In the final page, Young also labels Williams a Marxist (whatever happened to freedom of expression?) and introduced economist John Quiggin and computer scientist Tim Lambert, labelling them as bullies and brownshirts - invoking Godwin's law. Lambert himself shows up in the comments, responding to each of Young's points, including correcting his "mistakes". Young then claims that Lambert is doing that to take attention away from his mistakes (at this point, I could post a lolcat with a "wtf" expression)...

Geoff Davies writes the final article in the series, "A cool look at Professor Aitkin’s global warming scepticism". The difference (to me) with Starck's article is that Davies includes numbers which are able to be checked straight out, rather than general statements which in themselves require some ability to analyse the data.

In initial responses on their own blogs Quiggin has claimed the Godwin here, and Tim Lambert has called it "On-line abuse". Quiggin has also made the point of Fred Singer's influence on the skeptic/denialist scene.

The comments thread are the ones that have really caught my attention. Don Aitkin (to his credit) is commenting regularly and calmly, as is Geoff Davies. Lambert is attempting to address the issues put to him, and most entertainingly, a commentor by the moniker of "jc2" spends his whole time attacking him, labelling Lambert a "ridiculous clown". Pleasant stuff. (I am, however, impressed by the arguments by a number of other commenters. Sadly they often don't get their very valid questions responded to by Young.) The dry comment by Lambert in Club Troppo's Missing Link Daily from Tuesday also apparently rates high enough to allow more abuse.

Through all this, the number of AGW skeptic pieces has been given larger airplay as compared to their supporter numbers on OLO, leading to many commenters to wonder at OLO's publishing and editing policy and direction. The editor, Susan Prior, has commented at least three times about this, saying the second time (with some understandable exasperation):
...each day I make the decisions about what goes into the journal. I try to achieve a balance but it is dependent on what I get sent to me or can procure myself. I have no political barrow to push, am happy to publish well reasoned/well written articles from all parties and strive to provide material that will get readers thinking and considering other points of view. If I published articles and opinions from one viewpoint you (and I) would soon get pretty bored. OLO is about opinions, debate and ideas. It is about expanding horizons and thinking. It is not about reading what you necessarily want to hear.

Doesn't seem to matter to Young. In his responses to Lambert's post that came in the "Best Blogs 2006", he's the one that initiates the abuse, labelling Lambert as "dishonest", and his post as "raw and barely digestible".

Perhaps a "cool look" needs to extend to discussion practices... and an improvement in the setup of those comments forums. They're a right pain to try to interpret...!

Update: I forgot the final article thrown into the mixer: Clive Hamilton's Death Rattles of the Climate Change Skeptics at New Matilda.

I have also apparently been beaten to the punch by Lyn at Public Opinion...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Budgeting pain...

So, the new federal budget is out, and there's obviously a lot of people doing it tough in the community.

I've been fairly critical of the media in previous posts, and this case wouldn't be an exception.

Choice quote:
Their combined income of more than $150,000 is quickly swallowed by the cost of raising two children, an average-sized mortgage, running a financial planning business and meeting car payments and private school fees.

"Average-sized" mortgage. Like what, over $200,000? More than $400,000?

Running a financial planning business... so they "only" pay themselves $150,000p.a.? Does that mean the business isn't going that well? Are they blaming the government for that too?

As for car payments:
They would have been hit with the luxury car tax, which jumped to 33 per cent for $57,000-plus cars, had they delayed buying a 4WD.

What kind of 4WD, and why do they need one? Do they really go out and use it (bush), or is it for carting the kids' friends around?

The article says nowhere what private school the kids are attending. Should I take it to mean he's going to Prince Alfred College, and she's at St Peter's (two of the most expensive schools in Adelaide)? Or are they going to some of the "cheaper" ones?

It seems to me that they expect the government to support them through their lifestyle choices, which they say are bad by complaining how much it costs, but do it anyway. And further, the lack of detail on exactly why they're "doing it tough" implies to me that the article is simply a beat-up for the Liberal party, because they're having trouble finding something relevant to complain about.

Remember, every baby is created equal. Of course, some are more equal than others.

Did you know Brendan Nelson's a doctor?

Update: Somebody's thinking of the children. I'm thinking along the lines of Senator Conroy not actually knowing what he's talking about, and some muppet from his department sent him out to face the media under-prepared.

And two: Ross Gittens gets stuck in.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Priority Media

It's a question that needs to be asked in Australia: where is the quality going? On Woolly Days Derek Barry has an(other) excellent post on whether any of Australia's main media outlets actually care about the quality of what they presented. Last night on Media Watch on the ABC host Jonathan Holmes covered the same story, and it included interviews with Roy Greenslade (Media Columnist, The Guardian), Mike van Niekerk (Editor-in-Chief Online, Fairfax Media) and Eric Beecher (Publisher, Crikey & Business Spectator).

A comment by Mike van Niekerk comparing printed and electronic media caught my ear:
Mike van Niekerk: I think they speak to different audiences. They are slightly different audiences. In fact I can tell you that the percentage of people that read both the print edition and the online edition is roughly about 25%.

Jonathan Holmes: The concern I guess would be though, if your web pages are the look of the future, if you like, the developing medium. And the newspaper is the one that's on the way down. If that's the case, does that mean that quality journalism is on the way down? Does that mean that funding the Canberra bureaus and the foreign bureaus and doing the investigative journalism is on the way down?

Mike van Niekerk: You know if that were to be the case, that would be the time that I would get out of this business because that would take all the fun out of it for me.

Well, that makes me feel better - until I was confronted by this image when I went to the "AdelaideNow" (The Advertiser/The Sunday Mail) website today:
The media in Adelaide is saturated enough with AFL news as it is (they love their Australian Rules here a little too much - to the point that it's disturbing), but former stars' bust-ups take precedent over 10,000 dead in Burma? Large picture of Grant Hackett's "belly"? Side note: he's just swum 10km, for crying out loud. Give over.

But that's a News Limited source. What about Fairfax and the Sydney Morning Herald?

Wayne, Scarlett, Kylie, Tom, Gazza, Sophie, Tom. The Burma story is only saying whether there's any Australian casualties, the article on Keating is just reviewing a column of his from the SMH, 'Road rage' is from reading a police media release and the 'Dungeon children' is reproducing international stories. If there's quality journalism there, it's difficult to see. Saying that the printed and electronic media customers are too different doesn't mean that there shouldn't be easily accessible stories with real substance. Those five stories about people in the entertainment industry take the width of the entire web page?

So, er, where/what is the money (that van Niekerk says they're still making) going to?

And just for laughs, what's the Guardian's (from England) website look like?

Hmmm. So,
1. Are Australia electronic media consumers that much more celebrity and sport-focussed than the print consumers?
2. Do the Australian media outlets expect them to have that orientation or judge stories by the number of clicks on each, then pander to those tastes?
3. Do the Australian media realise that serious journalism can be presented on their websites, too?

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Lies, damn lies

ARIA are the Australian Recording Industry Association, (as wikipedia says) a trade group representing the Australian recording industry. They also claim to represent Australian music artists, and have released a documentary where several big-name artists are "crying poor" over piracy, quoting the Veronicas:
"The problem with downloading obviously is that it's ruining our industry in a way, because I mean you know artists just aren't making money, record companies aren't making money from it," Lisa Origliasso of the Veronicas says.
An Onymous Lefty covers this initial piece of news in more detail (in an excellent post). I was skeptical at reading of Frenzal Rhomb's inclusion in the list of artists, considering Lindsay "The Doctor" McDougall's position on this issue.

Hence, I wasn't particularly surprised at hearing a response to this on the radio this morning, and to read the follow up article in the Sydney Morning Herald:
Frenzal Rhomb guitarist Lindsay McDougall, also a radio presenter at Triple J, told the Herald he was furious at being "lumped in with this witch hunt" and that he had been "completely taken out of context and defamed" by the Australian music industry, which funded the video.
The film, which can be viewed at, features interviews with some of Australia's biggest musical acts including The Veronicas, Jimmy Barnes, Operator Please, Evermore, Silverchair and Powderfinger. They either could not be reached by the Herald yesterday or were overseas.
"Were overseas"? Haven't they heard of a telephone? Are the journalists too busy to call managers to confirm? Or did they only try to contact them through ARIA? A lovely bit of lazy journalism there.

As for the movie maker, Lindsay "The Doctor" McDougall replayed on the radio this morning an example of his response when contacted:

I'll leave the last word to The Doctor, too:
Frenzal Rhomb guitarist Lindsay McDougall, who claims he was duped into appearing in a 10-minute film that is driving the campaign, says "I think it's bullshit, I think it's record companies crying poor and I don't agree with it."