Trenchant Lemmings
"Arrive in a clown car, bursting with anger."
Robert Weaver
Sydney, Australia
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The weblog description is a misquotation from Steve Aylett's Indicted to a Party: What to Do, Who to Blame.
The weblog title links to the "No Country Redirect" version, for whatever that might be worth.
September 30, 2010
Insert Pun Involving Tea Here

As I've remarked elsewhere:

The tea party movement is an astroturf concoction of corporate power brokers, their media enablers and apparatchiki from their party of choice, and its useful idiots are incoherent Republican dead-enders whose problem is that they're way too heavily invested in their fantasy narrative about the Kenyan Islamobolshevik in the White House. A bunch of middle class white folks reciting PR front-group talking points isn't a rebellion against fucking anything.
Matt Taibbi, Steve Kornacki and Steven Thrasher validate my skepticism and provide a counter to recent bizarre commentary attempting to equate these sore losers with the Populist movement of a century ago.

September 27, 2010

Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory:

Logically, one supposes, there's no reason why a language devised by man should be inadequate to describe any of man's works. The difficulty was in admitting that the war had been made by men and was being continued ad infinitum by them. The problem was less one of "language" than of gentility and optimism; it was less a problem of "linguistics" than of rhetoric. Louis Simpson speculates about the reason infantry soldiers so seldom render their experiences in language: "To a foot-soldier, war is almost entirely physical. That is why some men, when they think about war, fall silent. Language seems to falsify physical life and to betray those who have experienced it absolutely - the dead." But that can't be right. The real reason is that soldiers have discovered that no one is very interested in the bad news they have to report. What listener wants to be torn and shaken when he doesn't have to be? We have made unspeakable mean indescribable; it really means nasty.
Yeah, I'm still here. And as cheery as ever.

September 09, 2010

In comments on the "Let the Great Unhinging Begin" thread, Possum Comitatus makes the same point which would form part of a longer piece I have yet to post:

The problem I have with the ABC isn't bias (six of one, half dozen of the other) - but the seeming lack of intellectual autonomy when it comes to deciding "what is news".

Too often we get some story in The Oz, complete with its particular campaigning angle (The Oz is a campaigning newspaper) - then the ABC picks up that story (often because it *is* newsworthy, but sometimes not) but perpetuates that *same* angle when the facts of the story might not particularly support the angle, or when the reality of what is going on is much more nuanced.

It’s laziness, or cowardice, or naivety or just plain hopelessness. Fran Kelly is the biggest and most obvious culprit IMHO - but it extends further into the organisation.

However one wants to describe it, the ABC is increasingly copying what other news organisations decide is "news" (which can be a small problem, but usually isn't), but also treating the editorialised angle that other organisations have attached to that news content as part of the ABC story as well.
The not-yet-post I refer to is actually the reason I decided to start blogging again, in order to be able to link to, rather than tiresomely type out in full, my argument that the business model of commercial media is to sell audiences and readers to advertisers, and thus the job of commercial media journalists is to provide content which helps their companies sell audiences to advertisers, making the audience the product and not the customer, and bearing in mind that the desired product is not so much "as many readers, viewers and listeners as possible" as "the kind of readers, viewers and listeners the customer wants to advertise to". (And that's the short version.) This rather obvious and derivative heuristic makes most of the behaviour of commercial media journalists entirely explicable, where it would be utterly baffling if one believed journalists have an occupational commitment to accurately reporting the news.

That said, the more pertinent question is why public media journalists persist in the delusion that commercial media journalists are their colleagues, given that they do two completely different jobs. The explanation is probably to be found in human psychology or perhaps the psychology of institutions, the shared job market, schooling, et cetera, or even, dare I say it, in class identity. Whatever the reason, more important would be working out how public media journalists can be persuaded to give up this delusion of a shared occupation (it's certainly not a profession) and start doing the job the charter of their public broadcaster claims they are doing, providing accurate and relevant information to the viewer.

A friend of mine met an ABC journalist at a dinner party (yes, it's going to be one of those stories) who had been to a job interview with the BBC. She said they had asked her to characterise the news culture at the ABC. She asked what they meant. "Well," they said, "at the BBC we take the position that whatever news story the commercial stations are covering we shouldn't be, and we should be covering whatever stories they're not covering. In fact, if we find that the commercial media has picked up a story we covered, we wonder if we've made an error." "Ah," she said, "at the ABC it's the exact opposite. Whatever the commercial media thinks the news is, we follow. The philosophy is to ensure that the ABC covers everything, and nothing but, what the commercial stations cover." If my friend's anecdote is accurate, it would seem the ABC's approach to news is more than a lack of intellectual autonomy but a deliberate corporate policy, motivated by what it would be difficult to know for sure, although a spineless managerial paranoia about getting hectored for "bias" is probably part of it.

I suspect the BBC claim of its independent news values is a tad overblown (and obviously doesn't extend to stories like "London destroyed in tsunami"). If the Beeb does avoid swallowing the British commercial media's idea of what's news, I suspect they are less successful at avoiding a sheeplike embrace of the commercial media's idea of what's journalism. In this regard, too, public broadcasters need to drop the notion of a shared occupation, and drop their aping of the commercial media's adolescent obsession with "scoops" and "exclusives" (which in the day and age of the Internet seem like something out of a 1930s screwball comedy) and concentrate on their charter obligations. "Woohoo! We were the first to report that story!" "Oh, goody. Was it true?" "Erm... oh, you just don't understand the industry." The behaviour of the ABC's new 24 hour channel gives no confidence they understand their real responsibilities, except insofar as they are attempting to be as fast (and loose) as Sky, but failing.


Focus is important:

It was the talk of Canberra yesterday - not Julia Gillard, but which journalist dropped the f-bomb during the all-important, broadcast-live press conference with Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott... Recognise the voice? Let us know in the comments section below…

- Cobber, surely?

- I’m pretty sure that’s Lenore Taylor.

- Kevinruddscat, obviously.

- Fran Kelly- ABC Hostperson extraordinaire.

- Fran Kelly was way over house-right, I don’t think it was her.

- I go with Lenore Taylor too.

- Ahhh … I’ll say Jo the Camerawoman.

- Sam Maiden.

- Stephanie Rice is my bet.

- the poison dwarf?

- Simon Benson at the end of a long eight weeks.

- f*ck, has journalism here really become so insipid, boring and self-obsessed we give a sh*t about a colleague saying f*ck?
I'm almost tempted to sign up for a trial subscription just so I can log in and say "Yes."

Apropos of which, the new blog of Mr Denmore, who has posted some interesting stuff at Larvatus Prodeo, has been added to the blogroll.


David Friedman at Ironic Sans reminds readers of his Sunday Magazine project, a regular posting of the most interesting articles from the New York Times Sunday Magazine from 100 years ago. Alternatively, you could visit Whatever It Is, I'm Against It, where the proprietor has been keeping tabs on century-old current events for a while now. It's a bit terrifying, probably because of WIIIAI's unfortunate focus on all the lynchings going on rather than accentuating positives like Europe not having turned into a blood-soaked midden yet.

The Great Fleet

Over at Riddled, Smut Clyde takes a breather from the usual surreal japery in order to register a complaint about an unedifying edifice. This, however, is the bit that caught my eye:

We know now that the mid-century version of national mythology (featuring a settlement of NZ by a Great Fleet in about 1350) is unmitigated ahistorical shite, fabricated by an ethnologist who distorted the available oral traditions to fit his preconceived picture, with the help of a Māori informant who had converted to Mormonism and who was committed to the idea that the Māori were one of the Lost Tribes of Israel.
Apparently, the Great Fleet theory serves the agenda of those who wish to excuse the expropriation of the Māori on the grounds that, hey, they weren't here first anyway, but had supplanted a prior population of ... *cough* ... Celts.

I'm fascinated by stuff like this - the history of history. Or, to be precise, the history of how history comes to be filled with nonsense made up by white dickheads.

September 08, 2010
Prepare for the Crazy

Everyone's linking to "Let the Great Unhinging Begin" at Crikey!, so I might as well, as well.

With so many having invested so much in the defeat of the Labor government – including the leadership of what was once the national broadsheet of this country – to be denied victory by political inches, leaving a fragile incumbent holding the most delicate of majorities and being reliant on a handful of cross-benchers representing ideologically discordant electorates, creates a result that will not be respected.

What we will witness over the next 18 months or more is a Great Unhinging –an orgy of hysterics that will far surpass the duplicity, dishonesty – let alone the complete arsehattery – that substituted for public debate on matters of government during the previous 12 months.
Not to be confused with Bernard Keane's "Let the Wild Rumpus Begin" which reported the endgame.

Possum Comitatus is not the only person making this point, of course. Here's Jeff Sparrow at the Overland blog
What happens now? Obviously, expect to see a ferocious campaign from Murdoch’s flying monkeys. The Op Ed pieces are already being written, explaining how we’re all a hop, step and jump away from the gulags that Adam Bandt’s constructing from his red base of Melbourne.
The rest is more soberly optimistic.

More amusing at present is the sudden obsession Coalition supporters have with democratic legitimacy, not something they've tended to be much concerned about in the past (see 1954, 1961, 1969, and 1998 - though I suppose they may have discovered a slight and fleeting interest in 1990). The more usual indifference is unsurprising amongst supporters of what is essentially a patchwork conglomeration of special interest groups, rather than a mass party, owing its electoral advantage to the regional concentration of one of its constituent parts. How sweet that on this occasion our region-based voting system has swam up and bitten them on the arse. Or would have done, if it was remotely accurate to claim that the Tories won the 2 party preferred vote this time, which they didn't.

September 07, 2010
Smells Like Victory

Judging by the stench of fear coming off Newscorp we may be getting an ALP/Green/farmer's rights government after all. They - well, everybody - certainly are predicting that will be the decision of the rural independents at 2PM, and the terror-stricken editorials coming out of The Australian and the rest of the stable are replete with the predictable gibberings: the horror of a possible wind-back of decades of "economic reform", the dismaying chance of an end to bipartisan foreign policy, &c. Their push already seems to have moved from "Australians want a quick resolution" to "Australians want a new election". It's probably superfluous to point out that, when Newscorp journalists say "this is what Australians want", they mean "this is what the man who owns The Australian wants".

Never mind the Green influence - watching Katter on Q and A railing against deregulation (he occasionally came across like a homophobic version of P. Sainath) stirred a faint hope that this may prove to be the beginning stages of driving a stake through the black heart of neo-liberalism (are we still calling it economic rationalism in Oz?). Judging by the aggrieved reactions of the two emissaries of the major parties there to that kind of talk, that's probably unlikely, although perhaps uber-Dry Nick Minchin and that corporate whore Peter Beattie aren't entirely representative.

UPDATE: Bwahahahahah! Oh, well. (Mind you, I will note that what with Katter's codicil that, in the interests of stability, he'll likely support whatever government is formed, his support of Abbott is about as meaningful as Wilkie's support of Gillard, who also said he wouldn't support unwarranted votes of no confidence against a Coalition government.)

Seeing I have a talent for being wrong, here's my last minute predictions: Oakeshott jumps to the Coalition (he can't survive a swing back to the Nationals), Windsor supports Labor. That still leaves deadlock so we get a new election. Before the Parliament sits - which it has to before the election is called - provisional votes counting changes the numbers by handing another seat or two to Labor. Result: hilarity!

Or I was right the first time.

INEVITABLE UPDATE II: Well, that was painless. Best case scenario, really, including Katter being on the outer.


The Australian dollar briefly spiked to a high of 91.78 US cents after an Australian independent MP said he would back the conservative opposition party in a bid to form a minority government and end Australia's hung parliament.

Some investors want the conservative party to take power because it would spell the end of Australia's proposed 30 per cent mining tax. However, the Aussie edged back to 91.58 US cents after Bob Katter signalled two other independent lawmakers, who now hold the balance of power, may back the Labor government and its attendant mining tax.
Thanks, finance journos. Keepin' it real, yo.

And now the search for the media's next Bright Shiny Thing commences.

September 05, 2010
Metro Dogs

Another random selection from the pile:

There is one special sub-group of strays that stands apart from the rest: Moscow’s metro dogs. "The metro dog appeared for the simple reason that it was permitted to enter," says Andrei Neuronov, an author and specialist in animal behaviour and psychology, who has worked with Vladimir Putin’s black female Labrador retriever, Connie ("a very nice pup"). "This began in the late 1980s during perestroika," he says. "When more food appeared, people began to live better and feed strays." The dogs started by riding on overground trams and buses, where supervisors were becoming increasingly thin on the ground.

Neuronov says there are some 500 strays that live in the metro stations, especially during the colder months, but only about 20 have learned how to ride the trains. This happened gradually, first as a way to broaden their territory. Later, it became a way of life. "Why should they go by foot if they can move around by public transport?" he asks.

"They orient themselves in a number of ways," Neuronov adds. "They figure out where they are by smell, by recognising the name of the station from the recorded announcer’s voice and by time intervals. If, for example, you come every Monday and feed a dog, that dog will know when it’s Monday and the hour to expect you, based on their sense of time intervals from their biological clocks."

The metro dog also has uncannily good instincts about people, happily greeting kindly passers by, but slinking down the furthest escalator to avoid the intolerant older women who oversee the metro’s electronic turnstiles. "Right outside this metro," says Neuronov, gesturing toward Frunzenskaya station, a short distance from the park where we were speaking, "a black dog sleeps on a mat. He’s called Malish. And this is what I saw one day: a bowl of freshly ground beef set before him, and slowly, and ever so lazily, he scooped it up with his tongue while lying down."

From "Moscow's Stray Dogs" by Susanne Sternthal in the Financial Times.

September 02, 2010

Just in case you ever wondered what Captain Bligh was doing, collecting breadfruit trees, or were under the impression Joseph Banks was a "botanist":

The formal commission called for Cook to steer the good ship Endeavour halfway around the world in the service of science, since early June of that year would bring a great astronomical rarity: the transit of the planet Venus directly between the earth and the sun. The proper measurements of this phenomenon, undertaken from just the right places on the globe, promised to afford astronomers the raw data necessary to work out the exact size of the solar system...

But then there were those other instructions, tucked in a sealed envelope that Cook was not to open until well out to sea: these rather tinctured that glowing light of rational inquiry with a leering glint of imperial lucre, as these secret orders instructed him, shortly after attending to the transit observations, to comb the southern Pacific on the lookout for Terra Australis, which, should he come upon it, was to be adorned instantly with a Union Jack, the better to forestall French ambitions and outflank the meddlesome Dutch.


Banks served both as the president of the Royal Society and as the semiofficial director of British overseas exploits in a crucial era of imperial expansion. An impresario of exploration, a fixer and commissioner, he brokered essential links between government policy, private enterprise, and military might. At the peak of his power he theorized global domination as something like estate management on a planetary scale. Knowledge of nature, as he saw it, amounted to the right to rule - an analysis that did wonders for the social status of the sciences in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


Though Cook and Banks could squabble over the best way to spend time on the voyage (Banks wanted to stay ashore and get plants; Cook wanted to make a few observations and keep moving), their joint voyage can be thought of as a kind of crossing point for their two traditions. Between them over three hundred years of traveling cartographers and traveling collectors combined to create a totalizing view of what there was in the world and exactly where it could be found. It was an immensely powerful instrument for thinking about nature...

And not all the payoffs were merely, shall we say, conceptual. In that totalizing view of the what and the where, the traveling naturalists assembled the administrative heart of European colonialism, which came with a sense that the world could be managed.

How? Well, Banks himself worked for years to rearrange the natural world in the interest of English slave plantations in the Caribbean: he figured the pervasive problems with malnutrition in the cane fields could be rectified by transplanting breadfruit trees from Tahiti - the fruit of paradise, to feed the mouths in hell. And while the first effort to move the trees (sailing on the HMS Bounty under the command of one Captain William Bligh) met an unfortunate end in a notorious mutiny, Banks persevered and eventually got his way.
D. Graham Burnett again, this time from the excellent and extraordinary Lapham's Quarterly.

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