29 June 2009

Michael Jackson, martyr ?

Someone has to die for their beliefs to be a martyr. Drudge pointed to headlines last Friday saying that Jackson's was a "Death by Showbusiness". So in the sense that Jackson seems to have died for his belief in celebrity, yes, he might be called a martyr.

I never got Michael Jackson. Thriller didn't thrill me at all (Now Noel Coward, that's another story). But I did get a bit of a kick from seeing others get him. He was boppy and catchy and slick, as well as monumentally fluffy and hugely impaired.

What I struggle with is the apparently massive consequentiality of fluffiness and impairment like Jackson's. What is the fuss about the passing of a semi-talented song and dance weirdo from decades past?

Boris Johnson, the London Mayor, has had a stab at explaining it to we mystified souls who struggle to get with the programme. He reckons it's just like Princess Di.

And I agree, to the extent that I was almost as unprepared for and dumbfounded by this spectacular outbreak of mawkish sentimentality over Jackson's death, as I was by hers. But does the public really regard these super celebrities as martyrs, as Boris suggests?

He reckons "...in a world dominated by a demoralising canon of physical perfection, he [Jackson] was the patron saint of dysmorphia."

Dem's big words. What I think he's saying is that many people sympathised with Jackson's exaggerated dissatisfaction with his appearance because they are dissatisfied with their own appearance. Boris says:

...[Jackson] was a martyr, in the sense that Diana was a martyr. Her death evoked an astonishing response, partly because she spoke to every woman who has been let down by a man, every woman who has worried about her weight, every woman who feels the system is unfair to women. That is a lot of women.

I think I'm beginning to get it. These pop idols are an opiate for the masses in a world in which the established religions have become terminal. God really is dead. The pastor can't tell us what to think or who to believe anymore, but it's still too hard to figure it all out ourselves. So instead we reach out to whatever is presented to us out there that seems to correspond to our own emotional confusion. And, if we perceive such a display as being even slightly genuine, then we can draw some comfort from it.

So, whilst some of us see these celebrities as idiots flaunting cheap emotion and superficial gossip, others of us see them as a source of rationalisation for our own emotional inadequacies and thereby provide some meaning to our otherwise trivial lives. And because these celebrity folk are shallow enough, shrewd enough and narcissistic enough to wear their petty emotions on their sleeves for all to consume, the public has a real appetite for their exaggerated self indulgences because the desire for meaning is not being nourished elsewhere. By appreciating authenticity in vulgar displays of celebrity emotional shallowness, we can elevate our own emotional pettiness to something significant.

But as another Marx said: "Honesty and Integrity are the most important qualities of all ....
if you can fake them, you've got it made".

And Jackson both died for celebrity and was killed by his belief in it. He must truly enter the pantheon of martyrs alongside Joan d'Arc, who both died for the church and was killed by it.

But, because they are martyrs, conventional wisdom has it that they must also have been insufferable. And, for once, I agree.

25 June 2009

Utegate goes Freudian ....

I thought I was confused about Utegate and then I saw this:

This apparently is Godwin Grech's home in Calwell, South Canberra. The one the Federal police raided on Monday and that Godwin holed himself up in over the weekend. He is a single, mid-forties, senior public servant who has lived alone in this house for about a decade. That prominent, upright, emblematic thingy thrusting itself at us in the foreground is described in the Daily Telegraph, whence the picture came, as a "palm tree". Although it obscures our perspective of his mock Spanish home, it might not be entirely frivolous to suggest that it could be more telling of Godwin, than his home.

Certainly after seeing this for me the whole Utegate affair suddenly took on yet another unexpected and disturbing dimension: thwarted love and revenge gone wrong. The anguish we saw in Godwin's Senate testimony now can be interpreted through the lens of the torn heart of a smart but desperately lonely man being found out. It suggests the glimmer of a plausible idea why someone might have concocted an email from a former protege to embarrass an enemy in high places.

Until I saw this, my incredulous speculations about the motives for this fraud had been toying with fantastic conspiratorial notions of an elaborate sting operation by someone in the PM's department to ensnare Turnbull. Certainly the glee and haste with which the PM had arranged for his own Blackberry to be used to photograph Turnbull talking to the putative author of the email, Andrew Charlton, at last Wednesday's now legendary Parliamentary Winter Ball, had me smelling a rat that the PM had prior knowledge and was springing a trap. I have subsequently been told by someone who was there that it was Charlton who actively sought out Turnbull at the function, not vice versa, as Labor's water carriers at Fairfax would have us believe. Certianly taken together with Charlton's haste in promptly rushing back to the office to record contemporaneously his star-struck personal encounter with the Leader of the Opposition, at the party in a memo that the PM immediately released to the public, suggests that this event at least, was an orchestrated set up by Rudd and his media manipulators.

But now, what once was looking like developing as a fascinating, if miserable, conspiratorial political farce, seems to have potentially transformed itself into the makings of an ancient Greek revenge tragedy, in which lust and thwarted love have by some accident of fate co-mixed with lust for power and revenge, to bring down the mighty.

This just keeps getting curiouser and curiouser.

23 June 2009

Who is Godwin Grech ?

Holy utegate Batman ! What happened there ?

Friday 19 June was a fascinating day in politics. We were introduced to Godwin Grech at a Senate inquiry. He seemed a mild mannered Treasury official in anguish over testimony that contradicted the Prime Minister.

Monday 22 June was gobsmacking. The Federal Police raided Godwin's home in the morning. Found evidence on a home computer that the alleged damaging email from the Prime Minister's department to Godwin at Treasury had been concocted inside Treasury. By mid-afternoon the Feds had announced their findings to the world. And thereby exculpated the Prime Minister from the Opposition's assault on his credibility. Malcolm Turnbull's case against the PM for misleading Parliament collapsed. With a hiss.

Other than a gloating and more than usually sanctimonious Prime Minister, the big winner is going to be Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan. His goose was all but cooked by the actual emails tabled before the Senate inquiry on Friday that showed unequivocally that the Treasury officials had been asked to treat Kev's mate Mr Grant with special attention in his request for funding. Now no-one cares that Swannie misled Parliament about this. The allegation against the PM has collapsed and Swan looks like he will sneak through under the ensuing rush of emotions: disbelief, gloating, exasperation, relief and schadenfreud.

Mal has suffered a prosecutor's biggest nightmare. The key prosecution witness spectacularly failed to come up to proof.

It in fact looks a bit like he was played. There are a thousand unanswered questions here. Here's a few that leap out:

Who the hell is Godwin Grech?

Did Godwin concoct the email from Andrew Charlton in the PM's office to himself in Treasury which contradicted the PM's statement to the House?

Why did he concoct it?

When did he concoct it?

Why wasn't it found and released by the Government earlier?

Who did Godwin leak it to?

When did Lewis at the Telegraph get it?

When did the Opposition get it?

When did the PM's Office find out about it?

When did Treasury find out about it?

Why were Treasury officials trying to stop Godwin giving evidence about it to the Senate inquiry on Friday?

Why were Labor Senators trying to stop Senator Eric Abetz ask Godwin questions about it on Friday?

If the Government knew about Godwin and his email, why didn't they tell Parliament?

Why weren't the Police called in earlier?

Why did the Police make such an early announcement of their findings?

What more evidence do the Police have about Godwin?

The list could go on and on. But will we ever be told the answers to these questions?

Tell me again does anyone know what happened to that enquiry into how the people smuggler boat was burnt to the waterline off Christmas Island in January? The Navy wouldn't tell us at the time how it happened, and neither would the NT Police. It was kind of important then.

Will this be the same: the real facts forgotten because the main event has passed?

19 June 2009

Kev gets a scare. Mal hits a snare. Wayne hides in the glare.

The opportunity to upgrade the Treasurer may be passing.

An interesting day in Parliament on Friday.

In a Senate inquiry today a Treasury official admitted under questioning that offiicials administering the government's OzCar scheme were asked by members of the PM's office to look after a mate of the PMs. Nothing too egregiously scandalous about that, even if it does smack of ethical dodginess, but that's not the real issue. It's Rudd's sanctimony.

The real problem is that the Kevin stood up at the despatch box last week and loudly proclaimed that neither he nor his department had ever made any representations to Treasury on behalf of this chap.

On its face it looks like Kev has lied to Parliament, since that not what Mr Grech, a treasury official, has said under oath. By the accepted standards of Parliament recently affirmed by Kev in his dealing with Joel, Kev should now resign.

That won't happen of course. There's this massive distraction campaign on pointing to some dodgy email that was circulated in the press on Friday. Someone will eventually have to take the blame for this as it is clear that this gully is not dry. The best candidate is Wayne "dry gully" Swan himself. He set up the ridiculous diversion that the Fairfax press fell for about the Opposition Leader being mean to a Rudd staffer about this at a party on Wednesday evening. But the real issue now seems to be that Treasuer Swan denied last week to the House that this second hand car dealer in Brisbane had been given any special treatment by the Government. There are clearly authentic emails now tendered to the Senate enquiry showing that Treasury treated this 51 Club member as a special case. This seems to flatly contradict Wayne's protestations of innocence to the House.

If Rudd is even partially ethical and consistent Swannie should be asked take a dive for him. Australia could then have Lindsay Tanner as Treasurer, a marked improvement over Swannie. We'll all be winners.

If only we had a press we could trust to report this without getting distracted by the government's spin it would be quite interesting instead of infuriating. As it is Fairfax sat on this story all day on Friday, allowing Swan's distraction tactic to fill the news, thereby protecting Kev from unnecessary embarrassment of having this story actually, you know reported. And Fairfax still ended up spinning it late in the day with a weasilly AAP straddle.

Check out this peice of selective Fairfax news bias in its breaking story, ostensibly about the Labor PM getting caught in a lie to Parliament by testimony of a public servant to a Senate enquiry :

"Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull was accused of bullying one of Mr Rudd's
senior advisers earlier this week over the existence of the document.

The government released a file note from economic adviser Andrew Charlton on Friday, in which he alleged Mr Turnbull threatened him on Wednesday.
The opposition believes Mr Charlton wrote the document to Mr Grech.

"This whole OzCar issue will be very damaging for you," Mr Turnbull reportedly told Mr Charlton."Let me give you some friendly advice. You should not lie to protect your boss. You know and I know there is documentary evidence that you have lied."

Why do these earlier diversionary allegations of bullying get referred to at all? We now know why Swan was so keen to point the press to something other than the real issue. It now looks like Turnbull was giving the PM's staffer a pretty prescient warning. But the gooses at AAP and Fairfax, just can't pass up on an opportunity to try to besmirch Turnbull, no matter how lame.

18 June 2009

Persian democracy: the legacy of a despised US President?

Persians have seen their Iraqi and Lebanese neighbours get democracy. Now they want it too.

So who has dared to point out the elephant in the room about the current upheaval in Iran over its disputed election result ? Of all people its, Thomas Friedman in, of all places, the New York Times. Here's what he let slip:

"... for real politics to happen you need space. There are a million things to hate about President Bush’s costly and wrenching wars. But the fact is, in ousting Saddam in Iraq in 2003 and mobilizing the U.N. to push Syria out of Lebanon in 2005, he opened space for real democratic politics that had not existed in Iraq or Lebanon for decades. “Bush had a simple idea, that the Arabs could be democratic, and at that particular moment simple ideas were what was needed, even if he was disingenuous,” said Michael Young, the opinion editor of The Beirut Daily Star. “It was bolstered by the presence of a U.S. Army in the center of the Middle East. It created a sense that change was possible, that things did not always have to be as they were.”

So even this feckless sanctimonious leftist from the New York Times echo chamber has been unable to deny that one of the central tenets of the despised "neo-conservative" (or should that read "neo-liberal", the new way that this outlook seems to be labelled) world view: that creating the conditions for democracy and freedom around the world was the West's best strategy for peace and continuing prosperity - is in fact playing out in Iran. Who'da thunk it eh?

There are any number of delicious ironies and contradictions at work here too. It is after all the Middle East. Obama and his information machine are currently confused by this and are not yet appropriating the ideological prizes. Not before they see the outcome anyway. That will happen soon enough. You only have to see the knots that his enablers are currently twisting themselves into as they try to parse this unexpected development to their advantage, without knowing what the immediate outcome will be. This is happening even as they try desperately to not be seen to be influencing the outcome. Oh the back sliding and somersaults we will see soon from the Obama administration if the Opposition forces in Iran achieve a new election or a re-count. Obama will then need to claim any such victory, as the fruit of his own actions: no doubt that speech of his in totalitarian Cairo.

I also should say early what the NYT's Middle East expert above forgot to say in his piece at all: Persians are not Arabs. Notwithstanding this, the larger geographic and aspirational points still hold about the force of the spontaneous march of freedom and democracy, once people are given realistic role models and the opportunity (in this instance the "social media").

I have previously not had much regard for Thomas Friedman. I first saw him interviewed by Tony Jones on the ABC's Lateline a few years ago. On the show, whilst being held out by Jones as some kind strategic policy wonk on the Middle East, he honestly proffered in public, when being asked his view about possible solutions to the Iranian nuclear threat to Europe and the West, the opinion something along the lines of: "Get America's best negotiators and stick them in a room with the Iranian Government's leaders, and not let them go home 'til they have struck a deal."

I was gobsmacked at the feckless naivety of this view, and even more amazed at the sycophantic praise that Jones ladled out to Friedman after he had expressed this piece of bar-stool bore bullshit as credible commentary on world affairs on national free-to-air television.

I am happy to to re-assess my view of Friedman , now that he has shown that he is at least honest and enquiring enough to acknowledge Bush's strategic contribution to the way things are currently unfolding in the Middle East.

Don't get me wrong here. I'm not suggesting that this is all going to turn out rosy and nice anytime soon. But, as I heard the current heir of the former Shah say on tele the other night, the "genie is now out of the bottle". And it can't be put back, no matter how brutal the repressive crackdown by the mullahs supporting Ahmad-nedinejad may be.

My current ill-informed view is that the Iranian Mullahs will do a Tianamin Square job on the Iranian populace. That might keep 'em bottled up for a little while, but we now know the flame of freedom can stay alight even under the most extreme duress (Gulags anyone). Iran has tasted western decadence and freedom before, so this is a fire that is very unlikely to be snuffed out completely.

Am I also beginning to see here the first very tentative signs of a shift in attitude away from George W. Bush's vilification? I can remember the evolution in the attitude to Ronald Reagan in my life time. He went from being universally ridiculed by the world's media, and all self respecting undergraduates of my generation, as a bumbling dementia riddled former Hollywood actor, during and immediately after his Presidency, to being hailed in the nineties as the great and far-sighted architect of the West's victory over the USSR in the Cold War. Is this unlikely evolution in attitude soon due to start happening for W? Clearly not if the world's press has anything to do with it. Except that the early indications today are that their love affair with Obama may be starting to end. This could be a necessary precursor to the commencement of this evolution. It will be fascinating to see the how this does evolve over the next 10 years.

10 June 2009

Accidental insurgencies

No, this not more commentary on Joel's barely veiled accusation that his own Defence Department plotted his undoing.

At "Read More" below is my review of a recent book by David Kilcullen on counter-insurgency warfare: The Accidental Guerilla: Fighting Small Wars in the midst of a Big One .

I recommend it highly to students of geo-politics and strategy. It's challenging, but does repay the effort.

The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One
By David Kilcullen

Lt Col David Kilcullen, apparently rose to fame in the US whilst serving in the Australian Army, when his article “Twenty-Eight Articles: fundamentals of company-level counterinsurgency”, was published in the Military Review and read by General David Petraeus. Petraeus was so impressed he sent it by email to his officers in the US Army. Kilcullen was subsequently recruited by the General to serve with him in Iraq, helping implement the successful “Surge” strategy based around some of the principles he espouses. And it seems that the “Surge” may have salvaged that war for the US and the Iraqi people. Kilcullen is currently such a hot property that even our own ABC is prepared to entertain his views from time to time in interviews on its current affairs programs.

In this intriguing book he develops that article into a more detailed analysis and broadens its scope. It challenges us in a number ways: On one plane he is summarizing the current state of counter-insurgency doctrine, with an emphasis on recent developments, including his own contributions. This is mainly his insight into how, in certain theatres, warrior-like tribes people join insurgencies just for sake of the fight, not for the cause. These are his “accidental guerillas”. He makes some carefully thought through observations on how to minimize this phenomena, as part of his wider discussion of counter-insurgency tactics. On another plane he gives us a partial version of the story of his own journey to acquiring these important tactical and societal insights. His account of his time as a young officer serving with the Australian Army in the UN sponsored occupation of East Timor, was especially illuminating. He then attempts to synthesize the current state of his thinking with some tentative, yet commanding, strategic conclusions about terrorism and Western military objectives. It is a fascinating and enriching mixture.

On one view he might be seen to be elevating his acute tactical insights to strategic overstatement. However his self awareness and the intellectual courage he displays in so truly grappling with the intractable but crucial geo-political dangers we face, is an inspiration. He observes that much of the way geo-political issues are now defined is in the negative, i.e. by what things are not, rather than what they are, e.g. COUNTER insurgency, NON state combatants, etc. He suggests that this limits us and we now need sharper linguistic tools to navigate in this area. And by his analysis he shows us how to re-appropriate words that post modernist academia has discarded; words like freedom and civilization.

Kilcullen's book takes us to the actual places we need to go culturally to help ensure our freedoms do survive. Although challenging, this book needs to be read to properly inform our debates with the rigour and complexity that the ideas we fight for deserve.

04 June 2009

Joel is no longer our Defence Minister. Good.

Just off the top of my head, in his short time in this senior Ministerial role this belligerent and unrepentant, but clearly politically well placed Hunter valley unionist, has:
  • failed to get the US to sell us any F22 Raptors notwithstanding his idle boasting that he could when opportunistically simply aping some spectacularly ill informed, politically motivated and superficial views of the ABC's 4Corners programme, about the capabilities of FA18 Superhornets that had been ordered by the Coalition before the last election;
  • inadverantly been caught by counter-intelligence spooks whilst Minister of Defence sleeping with a Chinese government sponsored business women ( his "very close family friend") ;
  • failed to disclose gifts to him from Chinese nationals, including paid visits to military shows in China with his father (from whom he inherited his seat in parliament) ;
  • obfuscated the future funding of proposed new Labor Defence projects so completely that defence industry experts are now unable to realistically cost his ludicrous Defence White Paper big toy fantasies;
  • spent millions of taxpayers funds investigating his own Department for allegedly spying on him;
  • overlooked that his hotel accommodation in Brisbane whilst a minister was paid for by an insurance company run by his brother; and
  • permitted military officers and department officials to meet with his brother to discuss business opportunities with Defence in Joel's own Canberra office;

Good riddance. Fitzgibbon junior was a disgrace to federal ministerial office and potentially compromised our national security. He was way out of his depth in such an important portfolio. His resignation will not be mourned by his Department, whatever some Labor lackey at the Australian Defence Association quoted by AAP might say.

How does an honest person reconcile the statement of the Prime Minister that Joel's resignation was of Joel's own volition, with Joel's statement that he does not feel he has done anything wrong? Kerry O'Brien at the ABC didn't even seem to think that this glaring contradiction needed to be addressed by the PM and, unsurprisingly, as usual it didn't even occur to Phil Coorey in the SMH to explore something that might end up reflecting badly on his Labor mates. It just goes to show yet again how love can make you blind. But why are these pundits ceded any credibility when they fail to do their job as journalists in holding a government to account?

But who will get this much coveted gig now? Greg Combet or will Kev give it to one of the other girls?

The "Third Way" leads to purgatory

Warning: The current state of the UK is where feel good populist politics built on "clever" media management, rather than "good" policy, takes a nation.

Brown looks like he will imminently be just a short skidmark on the surface of the body politic of Britain: a Prime Minister who not only never had an electoral mandate, but who never even led his party into an election at all. After 12 years of New Labour cleverness, Britain is a complete mess economically and culturally. Character matters. If politics becomes only about winning by appeasing the noisest special interest pleaders and serviceing the appetites of the parasites on power, the body politic loses. Leadership really is about taking tough decisions in the nation's interest. If courage becomes a dirty word in politics then the nation those politics serve becomes cowardly.

What chance the opinion leaders who will get published in the mainstream Australian and US media will even acknowledge this salutory lesson in the midst of their current passionate embrace of Kev and the Obama One? Buckley's.

We are destined under this current batch of over confident intellectually bankrupt leftists to go down the same path, to the same amorphous amoral yet sanctimonious, economically stagnant pit that the UK has shown us that clever post modern progressive politics inevitably takes us.

Get governments out of the way. Whilst governments have their uses they are limited: a social security safety net for the vulnerable, security of the nation, developing targeted transport and communications infrastructure, and fostering trade. Other than for this public servants and public funded projects simply suck wealth out of the community, leaving it poorer and less resilient. Good governing isn't about the grandness of schemes for the community. It's about getting out of the way of communities self organising to acheive their self defined objectives.

More smart people in our society need to step up a notch in their meta-context perceptions of their roles and contributions and recognise that their aspirations for taxpayer funded pet projests are most likely detrimental to the common good, no matter how much those projects are loved. Let them self fund. Let them find mechanisms to foster risk capital for private projects. Let them communicate and persuade with performance and inspiration.