Posts Tagged The Australian
A couple of articles popped-up yesterday that really showed the difference between journalists and…people who know what they’re doing when it comes to reading data. Take, for example, Tim Colebatch, writing to defend recent welfare cuts in the Sydney Morning Herald:
In 2008-09, only 3 per cent of Australians reported taxable incomes of $150,000 or more. Since then, household incomes per head have grown by 5 per cent. If evenly distributed, that would put 3.5 per cent of Australians above $150,000.
As a maths graduate, I find that calculation offensive.
But the Herald was not the only criminal here. Stephen Lunn wrote into yesterday’s Australian to try and convince us all that we want more alcohol regulation.
Yet there is a growing view that alcohol is a societal problem. The report finds “the vast majority (80 per cent) of the population [state] that Australians have a problem with excess drinking and alcohol abuse.” This is up noticeably from the 73 per cent in the AER Foundation’s initial survey a year ago. And while more people consider illicit substances than alcohol to be the most harmful drug in Australia, the gap is narrowing.
Here’s the issue: it relies on whoever was taking the survey to define “problem” – if I say that Australians have a “problem” with “excessive drinking”, that could be totally different from what anyone else means when they say the same thing. After all, how much drinking is “excessive”? Furthermore,
IT’S a paradox and a grand self-delusion. It is this: Eight in 10 Australians say there is a major alcohol problem in this country. …But despite our unambiguous acknowledgement of the problem, seven in 10 of us are comfortable with how much alcohol we personally consume. Just 7 per cent admit to being concerned about their own consumption levels, a recent survey by the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation finds.
EXCUSE me? 7/10 of us are comfortable with how much we personally consume, but 7/100 of us are concerned about our consumption levels. Congratulations Steven Lunn, you just skipped a factor of 10. So in reality, 93% of us are satisfied with our drinking levels – which would support that, as I said before, we are not use the same definition of a “problem with excessive drinking” as the people Lunn is interviewing. That doesn’t stop suggestions like this:
“Things have clearly gone backwards over the past 10 to 15 years. Governments have been spending millions on treatment, on community services, on advertising campaigns, but the policy approach has been centred too much on personal responsibility and it has failed,” Thorn says. “What we need is a more sophisticated regulatory approach to preventing alcohol having such a detrimental impact on society.”
Ahh, things have gone backwards over the past 10 to 15 years. And the esteemed Michael Thorn of the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation knows this from a clearly flawed survey that his foundation has been doing over the last two years.
This is actually a serious problem. Misrepresenting data like this can completely change societal attitudes on certain things, once something becomes “viral” in the press (read: one journalist misreads something that sounds sensational and dozens of others re-report the mistake without bothering to really check if it’s true or not). This happened earlier in the year with some research about Australia’s racial attitude.
A decade-long national study has found that nearly 50 per cent of Australians identify themselves as having anti-Muslim attitudes.
Luckily, there were some others in the press to pick up on the mistake a little down the track. Funnily, we did not see a huge amount of coverage of this little gold nugget.
What the journalists did not explore was how these results were obtained. Yet the answer was not hard to find. The Challenging Racism tables headed “Racist attitude indicators” provide data for specific regions and then calculate variations from state and national levels.
These tables provide the statistics on the anti sentiment and explain the methodology. Surprisingly, the calculation rests on just one question. Respondents were asked: “In your opinion, how concerned would you feel if one of your close relatives were to marry a person of Muslim faith?” The question was then repeated for the Jewish faith, Asian background, Aboriginal background and so on.
It is quite a jump from concern over marriage of a close relative to a person, for example, of Muslim faith, to labelling the result, without qualification, as anti-Muslim in a table headed “Racist attitude indicators”. A wide range of factors could explain concern over the marriage of a close relative, not least the strength of the respondent’s identity and desire for transmission of values to children, without drawing a straight line to “racist attitude”
So essentially, various media journalists mis-read a survey to create a racism problem that is not really there. Even now, someone trying to research racism in Australia would probably still use that survey because of the articles that pop-up on Google when they do a search.
I would just like to finish by begging people to really look at the data on various issues before we start putting more tax on drinks that already cost us almost twice as much as they do in most other countries…
Now that the celebrations are dying down (and it’s not often that a death is such cause for celebration), we need to be a little more grounded about the implications of this assassination. There have been a lot of claims thrown-around recently – verging from a little naive to downright stupid. Let’s set a few of the facts straight here:
(Note: I’m not going to bother proving that Bin Laden was behind 9/11. If you believe this to be false, please seek help).
1) al-Qaeda is not finished
This is the unfortunate reality that we have to face. Bin Laden was the co-founder and leader of Al Qaeda, but he was not directly behind every terror attack in the world.
Unfortunately, the damage has been done already. Bin Laden’s “contribution” to the Islamic world was the idea of distinguishing between the “enemy nearby” and the “enemy far away”. To summarise a very complex history, Nazi propaganda attributing all of the world’s ills to the Jews was translated into Arabic and given Koranic justifications by the Grand Mufti of Palestine in the 1930s and 40s as part of his alliance with Hitler. This formed what is now Islamic Antisemitism – previously in the Islamic world, Jews had been viewed as weak and cowardly, but combined with Nazi ideology, there was now a European-esque notion of a global conspiracy to destroy Islam being orchestrated by a malicious cabal of Jews (for more on this, see The Flight of The Intellectuals by Paul Berman.)
These ideas then permeated the early Islamist ideology and gestated to the point where half a century later, Bin Laden used them to boost his ailing organisation by declaring a Jihad on the West (see al Qaeda In Its Own Words by Gilles Kepel and Jean-Pierre Milelli). He imagined a “Zio-Crusader alliance” controlling the (as he saw them) “infidel” regimes in charge of the Muslim states. He spread the idea that to truly re-establish the Caliphate (Islamic superstate), Muslims must strike not at their immediate enemies, but those allegedly pulling the strings – the US and their allies.
Al Qaeda has been decimated as an organisation since 9/11 and for many years has not been a centralised structure, but rather a “franchise” with offshoots in various regions (for a discussion of this, see How al-Qaeda Works by Leah Farrell for Foreign Affairs). The reality is that Bin Laden can be quickly replaced by his second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Al Qaeda can continue to inspire and fund various partner organisations around the world.
So while this is a great symbolic triumph and may have some long term impact, we can’t start packing-away the metal detectors and arranging flights out of Kandahar just yet. In fact, in the short term, this assassination could well spark a series of reprisals around the world. We need to be weary.
2) Pakistan is dangerous
As Bruce Loudon observes in The Australian.
But after years of the ISI double-dealing with terrorists and now the revelation that bin Laden was living in the heart of a garrison town virtually next door to the nation’s military academy and only a couple of hours’ drive north of the capital, Islamabad, Pakistani authorities cannot expect to escape the sort of questions that are now being asked.
There are conflicting opinions over whether or not Pakistan was actively harbouring Bin Laden, but I am pretty convinced that this is the case. Again from The Australian‘s excellent analysis, Greg Sheridan observes that:
Obama naturally praised Pakistan for its co-operation in the operation against Osama. Frankly, what else could he do? The Pakistanis have perhaps a hundred nuclear weapons. No US president can afford to alienate them altogether.
…It is utterly implausible that any international figure of note could hide in a mansion near Islamabad without the knowledge of the Pakistani intelligence services. Completely impossible.
If the Pakistani government did not know, it is the most incompetent government in the world. If it did know, then it was intentionally sheltering the most dangerous and infamous terrorist of our time.
The double-game being played by Pakistan is a major problem in the world today – it may even be the biggest threat to global security, given that Iran has not yet developed a nuclear weapon and America has not quite lost its dominant position. Pakistan is a nuclear power, so must be dealt with very carefully – but it seems to be slipping further and further into Islamism. If the Pakistani Taliban get hold of a nuclear weapon, the consequences don’t bear thinking about.
Bin Laden’s assassination had many benefits – it was a strong warning to all terrorists that the US can get them anywhere at any time. It was a symbolic victory for the West in general and the US in particular and will raise morale in dark times and vindicate our efforts to rid the world of the ideological plague that Bin Laden spread. Most importantly, justice has been served. That said, we can’t lose sight of the dangers still facing us and must continue to fight Bin Laden’s ideology of hatred and violence wherever it may be found.
(Photos: Foreign Policy)
As you should all (hopefully) Know by now, the Liberals won Saturday’s NSW election in an unprecedented, record win – stripping away seats from Labor’s heartland that no one ever expected a Liberal to represent with swings upward of 20%. More relevant to this blog is that the Greens performed very poorly relative to everyone’s predictions, not winning a single seat in the lower house and winning only 1% of the voters fleeing from Labor (by comparison, the Libs had 11.4%).
By everyone’s account, the Greens have really collapsed in the last few weeks. Some say this had a lot to do with Fiona Byrne and her BDS effort, particularly the double-game she was playing later, trying to deny her support for the movement to the media whilst simultaneously flouting it to groups that may vote for her because of it. The Sydney Morning Herald’s editorial this morning even referred to the policy as “childish and indulgent”. Matthew Franklin and Amos Aikman give a pretty good run-down of this for The Australian, particularly regarding the Greens’ admission that the issue hurt their campaign:
Federal Greens leader Bob Brown admitted yesterday that voters were upset by Ms Byrne’s repeated misleading statements over her decision in December, as Marrickville Mayor, to support a motion boycotting goods and cultural exchanges from Israel.
Ms Byrne said early in the campaign that if elected to parliament she would push for a statewide ban. However, she subsequently labelled her comments a “falsehood” when they were reported by The Australian. Ms Byrne later denied she had “pushed” for the motion, but was revealed to have been planning to speak at an anti-Israeli-apartheid rally this week.
Asked yesterday whether Ms Byrne’s actions, which plagued the latter days of her campaign, had contributed to her failure, Senator Brown said: “I think it had an effect on it — that’s my feedback from the electorate and it’s no doubt something that the NSW Greens will be looking at.”
Another issue that was brought to light in this election is that the major parties, particularly Labor, are finally realising that supporting the Greens only hurts them. Labor NSW upper-house member and campaign spokesman Luke Foley has repeatedly called for Labor to turn against the Greens, and in only one seat – Coogee – did Labor and the Greens come to any sort of preference deal, presumably because Labor candidate for Coogee Paul Pierce is rumoured to be married to a Green. Coogee fell to the Liberals regardless.
Victorian Liberal senator Helen Kroger has written on how the Greens’ ostensible success was mostly as a result of the major parties preferencing them in order to take power away from each other. Without Liberal preferences, Adam Bandt would never have won Melbourne.
THE Victorian and New South Wales elections may have put an end to Bob Brown’s hopes of an advancing political greenslide in Australia. In the NSW election on Saturday night, the ALP primary vote dropped 13.5 per cent but the Greens picked up only 1.4 per cent, with the Coalition’s primary vote increasing 14.1 per cent, picking up the overwhelming majority of disaffected Labor and independent voters.
The Greens were relying on the Liberals to win four seats in the Victorian state election. We [Liberals] refused to preference them and they didn’t win a seat. On Saturday night, they were expected to win the inner-city seats of Balmain and Marrickville, but they now look like winning neither.
With a huge collapse in the ALP’s primary vote, the Greens should have won these seats where the swings required were only 3.7 per cent and 7.5 per cent respectively. More and more, the public is becoming deeply suspicious of the consequences of the extremist policies of selfish inner-city professionals who vote for the Greens.
These voters – usually on the government payroll and in secure jobs, living comfortably in wealthy inner-city suburbs – can afford to worry about climate change and not about jobs, mortgages and a future for their children.
These voters are largely disengaged from the general public in the suburbs.
This last point is particularly important. The Greens have really shown themselves to be a fringe group of “champagne socialists.” Moving more and more into the mainstream does not seem to be moderating them, but rather exposing them as ideologues and extremists with little real political credibility. This is particularly true in NSW, where their leader, Lee Rhiannon, is a former Stalinist who supported the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and of course this business with Fiona Byrne.
The above image is from Damien Murphy in today’s Sydney Morning Herald. NSW election is only one day away and the Greens look poised to take three lower house seats – Coogee, Marrickville and Balmain.
There was a great breakdown of why the Apartheid comparison is “nonsense” by Bruce Loudon in The Australian, a former international correspondent in both actual Apartheid South Africa and the Middle East:
FIONA Byrne, the Greens candidate who is favourite to win the seat of Marrickville, is being plain silly in trying to draw parallels between Israel and apartheid South Africa.
In a word, it’s nonsense. Anyone who knew South Africa in the bad old pre-1994 days of apartheid and is familiar with Israel and the Middle East knows that to be the case.
…Israel is a vibrant, fully functioning, hotly contested parliamentary democracy in which every citizen can play a part. It is the only such democracy in a Middle-Eastern sea of corrupt autocracies and dictatorships that are now being challenged by Arabs seeking freedom and a new course for their countries. A place where there is completely free political debate, a completely free press and a completely free judiciary.
Contrast Israel’s democracy with the situation in South Africa during the dark days of apartheid when a small elite of whites held virtually all the political and economic power and members of the numerically overwhelming black majority – 30 million to fewer than three million – were, simply because their skin was the wrong colour, discriminated against at every level and denied any role that didn’t involve servility and servitude.
“Whites Only” signs meant that blacks were excluded from park benches, couldn’t go to beaches, had to queue in different lines at post offices, couldn’t get hospital treatment, could mostly work only as menial labourers or domestic servants, had to ride in separate elevators, and had relationships across the colour bar only on pain of being hauled before the courts and imprisoned under the Immorality Act.
For a time, blacks were even barred from placing family funeral notices in newspapers. The right to mourn the loss of loved ones was segregated. That was the evil of racial discrimination.
This message, unfortunately, has been lost on our friend Mayor Fiona Byrne, although she does seem to have miraculously realised that maybe this whole BDS kerfuffle is damaging her reputation as a real politician. Australian reporter Imre Salusinszky noted today:
A GREENS candidate in the NSW election who denied she had ever “pushed” for a boycott of Israel was slated to speak at a public rally next week in support of such a boycott, and in protest against “Israeli apartheid”.
Fiona Byrne, the Greens candidate in the inner-western Sydney seat of Marrickville, initially denied to The Australian she had agreed to address the “Sing Out Against Apartheid: Boycott Divestment and Sanctions” rally outside Sydney’s Town Hall next Wednesday.
…It is the second time this week that Ms Byrne has been caught playing fast and loose with the facts about the extent of her involvement in the global movement to isolate Israel economically and culturally.
After she denied ever expressing an intention to introduce an Israel boycott into state parliament, The Australian revealed a tape of a press conference last month where she did so.
She’s already lying on the campaign trail, this doesn’t bode well for her seemingly impending election into State Parliament.
Speaking of which, the ALP has been panicking about losing Carmel Tebbutt to Byrn in Marrickville, so has been telling everyone who’ll listen how evil the Greens are and why Liberal voters need to preference the ALP over the Greens because it’s better to have anyone except The Wicked Witch of the (Inner) West. Fair enough, and you would struggle to find someone who could convincingly dispute that.
Only problem is that apparently this only applies in seats where Labor is threatened by the Greens and the Liberals can help. On the other hand, if it’s the Liberals threatening Labor, they are more than happy to “deal with the devil” and hang on to power.
In what is seen as a compromise, the Greens in Coogee will preference “progressive independents” before Labor, but Labor before Liberal. After informal talks with the Greens but no written agreement, the Labor Party will preference the Greens in Coogee.
This is a really worrying double standard. The Greens have only got where they are today because of Labor preferences (although Liberals helped Adam Bandt in his Melbourne bid) and even though the Greens are now posing a serious threat to Labor’s standing as the party of the mainstream Left, they still seem to be repeating the same mistakes.
I could compare it to fishers who fish all of the fish out the water until there are no fish left, only these fish never tasted any good in the first place.
The opinion pieces dealing with the Arab world this morning from The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald come from complete opposite viewpoints, but each accuse the other of being condescending and helping to stereotype the Arab people and so perpetuate their dictators. In the SMH, New York Times commentator Nicholas Christof writes that anyone who doesn’t assume that these protests will create democracy is applying a “crude stereotype”:
Is the Arab world unready for freedom? A crude stereotype lingers that some people – Arabs, Chinese and Africans – are incompatible with democracy. Many around the world fret that ”people power” will likely result in Somalia-style chaos, Iraq-style civil war or Iran-style oppression.
That narrative has been nourished by Westerners and, more sadly, by some Arab, Chinese and African leaders. So with much of the Middle East in an uproar today, let’s tackle a politically incorrect question head-on: are Arabs too politically immature to handle democracy?
I’m not too sure I like the way he backs-up his argument:
The common thread of this year’s democracy movement from Tunisia to Iran, from Yemen to Libya, has been undaunted courage. I’ll never forget a double-amputee I met in Tahrir Square in Cairo when Hosni Mubarak’s thugs were attacking with rocks, clubs and Molotov cocktails. This young man rolled his wheelchair to the front lines. And we doubt his understanding of what democracy means?
In Bahrain, I watched a column of men and women march unarmed towards security forces when, a day earlier, the troops had opened fire with live ammunition. Can anyone dare say that such people are too immature to handle democracy?
I can dare say that. These examples no doubt show tremendous courage, but why is that the same as being able to handle democracy? I don’t understand how a man rolling his wheelchair into the front lines shows that he understands democracy. If Kristof can write for one of the leading newspapers in the democratic world and not understand democracy, why is understanding assured for a brave, somewhat handicapped, Egyptian protester?
Maintaining a functional democracy requires voting rights for all citizens; the rule of law; an independent executive, legislature and judiciary; the ability to criticise those in power; a free press with which do to so and an army/police force that will maintain the rule of law and protect all of the above-mentioned rights. How exactly this relates to marching unarmed into a massacre I’m not entirely sure.
David Burchell in The Australian explains this kind of viewpoint very eloquently:
What seems obvious about the young Libyans in the streets of Tobruk, Benghazi and Tripoli – like young Iranians and Egyptians, and quite possibly many Syrians and Saudis too – is that they no longer want any truck with those miserable self-serving fantasies of Arab victimhood and Zionist sorcery. Instead, they merely want to live – as Said was lucky enough to do – in a “normal” country, where their persons will be treated with dignity and their views with respect. But about how to create such a country, beyond toppling statues and setting fire to police stations, they have been left almost totally in the dark – partly through the agency of their own rulers, and partly by us.
The “miserable self-serving fantasies” he is referring to specifically come from Arab-American intellectual Edward Said, who created the theory of “Orientalism”, which basically explains that the West in the present day continues a patronising, colonial attitude towards the Orient, despite not actually colonising it anymore, meaning that we feel the need to impose our values and mindset on a people who don’t want or need them.
Said presented a political perspective of almost child-like simplicity: the West, in its domineering ignorance, was forever doomed to “other” the Orient, and to treat it as its inferior, even while Said and his disciples blissfully “othered” the Middle East themselves, as a sepulchre of Arab suffering, in a mirror-image of those they deplored. Said’s acolytes are probably less familiar with the articles he wrote over many years for the Egyptian state press – articles devoid of the criticism of any existing Arab government; (least of all Mubarak’s); and which reduce all the problems of the Arab world to the actions of those two familiar pantomime villains, the US and Israel. You will not be surprised to hear that Said had nothing whatever to say about Libya’s absurd Mussolini imitator, Gaddafi – except to heap abuse upon the US when it responded to the colonel’s various terrorist provocations.
Said reserved special contempt for brave Arabs who criticised the region’s political, economic and social backwardness. As he wrote, in his customary lachrymose tones, in Egyptian state weekly Al-Ahram in 2003: ‘I recall the lifeless cadences of their sentences for, with nothing positive to say about their people, they simply regurgitate the tired American formulas: we lack democracy; we haven’t challenged Islam enough, we need to drive away the spectre of Arab nationalism.’
So according to Burchell, Said and his “acolytes” attach a baseless romanticism to Arabs, meaning that they support everything that they do and assume that they can do no wrong and always know what’s best for themselves, without any need of Western intervention or values, because the West only ever does harm. Ironically, Kristof (and Paul McGeough) seem to fit this description exactly. In fact, it explains why, as I wrote yesterday, Western NGO’s refused to investigate the Taliban for war crimes and only wanted to scrutinise Western forces in Afghanistan.
These dictators are facing criticism now, but I only remember these commentators blaming Israel and the US for all of the Arab woes in the past. At the time, they followed Said’s point of view that Western ideas like secularism and democracy didn’t need to apply to the Arab people. I tend to agree with Burchell – our desire to be optimistic and tolerant is glossing-over the very real changes that these countries need in order to create functional democracies. Hopefully our leaders at least can see this.