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Why bother reading the papers?

May 30th, 2005

Jack Strocchi points me to this piece by Tony Parkinson in the Age, which tries to score some points on the number of deaths caused by the Iraq war. Not only does Parkinson get nearly every point in the debate wrong (he misdescribes confidence intervals, fails to note that the UN study he’s touting covered only the first year of the war, ignores the difference between direct war casualties and “excess deaths” and so on) but he’s presenting as news an issue that was covered exhaustively in blogs weeks ago (you can start here and work back. As usual Tim Lambert does the heavy lifting. For a review of the earlier debate, see Daniel Davies at CT. For a more defensible version of the case Parkinson is trying to make, go here.)

I think we can add this to the list of issues where you’re better off getting your information from blogs than from the “quality” press.

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  1. May 30th, 2005 at 08:54 | #1

    News and Current Affairs still need reporters and feature writers to cover the beat and cultivate primary sources. However I think general op-ed writers are a dying breed that will be out-evolved by the better bloggers, unless the op-edders morph into bloggers themselves. The exception would be the op-edder who has professional expertise like Pr K, or is a peerless writer like…can anyone name a really good literary stylist amongst our opinonators? Steyn and Hitchens are good literateurs who have obviously strayed off the reservation.

  2. Elizabeth
    May 30th, 2005 at 09:43 | #2

    “Why bother reading the papers?� I guess for the same reason why blooging and the internet should be treated with scepticism, and critical appraisal.

    Its interesting to consider how conspiracy theories etc (Da Vinci code anyone) have really run amok through the internet with stories etc fuelled by speculation, heresay yada yada

  3. May 30th, 2005 at 10:10 | #3

    John, if you feel like responding to another opinion piece, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts about Australia’s rice industry.

  4. Katz
    May 30th, 2005 at 10:24 | #4

    I think this is a vintage specimen of Parkinsonianism:

    “Now [Amnesty International] has taken up the cause of championing the rights of inmates at Guantanamo Bay. This is a departure from tradition.

    “According to the organisation’s own definition, prisoners of conscience are people who have been imprisoned solely due to the peaceful expression of their political or religious beliefs. That is, people who have neither used nor advocated violence.

    “It did not bend the rules even for Nelson Mandela [who] defended the use of violence.

    “Why, then, is Amnesty increasingly active on behalf of men taken captive during fighting in Afghanistan and elsewhere as part of the war on terror. At face value, it is hard to see how even the most lateral application of Amnesty’s definition of a prisoner of conscience could be applied to somebody who has taken up arms to fight a holy war. These are hardly men of peace.”

    Some salient points:

    1. None of these inmates has been charged with anything. AA is perfectly within its charter to protest that everyone deserves due legal process and/or that Gitmo inmates are POWs until proven otherwise. (See Article 6 of the Geneva Conventions). Even Apartheid South Africa accorded Mandela due process. Why is it impossible for the United States to do the same?

    2. Dozens of these have been released, after months or years of mistreatment, without charge. What evidence is there that those who remain are any different from these slightly more fortunate alumnae of Bush’s Gulag?

    One hopes that Parkinson is just too dim to be subject to pangs of conscience for his misconceived boosterism of executive tyranny.

  5. May 30th, 2005 at 11:32 | #5

    I’d like to comment on the cartoon which went with the articled. Cartoonist John Spooner is an interesting character; Holds to social democratic / left views with regard to economic policies at home, but is vicious to opponents of the Iraq war (Pamela Bone has a similar profile). His cartoon which accompanied the Parkinson article you mention is an example of what I mean by “vicious”. (Looked for a link on the web, but couldn’t find one.) Apparently, “pacifists” are “disappointed” by “proof” that fewer than 100,000 deaths might have been caused by the coalition invasion.

    Although Parkinson offers no such proof, and as JQ says, Tim Lambert has gone over this topic exhaustively, which Parkinson obviously has not. I think ad hominem, insulting rubbish like that really only highlights the fact that someone hasn’t got command of the facts.

  6. May 30th, 2005 at 12:17 | #6

    Why read the papers? Theatre.

    The whole drama of an op-ed piece spread out across the table at breakfast, decorated with the aforementioned vicious Spooner, knowing that the town is reading it together.

    Of course this is a fantasy – a huge amount of the current op-ed is such drivel I reckon they get an audience of about 25, who are using them to reinforce fantasies about the world which are nothing short of depraved.

    The experiential difference between paper and computer is huge. On the page I have the drama of the succeeding pages, and the tensions across the sheet. I can visually see the paper’s priorities. It is obvious that The Age has descended into chaos on the page, courtesy of the new editor, and is slowly getting itself rebuilt. On the screen, however, all seems to be well.

    I think to myself that the papers are in competition with the blogosphere now, and they ought to get their act together in response. But of course the big op-ed problem is in the tabloids and on the radio. Our audience is miniscule compared to Andrew Bolt’s readers getting their hate bath on the evening tram.

    And that is what counts – as long as the puppet dances on the master’s strings, the show will go on.

    In some ways, the op-ed battleground can be like Parliament. A party can lose an election, can endure the endless crappiness of opposition, but know it physically faces the government members in the house, while the leaders go toe to toe only metres from each other. Numbers or not, there is a battle of wills played out, with demons of doubt to be liberated, and self belief as the prize.

    The op-ed crew can choose to ignore us, but as we gather power they will come to realise that people out here on the internet know when they are slapdash, dishonest and plain moronic.

    And that goes for both sides.

  7. May 30th, 2005 at 12:26 | #7

    It was a funny cartoon whether you support the war or not. It is encouraging to see that some conservatives have a sense of humour.

    I agree that print journalism is slowly becoming irrelevent, slowly in the sense that 10 years is slow. But some radio and television still have a place in current affairs and they obviously still own the market in crap mindless entertainment.

  8. William
    May 30th, 2005 at 13:00 | #8

    “Now [Amnesty International] has taken up the cause of championing the rights of inmates at Guantanamo Bay. This is a departure from tradition.”

    Imprisoning people indefinitely without charge, mistreating some of them, and sending others to be tortured in third countries (google extraordinary rendition), is a departure from tradition for the US government.

    “It is another example of the sad loss of perspective among some global opinion leaders opposed to US policy in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

    Unlike the loss of perspective which focuses on picking holes in the arguments of opponents of the US government, rather than holding the US government accountable for its mendacity and incompetence.

    I know which loss of perspective makes a bigger difference to the world.

  9. snuh
    May 30th, 2005 at 14:04 | #9

    is anyone else finding that the link the lambert is busted?

  10. jquiggin
    May 30th, 2005 at 15:11 | #10

    Fixed now, snuh

  11. May 30th, 2005 at 22:10 | #11

    William, you’re wrong. It is not a departure from tradition for the US government.

  12. AlanDownunder
    May 31st, 2005 at 00:14 | #12

    It is encouraging to see that some conservatives have a sense of humour

    As a funny woman I know who had at least 2 German fellers once related: “They DO have a sense of humour – it’s just that it isn’t funny”.

    (apologies to Germans, but not to conservatives, German or otherwise)

  13. May 31st, 2005 at 09:00 | #13

    That is very true, having known some Germans, I great story I have.

    A Berliner friend didn’t think very highly of the wrapping of the reichstag, he said that he though it was ‘misplaced humour’.

  14. Peter
    May 31st, 2005 at 09:57 | #14

    I love it. The sad little plonkers of the left keep harping on and on about things but never actually tell us what they would do. Of course, on past experience, we know exactly what they would do: talk. Meanwhile, the terrorists would continue on their merry way, but in European and American cities as well as the muslim world. Meanwhile, our would-be left-wing leaders would hold endless talks, at which they would seek to find out “why the terrorists hate us,” without once realising that the problem is lies with terrorists’ mindset not with ours. The left is famous for its condemnation of “hatred.” Yet for some reason it has difficulty in condemning the hatred that drives terrorists to kill innocent civilians.

    But my question to the lefty Bush-haters is this: how do you sleep? With your constant carping about the liberation of Iraq, and your refusal ever to condemn the terroists who are killing Iraqi civilians, you are in fact encouraging the terrrorists in their campaign. As long as you blame the US for everything and fail to assist with the project of bringing democracy to the Middle East, you give the terroists hope that their awful tactics will succeed. Yet for you deaths of Iraqi citizens don’t really matter. All that matters is trying to make Bush look bad. Such is left wing postmodernism.

    In domestic policy it is just the same. In Australia after the billions wasted by Labor on “land rights” and ATSIC, Aboriginal health was worse than before. In the US social mobility for blacks has decresed markedly since liberal policies like affirmative action and postive discrimination were introduced. Yet the lefty commentariat insist that such policies will work. There’s left wing post modernism.

  15. derrida derider
    May 31st, 2005 at 10:24 | #15

    Ah, Peter has brought out the old “giving aid and comfort to the enemy” line – accusations of “objectively pro-terrorist” and then “treason” won’t be far behind.

    Peter, if I think something is wrong, I say so – the fact that some deeply unattractive people also think its wrong does not and should not deter me. After all, this mendacious, foolish and unnecessary invasion has done far, far more to help the jihadis than the bleating of ineffectual academics opposing it.

    And as an aside, the sharp decrease in social mobility in the US (not only for blacks) dates from Reagan’s time – massive increase in inequality of outcome lead naturally to increases in inequality of opportunity (if you accumulate great wealth you’re going to naturally want to use it to give your children an advantage over others). Its a very long bow indeed to blame this on the reforms of the 60s – unless you’re a right-wing postmodernist who believes that facts should be construed to support your prejudices.

  16. Hal9000
    May 31st, 2005 at 10:25 | #16

    Re Katz’s and David Tilley’s posts…

    First – loved your posts. Just a nit to pick. One thing blogs clearly lack is effective sub-editing, although it’s true to say the standard in the print media has also declined. Katz – alumnus singular, alumni plural. David – “visually see”?

    To Peter – I sleep just fine. Better, I’d hope than those who support launching and maintaining an aggressive war on a series of ever more far-fetched fictitious pretexts. As for terrorists in Iraq – there weren’t any until the invasion, which has turned out as we lefties warned to be the greatest recruitment campaign for suicidal terrorists yet devised by human ingenuity. As for the alleged campaign to bring democracy to the middle east – tell that to the Uzbeks, whose tyrannical regime noted for deep-frying its opponents alive would not exist were it not propped up by the US as a quid pro quo for maintaining military bases and access to oil and pipeline routes.

  17. Katz
    May 31st, 2005 at 11:13 | #17

    Thanks for the grammar lesson Hal.

    I might argue that I meant “alumnae”, the plural of the female gender of alumnus. My justification might be that Bush’s Gitmo thugs worked assiduously to “unman” their unwilling guests by means of pantie bonnets and lashings of menstrual blood.

    However, I won’t argue that. I’ll simply plead negligence.

  18. Katz
    May 31st, 2005 at 12:30 | #18

    “I love it. The sad little plonkers of the left keep harping on and on about things but never actually tell us what they would do.

    [Large tripe excision]

    Yet the lefty commentariat insist that such policies will work. There’s left wing post modernism.”

    Thanks for your contribution Peter. It is a particularly egregious example of windy generalisation, mischaracterisation and laziness.

    1. If you had been reading any of the relevant posts on this blog, you should have recognised that much of the critique of Bushite policies was not on the basis of the immorality of his actions, but on their ineffectuality, ignorance and counterproductivity. If you haven’t done your homework, I’d suggest that you seek to avoid confirming that you are a fool.

    2. There may be more scope for sympathy for the suffering of Iraqis were the US Occupying Authority to have reversed its brag, in the words of General Tommy Franks “We don’t get into body counts.”

  19. peter kemp
    May 31st, 2005 at 12:50 | #19

    Peter, explain to us how we have to make Bush look so bad, when he is doing it all by himself? How’s pissing off the entire Islamic world for a start? There is no need for us to like Sybil Fawlty to go on Mastermind with special subject “The Bleeding Obvious”.

  20. Katz
    June 1st, 2005 at 08:53 | #20

    And on a related matter, did anyone catch this classic malapropism of the Chimp?

    “Amnesty International appeared to base some of its allegations on detainees, “people who hate America, people that have been trained in some instances to disassemble, that means not tell the truth. So it was an absurd report,” Bush said.”

    And while I’m here, I’d like to ask Bush apologists and assorted RWDBs lurking in thier bunkers the following questions inspired by Peter’s diatribe above:

    “As long as you blame the US for everything and fail to assist with the project of bringing democracy to the Middle East, you give the terroists hope that their awful tactics will succeed.”

    1. Do you suppose that as part of the Hindu Kush School of Semantics course in “disassembling” the student/terrorists are doing an elective in Blog Interpretation”?

    2. Exactly what might Bush had done in prosecuting his GWOT if he hadn’t been intimidated from doing it by the combined might of leftist, post-modern “plonkers” crueling his pitch with their assorted snideness and rude comments?

  21. June 1st, 2005 at 15:32 | #21

    For that other Peter, terrorists do not need to be driven by hatred. For some cultures, violence is just another idiom of expression. I’m not commenting on individuals, merely on the ability of a culture to produce individuals who can just go out and do harm with no method acting nonsense.

    There’s a lot of case history, like Robert Graves’ account of how the politicians were always trying to motivate the troops to hate but the troops would far rather just get on with the job. Or quite a few stories from Ireland that illustrate the urban terrorist approach that Michael Collins brought up to date. And so on.

    Anyhow, hatred is more a product than a driver of terrorism, and only someone who had lost the plot would start addressing the problems without examining assumptions like that one about hatred.

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