Learning from my mistakes

If you engage in commentary for an extended time on any issue, but particularly on politics, you’re bound to get things wrong. In such cases, there are a few options. The most common is to double down, grasping at any straw that will justify your original claim. Another is to wait; the world is so changeable that a prediction that seemed laughably wrong at one time may turn out correct after all. But, mostly the best thing is to learn from your mistakes.

I’ve made a few mistakes, but the one that I’ve been picked up on most is my prediction, in 2007, that

The Liberal Party will never again win a federal election.”

Of course, this wasn’t meant to be taken at face value. I went on immediately to say that

This isn’t a prediction of unending Labor rule, rather an observation that the Liberal and National parties are in such dire straits that they can’t continue as they are. They haven’t got enough support, parliamentary representation or ideas for one party, let alone two.

I thought the obvious solution was a merger, as in fact happened in Queensland not long afterwards. But my many friends in the Murdoch Press and the rightwing blogosphere have taken great delight in quoting the first sentence out of context. Given that the Liberals have yet to win their election, I followed the waiting strategy, waiting to see whether the turn of events (and the fact that my characterization of the Libs and Nats remains entirely accurate) might validate the prediction after all. But, after the events of the last week, I think it’s time to admit error.

What lessons should I learn from this?

First, never try to be cute on the Internetz, unless you’re a cat. I could have written a straight post suggesting a merger and it would long since have been forgotten. I knew perfectly well that Newscorp and its allies are shameless liars, and that their readers are utterly gullible (provided that what they are reading confirms their prejudices) and I handed them a stick to beat me with. I’ll avoid paradox in future.

Second, never underestimate the capacity of the Labor Party for suicidal stupidity. At the time I wrote the post, Labor seemed safe for two or more terms everywhere but NSW. Instead we saw
* WA Premier Carpenter revoke the ban on dealings with Brian Burke, leading to immediate disaster
* Privatisation campaigns in both NSW and Queensland
* The dumping of Nathan Rees (NSW Labor’s last hope) in favor of Tripodi-Obeid puppet Kristina Keneally
and, most disastrously of all,
* The coup against Kevin Rudd. The march of folly has continued to the very end, with a majority of the Parliamentary Party confirming, for the second time, that they would rather give Tony Abbott control of both houses of Parliament, and, in many cases, lose their own seats, than break with the failed leadership of Julia Gillard. The many (now former) Labor MPs in Queensland who marched straight over the electoral cliff with Anna Bligh and Andrew Fraser seem to have set the pattern here

Peace breaks out in Ozblogistan

Following our recent blowup, I’ve had a discussion with Sinclair Davidson at Catallaxy and we’ve agreed not to engage in personal attacks on each other[1]. I’m going to apply this to Catallaxy in general and the agreement includes comments as well as posts. I’ll leave Sinclair to implement this policy at Catallaxy, and I’m doing so here

The rules are
(1) No personal references to Catallaxy bloggers, except identifying them as the author of some piece I (or commenters) might want to respond to
(2) No general statements about Catallaxy as a blog.

I’d be willing to extend a similar non-aggression pact to Andrew Bolt and the anonymous producer of Cut-and-Paste, but without personal attacks, these blogs would have very little to publish.

I’m leaving comments open, but please remember that the policy applies as of now, so I’ll delete any discussion of Catallaxy.

fn1. I’d be willing to extend a similar agreement to Andrew Bolt but, without personal attacks, he would pretty much have to close his blog, so I can’t see that happening.

LP is back

Ozblogistan has been up and down lately[1], which has distracted me from mentioning the return, for this election only, of the deservedly popular Larvatus Prodeo group blog.

fn1. Blogs are doing the same things now they did ten years ago, and have lost a fair bit of their traffic to FB and Twitter but despite spectacular reductions in storage and communications costs they seem less reliable now than then. How can this be?

GBS pwns IPA

Anyone who has been around the left of Australian (or UK) politics long enough will be aware of the Fabian Society. It’s a group that’s earnest in the way only an organization founded in the late 19th century can be. It produces carefully researched papers on topics like education funding and housing policy, invariably worthwhile, but rarely fiery.

The Society takes its name from a Roman general who achieved victory over the seemingly invincible Hannibal, by avoiding pitched battle and wearing his opponent down: the idea was that socialism should be achieved by gradual reform through democratic processes, rather than through the revolutionary approach advocated by Marxism. This gradual approach was symbolised by the adoption, as a logo, of a tortoise (or maybe turtle), drawn by Walter Crane, the leading illustrator of children’s books in the late 19th century, and a society member. And, after 100+ years, even the most optimistic Fabians would concede that, if anything, the tortoise exaggerates the pace of movement towards socialism.

In spite of, or perhaps because of, this resolutely gradualist approach, the Fabian Society has always loomed large in the demonology of the nuttier sections of the political right, appearing as some sort of cross between the Illuminati and the United Nations. Here for example is Rose Martin of the Mises Society, warning that the tortoise is now going at the pace of a freeway.

The Institute of Public Affairs is the leading Australian representative of this kind of wingnuttery[1] (although it manages to get taken seriously by surprisingly many) so it’s unsurprising to see the IPA’s Julie Novak muttering darkly at Catallaxy[2] about this “shadowy group” (she’s a bit puzzled that Julia Gillard openly declares her membership). What’s interesting is her claim, with illustration that “The logo of the Society, of a wolf dressed up in sheep’s clothing, is all you need to know about how these people seek to achieve their objectives”

Huh? What happened to the tortoise? The answer it turns out, goes back to a joke played by George Bernard Shaw early in the 20th century

Read More »

One in a million, or ten

In a slightly unfortunate juxtaposition, LinkedIn sent me a breathless message “John congratulations! You have one of the top 5% most viewed LinkedIn profiles for 2012!”

immediately followed by the news that “linkedIn now has more than 200 million members”. Do the math

Ten years after

Ten years ago, plus or minus a few days[1], I wrote my first ever blog post. There weren’t many blogs around then, and very few of those that were around have lasted long enough to celebrate a tenth birthday. In fact, I’m not sure if anyone on my original blogroll is still around (feel free to write and tell me that you’ve been blogging since 1992, and I’ve overlooked you).

Here’s my early reaction:

My blog is just about a week old, and I haven’t found the Internet this exciting since I discovered Usenet in the early 90s. Even setting up my website five years ago was not as good. Despite wildly varying ideological views, I’ve had a friendly welcome from bloggers across the board, and I’m already getting links and referrals (My return links will be up soon, I promise). It really seems as if blogs might deliver on the original promise of the Web – certainly the technology seems ideally suited for individuals and small groups, with no obvious way of scaling it up to corporate level. No doubt I’ll get jaded and disillusioned one day, but I hope it will be a long way in the future.

Camaraderie across ideological boundaries didn’t survive long. It was killed off mainly by the debate over the Iraq war. And, eventually, the corporates found a way to get in on the act, through Facebook, Twitter and media websites. although the content is still overwhelmingly supplied by individual users, rather than paid professionals. I’ve adapted to the new reality by putting posts on high-traffic media sites, but crossposting here.

Inevitably, I’m not as excited as I was in the bright dawn of blogging, and the most optimistic hopes for the medium have not been fulfilled but after ten years I’m still not jaded or badly disillusioned. For that, I have to thank my readers, especially my commenters, as well as the many fellow bloggers who’ve given me help and encouragement along the way.

Update Another ten-year veteran, Ken Parish, who dates his startup to April or May of 2002. Ken’s post reminds me that I forgot to thank various people who have helped me with hosting the site, including our current host, Jacques Chester and, way back when, Rob Corr. Thanks so much to Jacques, Rob and the various commercial and open source services I’ve sued at different times.

fn1. A series of blog moves and crash recoveries have scrambled the archives, so that I can no longer determin an exact starting date.

Guest tweeting at #Lateline

Showing my dedication to moving with the times, I’ll be staying up late to guest-tweet on #lateline tonight. Covering French elections, tobacco packaging and, inevitably, Peter Slipper.

Update Turned out to be a complete bust from my POV. The whole show (except for an out-of-place Foreign Correspondent style piece on asbestos in Swaziland) was spent on gotcha questions about Slipper, with Roxon playing a straight bat. Nothing on any of the topics where I could have made a useful comment. Apparently, this was unusually bad – #lateline is a trending topic on Twitter tonight, and not in a good way.

The new era

With a lot of changes going on lately, I’ve taken a bit of time to think about the future of this blog. It will be ten years old in June, which makes it one of the longest running Australian blogs (a few, like Catallaxy, are a little older, IIRC, but their archives seem to have been lost). Those ten years have seen the rise and decline of blogging, particularly individual, independent blogs like this one. The XKCD cartoon linked in this Crooked Timber post tells the story.

The writing was on the wall as early as 2004, when I saw lots of my favorite blogs being assimilated by the Borg that became Crooked Timber. Seeing that resistance was futile, I joined the rush, but have kept this blog going with lots of crossposting, but more specifically Australian content here. Still, group blogs were clearly the wave of (what was then) the future. The most successful in Ozplogistan (the briefly popular name for Australian political blogs) have been Catallaxy, Club Troppo and Larvatus Prodeo. But there haven’t been any new entrants successful enough to attract sustained attention, and now LP is gone.

There are two obvious reasons for the decline of blogging. First, after disdaining everything to do with blogging for years, the mainstream media embraced the idea with enthusiasm five years ago or so, putting much of their content in blog form. The big media blogs now attract much larger audience than independent efforts like this one. Second, there has been the rise of Facebook and Twitter, both of which supply a lot of what attracted people to blogging in the first place. Twitter, in particular, can be quite close to the original form of blogging, based on short (very short in the case of Twitter) links to interesting material found on the web.

So, with the closure of LP and getting booted from the Fin, it seemed like a good time to reassess what I’m doing here. I’ve decided to put most of my effort into work that I can post in larger sites (I’ve had invitations from several, and at this stage I think I will try to play the field, rather than picking just one), but I will make it a condition that I can crosspost here. That will enable the discussion that goes on here to continue, and also make this blog a convenient point to collect all my material.

I’ll close by reproducing this post from 10 years ago

My blog is just about a week old, and I haven’t found the Internet this exciting since I discovered Usenet in the early 90s. Even setting up my website five years ago was not as good. Despite wildly varying ideological views, I’ve had a friendly welcome from bloggers across the board, and I’m already getting links and referrals (My return links will be up soon, I promise). It really seems as if blogs might deliver on the original promise of the Web – certainly the technology seems ideally suited for individuals and small groups, with no obvious way of scaling it up to corporate level. No doubt I’ll get jaded and disillusioned one day, but I hope it will be a long way in the future.