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Archive for September, 2007

Meta-smearing

Both Senator Bartlett and Mark Bahnisch have commented on the latest dispatch from the “smear wars” – this time, an allegation of a (married) Government Minister visiting gay bath houses. Consistent with last week’s display in parliament, the focus has quickly moved past the original allegations to degenerate into a blame game about the source of the information.

Bartlett and Bahnisch both note that this is yet another example of substance and debate being pushed out of the political process to make way for character attacks and theatrics. I wholeheartedly agree – instead of hearing about the legislation that parliament passed in its final days, all we are hearing about is questions of character. But it is even worse than usual, because now we have a meta-character debate where the “dirt” is not the focus, but the parties are battling over perceptions about who is willing to peddle in dirt. Each of the two major parties wants to convince us that they are squeaky clean – not in the sense that there are no skeletons in their closet, but that they are not going to attack the character of those on the other side.

I hope this posturing is so ineffective that the negative campaign is abandoned before the campaign proper begins. I’m certainly over it, and it seems that plenty of others are. I don’t think that either Labor or the Coalition has been convincing or has helped its standing with their mock outrage at the notion that they might spread stories about their opponents. They should give it a rest and try to convince us that they have a decent plan for Australia.

UPDATE: I neglected to mention what I think is the most egregious and irrational example of a media commentator joining the smearfest. Following Peter Phelps’ attack on Mike Kelly (full video of the incident was shown on Insiders yesterday), Andrew Bolt has managed to turn it around to suggest that Labor had unfairly “smeared” Phelps. Even the diehard Boltheads couldn’t seem to unite behind Andrew on that one. Gummo at LP has more on that story.

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Team Howard keeps on bumping

They’ve picked up a whole point in the latest Galaxy poll – it’s now 56-44. The trend is now such that, by the time of the election, the poll graph will look like a sheet of corrugated iron viewed from the side. Discussion at The Poll Bludger, as always.

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This may be the worst example of the traditional media reporting on polling data that I have ever seen. But this may be the best example of a blogger clubbing the so-called journalist to death with his own stupidity that I have ever seen.

Anyone who claims to be interested in what the polls say during the lead-up to Election 2007 and does not read Possum’s blog is missing out. He has just taken Christopher Pearson out to the woodshed for writing the most absurd piece of pro-Liberal wankery ever produced by the Government Gazette – yes, it beats anything produced by Shanahan, Albrechtsen, or the rest of their cast of cheerleaders.

Read the Australian’s article. Then read the blog post from Possum. And then decide who is more objective and informative.

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Someone forgot to tell Andrew that his preferred PM is backing desalination – despite the energy costs that he readily acknowledges.

I’m also not sure where Andrew wants to put the two dams he proposes you could build in Sydney. The fact is, there are few easy solutions for the Sydney Basin – it has limited space, declining water supplies, and a growing population.

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Lovely numbers everywhere

My week of cave-dwelling has prevented me from commenting on some of the new poll data. The latest Newspoll and Morgan have both shown a bit of apparent movement back to the Coalition. This brings us back to where we were before APEC and the latest leadership debacle – Labor has a commanding lead in the polls, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the gap could narrow.

But some other sets of numbers have appeared that will bring both detail and context to the election analysis. For starters, Possum Comitatus has posted the latest quarterly breakdown of Newspoll data, and promises to follow up with some analyses in future posts. One quick thing that strikes me – the primary vote is swinging to Labor more than it is swinging against the Coalition, pretty much across the board. That might be a sign that Rudd and Labor are actually winning people over, including those who previously voted for the minor parties. Or it might just be that poll respondents are trying to make sure they give a clear indication that they want a change of government. Time will tell.

Also, the ABC has got Antony Green’s election analysis online. It includes a pretty spiffy set of calculators plus plenty of detail on seats, candidates, etc.

We’re also seeing an explosion of election-oriented sites from both traditional and new media sources – I’ll be following up with a post on those, but you can get cracking by reading the breakdown at The Poll Bludger.

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Why was it stupid?

The wingnuts in the LP thread kept the party going into the evening. The thread is closed now, but a question was asked just before that happened:

But Tim’s question remains on the table. Phil has yet to answer it. How was Bush’s statement stupid? Please explain.

When the thread re-opens this morning I’ll post my response there, but here are my reasons why it was stupid, in no particular order:

  1. Because it was a poorly articulated attempt to make an argument, which shows that the Leader of the Free World (TM) cannot put together a sentence that clearly states what he means.
  2. Because, when talking about a beloved leader who is also 89 years old and may indeed die some day soon, one should be a bit more sensitive. South Africans who saw it and misunderstood it were worried that Mandela had actually died. This goes back to the first point, as well – Bush is hard enough to understand for those of us who speak English as a first language. Imagine the potential for misunderstanding among those who are relying on their limited grasp of English or a translation.
  3. Because he was recycling a talking point that his ambassador to Iraq had used a couple of weeks ago, and he still bungled it.
  4. Because point 3 also means that his claim that he “heard somebody say, ‘where’s Mandela?'” is crap. This is an argument the Bush administration is trying to push to explain their failure to establish a unified democratic Iraqi government with a stable security situation.
  5. Because it suggests that the current failure of Iraq is entirely the fault of Saddam Hussein, and has nothing to do with the irresponsible lack of forethought and strategic planning throughout the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
  6. Because it adopts a Messianic perspective where the only way reconciliation can occur is for the one true leader to rise up and unite the divided groups, and does nothing to offer a constructive solution to the thousands of people being blown up, shot, or driven from their homes as the sectarian conflict continues.
  7. Because it ignores the fact that the actual Mandela was left rotting in prison for decades while many, including Dick Cheney, failed to endorse action against South Africa because they regarded the ANC as a terrorist organisation. This highlights the complexity of liberation and unification processes, which Bush completely fails to appreciate. How do we know that there isn’t an “Iraqi Mandela” who is classified as a terrorist, an “insurgent”, or a “warlord” by the Bush administration at this point?
  8. In summary – because it was a naive and inarticulate expression of an oversimplified belief that one great leader can bring peace to Iraq. The only thing that was good about it is that Bush no longer seems to believe he is that one great leader.

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When viral marketing attacks

Mitt Romney provided video footage for people to make ads.

This one may not be what he had in mind.

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Olbermann FTW

Well said, sir.

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Stupid Wars

There’s a fun snarkfest going on, and it’s all George Walker Bush’s fault. In attempting to articulate a position that an Iraqi leader who can galvanise the country has not emerged because Saddam Hussein executed dissenters, Bush spake thus:

I thought an interesting comment was made — somebody said to me, I heard somebody say, “Now, where’s Mandela?” Well, Mandela’s dead because Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas.

If you want a more coherent version of the Bush administration’s position, you can try Ambassador Crocker’s version.

Over at Larvatus Prodeo, Phil posted a brief comment on it, noting in a general way that it was “stupid” without getting much into the specifics.

Little Timmy Blair then suggested that Bush had made a “reasonable comment”, and pointed his readers across to the LP post.

Now, the comments on Phil’s post are filled with Timmy’s wingnut reinforcements, and I am learning all sorts of new things. Apparently, we lefties, or perhaps LPers in particular, are “People who routinely call Bush Hitler“. I must have missed a memo, because I thought Markos Moulitsas was Hitler.

Of course, as Ken L pointed out, Timmy has turned his hounds loose on LP but didn’t immediately notice that his own employer had swallowed the “gaffe” hook, line and sinker. So, the disciples of Tim can launch into the lefty blogosphere but the “fair and balanced” traditional media are spared their fury.

For the record, here’s my take on Bush’s statement: It’s not a “gaffe”, and it’s fairly obvious that he was not referring to Mandela literally. However, it demonstrates the man’s complete incapacity to articulate his point.

At the same time, it’s not a point I agree with. He appears to be suggesting that the problem in Iraq is that Hussein created a leadership vacuum, and that’s why there is such trouble now. Several questions follow from that argument:

  • Shouldn’t that have been anticipated?
  • Why has it taken four years after the invasion to realise that this was a problem?
  • Is the problem that there are leaders who the Bush administration are unwilling to work with? Is another problem that the administration is unwilling to engage other parties in the region (e.g., Iran and Syria) as allies in the process of finding a workable political arrangement?

Also, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that, back in 1986, a prominent member of the Bush administration voted against a resolution calling for the release of the actual Mandela, and has stood by that decision.

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The smart money

Andrew Bolt takes solace in the fact that the bookies are shortening the odds of Howard winning. It’s not the first time he has drawn on the bookies to support his arguments.

Have we reached a point where we can just turn entire causal chains around? Political events happen (e.g., resolution of the leadership tangle), polls shift, gamblers start placing bets on the different parties in different proportions, and then odds shift. But then, the bookies have changed their odds so we can, apparently, conclude that Howard’s chances of winning are on the improve.

The elevation of bookies to the status of mystic gurus is something I’ve become accustomed to in sports, but does it make sense in politics? Experts might be able to assess the form and relative strengths of racehorses or sporting teams, but a political campaign is something entirely different.

The argument that the betting odds tell us something about the likely outcome is absurd. It’s another form of the problem that pervades the traditional media – the overwhelming tendency to comment on how events are being perceived, creating a recursive cycle of reporting on reporting, rather than actually analysing why the events happened and what they actually mean. Has Howard’s announcement that he will hand over during his next term improved the Coalition’s chances? How about some commentary on whether he can actually be relied on to do what he says?

Still, one advantage of this bookie worship is that we might manage to do away with elections. The betting market can tell us what the result is going to be, so we won’t need every person to actually vote. All we need to know is who had the most money placed on them to win.

It’s free market democracy – Stephen Colbert would be proud of such a system.

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