Instructive snippets

The advantage of subscribing to a variety of news outlets – particularly when few of them are Australian – is that you keep finding instructive snippets.

In Australia you might find them with Tim Colebatch on Inside Story, Michael West’s website, or Fairfax’s Adele Ferguson and Ross Gittins, but generally you can rely on getting from the Australian mainstream media either the pompous reiteration of the conventional wisdom or harangues about issues which even Barnaby Joyce has ridiculed.

A while ago the blog illustrated this by a few references to items in Private Eye – simplistically generalised as a satirical magazine – but actually a great investigative journalism resource. But you can get the same result from looking at reliably mainstream financial media such as the Financial Times.

For instance, in the FT (25-26 March 2017) the blog read that: the US military is still claiming it doesn’t target civilians (tell that to the Laotians and the Cambodians who are now being billed for the pleasure) in the context of Mosul airstrikes and wondering why people become terrorists; the likelihood of extreme communal violence in Uttar Pradesh following the appointment of Yogi Aditjyanath as chief minister; some insights on innovation from Tim Harford which have bypassed Malcolm Turnbull; the astonishing effort of Credit Suisse and Pearson to grant massive bonuses to bosses despite huge company losses; the dismal sales record of smart watches and the consequent impact on traditional Swiss watchmakers; another disaster for a big four accounting firm , this time yet another one for PwC, where the defence to missing yet another gigantic fraud and corporate failure was that highly paid auditors couldn’t be expected to pick up such things; and, the fact that Toshiba’s nuclear division is on the block after the worst financial crisis in its history at a time when the usual suspects are telling us that the answer to Australia’s energy woes is nuclear power. And that is even before you get to a sceptical article by Yuval Noah Harari on Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook.

Of course, those of us who try to live in the real world are horribly handicapped by the need for evidence. In another snippet the blog found the journalist and mystery writer, Jon Talton (see him on FeedBlitz), deconstructing The Washington Post conservative columnist, George Will. There is some dispute whether George is still alive in any meaningful sense but the columns keep appearing. But most importantly they illustrate why evidence plays no part in conservative discourse.

The latest, as a counterpoint to Trump populism, singles out the current Arizona Governor, Dave Ducey as a model for modern day US conservatives and a true inheritor of the Barry Goldwater mantle. Talton said: “With the Republicans facing at least a temporary but stunning Waterloo in their attempt to take health insurance from 24 million Americans, Will sought a quantum of solace in Goldwater country. He wrote, “Today’s governor, Doug Ducey, is demonstrating the continuing pertinence of the limited-government conservatism with which Sen. Goldwater shaped the modern GOP, after himself being shaped by life in the leave-me-alone spirit of the wide open spaces of near-frontier Arizona.’

Talton went on to describe what conservatives never admit – they would be up the proverbial creek without government – as exemplified by Arizona. “Arizona is hardly a creation of ‘the leave-me-alone spirit of the wide open spaces.’ Instead, it required the U.S. Army to brutally pacify the Apache, Yavapai, and other Indian tribes. Second, were federal land grants for railroads. Third, was billions of dollars in federal reclamation to turn the Salt River Valley into American Eden and then a place where millions could live in subdivision pods thanks to cheap water and power. Fourth, was the New Deal funding that saved Phoenix, especially, and Arizona more broadly from the Great Depression. Fifth, was the Cold War military spending that created the tech economy in Phoenix and Tucson. And don’t forget federal flood-control money that allowed developers to lay down tract houses in what would otherwise be flood plains.”

Just to cap things off Talton compares, as does Will, Arizona’s with California’s economic and educational performance. Sadly for George, Talton uses facts to show how ridiculous the comparison Will’s version is.

Talton does, however, point to Goldwater’s opposition to civil and voting rights without counter-balancing it with Goldwater’s later changes of mind, something which modern day conservatives rarely do let alone apologise for. On the other hand he reprises some of his  previous posts on Goldwater’s links with the Mafia without mentioning that they were at least as extensive as the Kennedy family’s.

Meanwhile, on fake news and loss of faith in experts and evidence, a US Naval War College Professor, Tom Nichols, has just published a book The Death of Expertise: the Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters (OUP). NB Refer to previous blogs about why US books have such long titles. Nichols has published an essay drawn from the book in Foreign Affairs (13 February 2017). Well worth reading and the blog will try to summarise in the near future. But, next up in a few days: what old style PR practitioners such as Noel Tennison and Toni Muzi Falconi have to teach their sleek and confident succesors.