A funny thing happened on the way to the forum

Up there with the Michael Palin scenes from the Life of Brian is Zero Mostel in a Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Both share a quality – making you laugh in the face of tremendous embarrassment.

There was a new form of embarrassment for Australia when the International Monetary Fund found a funny thing happening on its way to the forum. The IMF was carrying out a study of reforming tax expenditures (otherwise known as tax breaks) in Italy. Without saying so they chose Italy because it is in a spot of bother and were looking for reforms which might help. The IMF says in a working paper prepared by Justin Tyson: “Tax expenditures are government revenues foregone as a result of differential, or preferential, treatment of specific sectors, activities, regions, or agents. They can take many forms, including allowances (deductions from the base), exemptions (exclusions from the base), rate relief (lower rates), credits (reductions in liability) and tax deferrals (postponing payments). International comparisons are complicated by different methodologies and assessments as to what constitute a tax expenditure, but the practice is pervasive…” read more

The war to frame the war

The inevitable war as to who frames, and how they frame, the WWI centenary commemorations has started.

The first shots were fired in the UK where the Tory Education Secretary, Michael Gow, in the Daily Mail  called for a patriotic celebration that battled “left wing myths which belittled  Britain”. Now in the UK Gow is considered a sort of intellectual in politics although, it being England, he is handicapped by a reputation for being clever. It is a bit unclear which myths he is referring too but it seems he wants to present the British Labour Party as unpatriotic although they and the trade unions embraced the war with as much jingoism as anyone else. However, the critique of the war which has probably inspired more myths than anything else, “lions led by donkeys”, was formulated by the late Alan Clark who was probably one of the most right wing MPs ever elected to Parliament. He was probably also the most prolific seducer of woman in British political history as well as being an entertaining diarist. London Mayor, Boris Johnson (himself no slouch in the history and seduction fields), fuelled the controversy saying the “the sad but undeniable fact” was that the war was “overwhelmingly the result of German expansionism and aggression.” Fortunately the popular version of this view (“two World Wars and one World Cup”) has no chance of being altered by coming events in Brazil. read more

The pre-history of PR

Except in a few pockets of US practice, as the blog has mentioned previously, hardly anyone still subscribes to the once dominant view that PR was a US invention which developed through schematised stages from the 19th century to a globalised industry today.

One of the major figures in making that happen has been Professor Tom Watson of Bournemouth University who is not only a distinguished PR scholar but also the organiser of the International History of PR Conference held in Bournemouth each year. Proceedings of the 2013 one are available at http://microsites.bournemouth.ac.uk/historyofpr/proceedings/  The next conference will be held on July 2 and 3 this year. read more

PR disasters of 2013

Lists are an unfailing source of media coverage, discussion and sometimes even debate. Someone somewhere is always excited by lists from best-dressed to the most powerful lists. Lists of best books and best films are even sometimes very useful although what is often best about them are subsequent exposures of undisclosed links between recommender and recommended. read more

What gets lost

One of the key characteristics of constitutional structures which divide responsibilities and funding sources is an enormous capacity to shift costs and political blame for unpopular decisions.

In Australia the Abbott Governments Commission of Audit is allegedly going to address these issues although one suspects the outcome will be a series of ideologically-driven recommendations masquerading as efficiency proposals which will cut back government services while preserving subsidies for business and industry. read more

Taking a break

The blog is taking a break and hopes its readers have a nice one too. In the meantime – some odds and sods to go on with until the New Year.

The joys of Yiddish

One of the blog’s favourite reference books is Leo Rosten’s The Joys of Yiddish. The book is part dictionary, part encyclopaedia, part compendium of great Jewish jokes and part cultural anthropology. read more

Train wreck to be averted?

Regular readers will be familiar with the blog’s posts about the problems of replicability in social psychology research and the warnings by Nobel Laureate,Daniel Kahneman (Thinking Fast and Slow) that the field had to get its act together or experience a train wreck.

For communicators the social psychology research on how people make choices, how they think and what motivates them, has probably been the most profound insight into how to frame communications in many years. For social marketers in particular the work has provided a new foundation for campaigns which hopefully will replace the crude, and largely ineffectual, programs run by so many governments in the past at the urgings of the health thought police. read more

Tony Abbott and the Reformation

As a good Catholic Tony Abbott probably doesn’t think too much of the Reformation but  reading a recent chapter in a forthcoming book made the blog think about some similarities between the Abbott Government’s first months and the Church’s response to the Protestant revolution.

The chapter is Power, control and religious language: Latin and vernacular contests in the Christian Medieval and Reformation periods. It’s written by Professor Peter Horsfield (a friend from RMIT) and will appear in the forthcoming Religion, media and social change (Routledge) edited by Kenneth Granholm, Marcus Moberg and Sofia Sjo. Peter’s chapter is about “Language (as) a fundamental component of communication and therefore a fundamental component of in the formation of individual and social identities, the shape of social knowledge, the functioning of social relationships and the constructions and contests of social power.” read more

PR and dissent

These days if your revolution has failed to get out of the cafes where you have plotted with your comrades; your cause has failed to prosper; or your political party has just lost, the next best thing to blaming the media or the forces of reaction is to blame the PR industry

The blog has experienced a few of these but has, probably unsurprisingly, never blamed the PR industry for the failures. Yet increasingly a number of PR academics and practitioners are becoming the leaders in analysing how PR is used as either an activist or repressive tool. read more