Miscellany: Gunns and gratuitous advice

Gunns and gratuitous advice

One remarkable thing about the Gunns case against the greens and others is the amount of gratuitous advice all sides are getting.

Most of it – from Voltairean quotations to analyses of the McLibel case – is probably premature and a lot of it seems misguided.

Having worked with the Tasmanian forest industries Miscellany has little sympathy for the greens. One example of their tactics: we produced a booklet – referred to by us in shorthand as a misinformation kit. The kit contained details of false and misleading allegations made by Tasmanian greens. In a brilliant piece of pre-emption the greens released a media release accusing the forest industries of producing “misinformation kits” thereby demonstrating their ruthless and unethical tactics. Needless to say the ABC ran the story – from the greens perspective – and the battle from then on  was to get attention back on to the central issue, the greens’ misrepresentations.

Deep green environmentalists are fundamentally apocalyptic millenarians. As Phillip Adams noticed when he wrote about the disappointed sigh he heard collectively expressed at an environmentalist meeting when somebody pointed out that progress was being made on improving the conditions the meeting was called to protest. As millenarians they are prone to get seduced quite easily into an ends justifying the means approach which, allied with large doses of cognitive dissonance, lead to some remarkable statements.

The real issue, though, is probably more to do with our outrageous defamation laws which ought to be scrapped and replaced with something more akin to the US First Amendment. A second step would be to remove financial penalties – except where direct financial loss is demonstrably present – and replace them with a system of correction

However, back to the question of others’ giving others gratuitous advice. Some of the most interesting came from Martin Flanagan in The Age. Flanagan is one of Australia’s best sports columnists and the Malthouse had to put on extra matinees to cope with the huge demand for his recent play The Call.

Flanagan criticised the Gunns tactics on a number of grounds. The first was that they were better off with the issue out of the media because when issues are out of it, they slip from public consciousness. In PR and anti-terrorist tactics this is characterized as “starving them of oxygen”. He is partly right in that most environmental reporters are even more notoriously captive of their green sources than business commentators are of their investment and company sources. So getting stories out of the media does reduce the amount of untested propaganda being regaled under the guise of reporting.

However, the real  problem is that the advice reflects the typically constricted world view of journalists – imagining that issues are things in the media and that the media equates with public consciousness. The reality is that many issues have a life outside the media and increasingly effective PR – particularly in politics – is about going under the radar screen by using grass roots techniques. It was the more extreme versions of some of these techniques that prompted Private Eye’s HP Sauce column to attack Lynton Crosby and his work with the Tories in Britain.

Flanagan also suggested that Gunns were better off sticking to some of their quieter techniques like sponsoring the footy in Tassie. Perhaps right – but providing a big symbolic activity which everyone frustrated with green arrogance and smugness can rally around is probably even better.

The lifestyle media

Part of the problem with the mainstream media is that the people who work in it need a form of false consciousness (in the Marxist sense) to be able to operate. In essence they believe they are fulfilling some sort of mystical fourth estate role when in fact most of them are working for a branch of the leisure and entertainment industries peddling the lifestyle products and services which commercialise and trivialize our society.

Recently leading Australian designer Garry Emery protested about being described as stylish because he was on about substance and not style. This is a justifiable complaint from someone who has made a difference to the quality of life rather than simply being fashionable.

In a similar vein one can’t help thinking most people would be better off forgetting about lifestyles and getting a life. But then they would probably consume even less mainstream media and there would be even less space for gratuitous advice.

Howard and longevity

With Howard becoming our second longest serving PM the wonderful quote by Lord Randolph Churchill about Disraeli’s career springs to mind: “failure, failure, failure, success, partial failure, renewed absolute and complete victory”

However, one might also recall the immortal words of David Ireland – one of Australia’s best novelists who always seems to miss out on all the most popular lists (whether the ABC or the Australian Society of Authors) – when he said: “Nothing recedes like success.”

George Dubya

Seeing the short-lived controversy over whether George W. has a hidden receiver on his body which tells him what to say (to avoid seeming as dumb as Dubya) Rob Gerrand, who has recently edited Black Inc’s Best Australian Sci-F, remembered an excellent sci-fi precedent. In a Robert Heinlein novel The Puppet Masters aliens attach themselves to the back of humans and speak and act through them. Puppet Masters became a film with Donald Sutherland fighting valiantly, but unsuccessfully, against the aliens. Now, just like The Machurian Candidate, it’s back  – with Karl Rove starring as the alien.

Land tax and Victoria

There is fairly intense campaign in Victoria to abolish land tax. Poor small businesses are allegedly going to the wall because of the awful Bracks Government impost.

Miscellany feels as much sympathy for businesses saddled with the burden of multi-million dollar properties as it does for the greens.

The land tax agitation is symptomatic of a wider campaign to gradually remove all taxes on capital. Inheritance tax – an excellent liberal tax – went first, although arguably CGT acts as a sort of death duty on deceased estates. The Howard Government slashed capital gains tax – which with the continuance of negative gearing – has contributed to the housing bubble which has priced many young Australians out of the market.

It reminds one that in centuries past in Britain when the poor had produce but no income the tax system focused on the produce and not the income. The rich, who had lots of income, resisted income taxes until the Napoleonic Wars. Now when the poorer in society are consumers but have little income and no capital, and the rich have both, the emphasis is on getting the taxes off both and on to consumption.

So, if any crikey readers are going to a place of worship in the next week or so please pray for all those poor millionaires forced by the evil John Brumby to cough some of it back up. And remember, for Australia to be internationally competitive we just have to improve the incentive for the highly paid to work harder by reducing their taxes and increasing their incomes; and, encourage the poor to work harder by reducing their  wages and subjecting them to a 100% tax rate if they are in that fringe zone between welfare and work.

Oops – I was wrong

Last week I described Leo Strauss as French. He was, of course, born and educated in Germany, married in France and then went to the UK and then on to the US.

Crikey reader, Michael Hutak, picked up the error and produced a long entry from Wikipedia which has a good run-down on Strauss’ career and thought.

Michael also suggests that I shouldn’t include Arnie among the neocons – I wasn’t. Rather it is a case of many Straussians ending up in political offices as speechwriters etc. They don’t have a great success rate in getting jobs at universities – they think because of a leftist conspiracy while others claim other reasons.

Wikipedia makes a very important point, which Miscellany tried to convey but probably not fully enough, Strauss is very esoteric and capable of being interpreted in multiple ways. Thus the neocons take away his rather Neitzschean view on modernism, relativism etc  while the Europeans tend to focus on his emphasis on textual close reading.

Another reader, Ed Wright, thinks I may have got Leo confused with Levi-Strauss. No – just a rather lazy error on nationality rather than identity.

Not sure that the neocons recognize Strauss’ time in France – only the fact of his leaving it.

The Washington Holocaust Memorial

A little while ago Miscellany mentioned the historian of the Armenian massacres/genocide, Norman Stone, doubting the authenticity of Hitler’s quote about the Armenians which is featured on the wall of the Washington Holocaust memorial.

We have just noticed (the TLS 19 November 2004) a letter from Vahakn Dadrian and Stephen Feinstein of the University of Minnesota Centre for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. In the letter they say Professor Gerhard Weinberg (reported in the New York Times June 18 1985) found the quote in secret notes taken Admiral Canaris had taken of Hitler’s speech delivered to German generals on August 22 1939 in Obersalzberg.